Module 4 - Employee change competency


From Module 1 in this series, front-line employees in a change-competent organization:

“can perform successfully in the current environment, during the transition and in the future state; have the tools and processes to effectively manage their personal transition through change.”


However, the impacted employees are often the neglected component of change management efforts. Training and resources are readily available for executives, change teams and even managers and supervisors. Front-line employees are often left behind.

Ironically, managing front-line employee resistance was identified as the number one obstacle for change management teams in a recent study with more than 280 companies.* A separate study with business improvement teams showed that employee resistance was one of the top inhibitors of project success. The lesson to be learned is: do not underestimate the importance of your front-line employees in managing change.

However, building any competency within your employees requires an investment of time and money. Is it worth it? The return on investment depends on the current state of your organization and what lies ahead for you in the future. Three scenarios exist:

  1. Front-line employees are experiencing no change today and no changes are planned.
  2. Front-line employees will be experiencing a significant change in the near future.
  3. Change is the norm throughout the organization (something new is happening all the time requiring constant change).

Which scenario best represents your organization? In the first scenario, resources and time should not be dedicated to building change competency. However, in cases 2 and 3, you might find that a small investment in your employees has a large return when it comes to embracing and implementing change. To begin, we will look at two components of employee change competency: a values component and a skills component.


Values and change competency

The values of employees in a change competent organization are a unique combination of traditional and new workforce values. Here is what we mean by this statement. In a traditional value structure, employees are accustomed to leadership, direction and decision making from the top of the organization. Employees focus on their jobs as instructed by their managers. New workplace values have shifted emphasis onto the employee to take ownership and control of their daily work. Be empowered to make change. Improve what you do everyday.

In the traditional value system, change came from above. In the new value system, change was often initiated by employees themselves. The unique aspect of a change competent organization is the expectation that change will occur from both sources. Change becomes a constant, rather than an isolated event. The processes, tools and responsibilities of the employees may all be changing, sometimes without much warning. However, for an organization to become change competent, the front-line employees must understand that this is the way things are - change is happening all the time. In order for this value to take hold, employees must see the personal and business benefits of adaptability.

The second value shift is how the front-line employees view themselves in relation to the ever changing environment. In change competent organizations, employees are integral and essential parts of the change, not targets or victims of the change. Their role and participation is a critical part of the success of the change - and the organization. In order for this value to take hold, employees need to see evidence that the company has a stake in their professional careers. This includes training opportunities, professional coaching and development plans, and appropriate treatment of employees who are leaving the company.

Employees taking ownership and accountability for their work was only a first step. Taking ownership and accountability for business success is the desired value in a change competent organization. With this value in place, employees evaluate change from the perspective of how that will impact business performance, not just their job. This value requires a new level of business acumen with the workforce and an openness of business and financial information.


Skills and change competency

An individual change model that helps each employee understand and navigate change is crucial. Employees must be taught how to manage change, how to identify why they might be having problems with a change, and how to overcome these potential problems when they do occur.

The ADKAR model is an excellent approach to helping employees understand and cope with ongoing change. By teaching employees how to use the model, you can give them the tools and actions to become change competent. The ADKAR model is described in detail in the tutorial The ADKAR Model of Change Management.

A second required skill set comes from the ownership and accountability discussion from above. An organization cannot just say to employees "take accountability and ownership for business success" without fostering a culture that cultivates this value and providing the training and coaching to work in this new environment. In a situation where employees are expected to be active participants in improving operations and creating change, do not assume that this is an easy or natural transition. Develop skills around identifying opportunities and problem solving.


Building change competence in employees

The following list defines the requirements for building change competency in employees. It uses the ADKAR model as a framework (the same model you will teach employees to use as they go through changes). The requirements must be filled in sequential order. In other words, only when the first requirement is met should you move to the second requirement.

  1. Awareness – Employees are aware of the significant role they play in the overall change management process. They understand that change is the norm, not the exception. They also understand that some changes may happen quickly and without warning. Employees expect change, and understand that their change competency is part of their job responsibility (included in their job description). Employees are aware that they collectively produce business success and understand the need to change to keep pace with changing market conditions.
  2. Desire – Employees are committed to building change competency. They understand the business risk of not building this competency into the organization, and understand the personal consequences for them (both good and bad) that create a desire to develop this competency. Employees recognize that being able to adapt to change is part of their job responsibilities, and that doing their job well requires constant adaptation and change. They see evidence that adaptability and change competence is part of their overall performance evaluation.
  3. Knowledge – Employees understand how to cope and thrive in a changing environment. Tools like the ADKAR model of change are provided to employees and are part of the coach-employee relationship. Employees understand the tools and resources they have to assist them through the transition. They know how to identify where they are having problems and know how to seek solutions. Employees have the skills, behaviors and knowledge to be change competent.
  4. Ability – Employees have a chance to practice and fail in a non-threatening environment. They have been given the appropriate coaching and know where to go for help.
  5. Reinforcement – The values of a change-competent organization are factored into the job descriptions, compensation and reward schemes for employees. Their direct supervisors provide guidance and opportunities to practice the skills needed to support constant change.



Enterprise Change Management Boot Camp

Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.