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The 5 Capabilities Employees Need to Cope with Change

Employees' practical capability to cope with change is more important than their understanding or acceptance of any new strategic direction

Businessman Bad Career Downturn Falling off a CliffThe way in which work gets done at the world’s companies and – not to put too fine a point on it – the way money gets made, has changed dramatically in the past five years, and this means employees are expected to be agile, nimble, and adaptive.

They must be able to respond quickly to working amidst change in general, as well as managing any specific change in reporting line, job description, or performance targets that may affect them.

The problem is that employees are tired. Tired of having to rejig what tasks they focus on, tired of having to get used to a new manager, tired of having to digest a new “strategic direction,” and so on. Corporate communications teams will back this up; they are seeing more and more employees who meet this change with, at best, a sense of fatigue or, worse, cynicism, and that is not good for employee engagement or performance.

Early data from CEB research into how to sustain good levels of employee performance through constant corporate change show that, while it’s helpful for employees to want to adapt, know why to adapt, and have a strong network of colleagues in place to help navigate the change, the most important way to stop performance from suffering is by ensuring employees have the practical capabilities to cope with change.

The Five Capabilities

Although it’s in the early stages, the research shows five capabilities that employees need during a change. This is about more than just being “agile;” these are the five things that employees must have in place if they are to do their jobs, and exactly those things that are most often disrupted during change.

  1. Role understanding: Employees’ understanding of what they should and should not be doing. Change can disrupt:

    • An understanding of role expectations and day-to-day priorities.

    • An understanding of team’s day-to-day priorities.

  2. Knowledge: Employee understanding of how to get their jobs done. Change can disrupt:

    • A mastery of core skills and tasks.

    • An understanding of informal network structures and dynamics.

  3. Beliefs: Employee expectations about the future. Change can disrupt:

    • The “line of sight” between role, team, or network and company goals.

    • The expectations about the outcomes of decisions made in the course of their work.

  4. Agility: The ability to adjust to new conditions. Change can disrupt:

    • The ability to learn new skills.

    • The ability to manage personal stress and work-life balance.

  5. “Organizational connectivity”: The connections and people needed to achieve goals. Change can disrupt:

    • A familiarity with team members’ expertise, goals, and priorities.

    • Knowing who to reach out to for help.


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