The evolution of change management: What does this mean for boards?

Pre-pandemic, consulting firm Orchango came up with a sporting analogy that described how change management has evolved from its original roots. “Like the successive holes on a golf course, projects were organised around well-planned phases – with detailed step-by-step templates for each phase. At the end, we had time to ‘refreeze’ and ‘anchor the changes’. Today, change management is like a basketball game: fast-paced and super dynamic.” 

Fast forward to today and this statement seems more relevant than ever.

The core principles of understanding, planning, implementing and communicating change remain the same. But change management within the context of rapidly accelerating digital transformation brought on by the pandemic is now even more focused on fast and continuous adaptation. It is no longer about delivering one big project at a time. With digital experimentation ongoing, we’ve also seen change management become a near-permanent feature within daily business operations.

So what does this mean for boards and the oversight they need to provide? And how much do they need to change the way they work to adapt?

Getting the right balance

Boards are not directly responsible for change management – it’s still primarily the remit of the CEO, the rest of the C-Suite, HR leaders and now transformation teams. 

What boards are responsible for is appointing CEOs that understand digital and have the capability and experience to lead change from the top. However, the job doesn’t end at      CEO selection. Boards also need to support CEOs by providing them with the scope to disrupt the status quo without concern that their ideas for change are going to be stifled by board risk assessments.

Of course boards do still need to think hard about risk – especially with regard to digital-related risks like the increased threat of cybersecurity breaches. But today they also need to be innovative thinkers capable of understanding (and even uncovering) new opportunities wherever they exist – to support, supplement and in some cases question the CEO’s vision.

To make this happen board directors need to do three things well.

1. Boost digital literacy

Firstly, they need to improve their own understanding of digital  – either by appointing new directors with digital experience, seeking external advice, or improving their own knowledge through immersive training. There is certainly a need for more education as a minimum – according to a 2021 survey, 94% of global board directors say they need more training on both modern technology and governance best practices. Bridging this gap will help helps boards to understand the need for change and oversee the business’s plans for rapid implementation. It will also help them to communicate the value of digital initiatives and experimentation to stakeholders, even if ROI is not always immediately available or measurable.

To make change management more fluid, CEOs and other leads should look to work more collaboratively with the board.

2. Work faster and more closely with the business

Boards need to work more collaboratively with CEOs and other leaders within the business to make change management more fluid. This already started happening during the pandemic where response to the crisis saw boards convening with management much more regularly. This now needs to become the norm – ideally through specialist board portal technology that keeps all communication secure and facilitates accelerated decision making on issues related to change.

3. Make better use of data

In the digital world we operate in now, decisions can and should always be based on the data available from new systems. Boards are already cognisant of this to a certain degree: recent research by EY says 70% of boards want their businesses to increase investment in technology for risk management to give them better data on both emerging and atypical threats. Boards now need to extend this vision so that they’re also requesting data that will help them understand the need for change and the opportunity it could bring.

Ultimately, boards that recognise the evolution of change management are the ones that will provide the most valuable support to CEOs that are seeking to plan and implement  continuing transformation in the years ahead.

More on how boards can adapt to today’s challenges is available in our guide to The 5 behaviours of the digital board

For boards looking to select their next leader and drive change forward, we have also created an infographic on The anatomy of the digital CEO