First steps to developing organizational change capability

What it takes for organizations to be ready and capable to change


A simple description of a perfect organization is one that is ready and willing to change. There is a clear vision for the future, so changes can be evaluated and leveraged to sustain growth and success.

When an organization is ready and willing to change, it has a strategic advantage over its competitors because it can:

  • Identify the changes that align with strategic goals (and the ones that don’t)
  • Change faster to minimize the challenges or risks associated with the transition
  • Change with fewer resources
  • Assess the success of changes
  • Improve the success of changes

The challenge (and irony) of developing change capability is that it is a change initiative in itself. We can identify what is necessary for organizations to be ready and willing to change, yet it is a journey to implement and develop these factors.

It is a deliberate decision and requires a tactical process to develop and achieve self-sustaining capability.


What is organizational change capability?

Organizational change capability is more than applying change management on some projects. It is even more than having a team of change management experts or comprehensive training throughout the organization.

We consider an organization to be capable of change when it is embedded in decisions and operations. The organization may have the skills, knowledge and resources necessary to effectively use change management, but it is also part of the culture.

Change management capability precedes or contributes to organizational change capability.

Change management capability: Establishing the practice of change management by building competency and training change practitioners and leaders.

Goal of change management capability: The organization has the competency to use and apply a change management methodology to projects. 

Change capability: The ability of an organization to plan, design and efficiently implement all types of change, while minimizing potential negative impacts on people and operations.

Goal of change capability: The desired business and cultural results from change are consistently achieved and integrated seamlessly into operations to deliver maximum ROI.


The journey to developing change capability

For most organizations, developing change capability is a multi-year process where training, resourcing and culture shifts are incrementally introduced.

We evaluate organizational change capability with a five-stage maturity model:

Stage 1: Exploring
  • Little or no application of change management
  • Little or no training
  • Leaders are judging value
  • Success depends on individual efforts and is not repeatable
Stage 2: Repeating
  • Some application of change management
  • Some training
  • Basic processes, roles and responsibilities are being established
  • Success can be repeated
Stage 3: Defining
  • The same change management methodology is being used on multiple projects
  • Leaders are beginning to expect change management to be applied to projects
  • Processes are standardized with attention to documentation and integration
Stage 4: Managing
  • Change management standards have been deployed throughout the organization
  • Ongoing data collection and evaluation
  • Processes are monitored and controlled
Stage 5: Optimizing
  • Change management competency is evident throughout the organization
  • Change management is an element of the organization’s culture
  • Processes are constantly being improved
Barriers to advancing capability

Even when change capability is a deliberate or desired goal, there barriers to building change capability, such as:

  • Lack of involvement or vision from executive leadership
  • Developing the internal skills, knowledge and resources necessary for robust change management capability
  • Time to practice and optimize change management processes, tools and methodology
  • Perception that change management will delay or inhibit projects

Stage 5 represents resilient and self-sustaining change capability, but it is an achievement to progress to any stage. If your organization is just exploring change management or already further along, here are the steps to advance change capability.

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First steps to developing change capability

To progress through the five stages, organizations need commitment, structure and processes. This stability is the core to change agility.

Determine the status of your organization

Building change capability is an evolution. The first step is determining how change management is applied, perceived and resourced. Since this is a change project in itself, your company needs to evaluate its readiness to launch and implement the initiative.

Download the change capability assessment to get a snapshot of the status of your organization.

Make change capability a strategic business goal

Change capability is a strategic business decision that is driven by executive leadership and has the support and understanding of leaders throughout the company. Just like any change, it needs to be led by the leaders of the company.

Define a clear vision of the desired state

Leaders and employees need to know this strategic goal and understand their roles and responsibilities to make it happen. The desired state defines and visualizes the reason for developing capability, and it provides a description to compare progress and define success.

Start developing change proficiency

Building proficiency is the meat of change capability, but it relies on a clear desired state and the commitment of leaders. From there, incremental capability can be developed – one project at a time. Building proficiency is the progressive introduction, standardization and optimization of change management according to the organization’s strategic goals, culture and resources.

The tools to develop proficiency can include training, workshops, research, certifications, coaching and reporting, along with the ongoing practice of change management.

Most organizations will take years of incremental progress to develop change capability. The transition may require many steps, but opportunity to practice change management will create an organization that is capable and ready for change.


Assess the change capability of your organization

For most organizations, building organizational change management capability is an evolution rather than a revolution. The typical journey develops change competency, capacity and confidence through incremental steps and ongoing optimization.

Download the organizational change capability assessment to review the current capability of your organization.

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