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Building Capacity for Change

Building Capacity for Change

Capacity is the third of four critical elements of successful change. It refers to the new skills and competencies you need to develop in order to take the actions necessary to bring about the change you want. For example, a leader who wants more substantive and challenging feedback from his team may need to develop the capacity to listen well in order to achieve that change. A company that wants to increase repeat sales through improving customer satisfaction may need its managers to learn how to conduct performance evaluations that focus on quality of customer service.

In addition to new technical skills, capacity also refers to the ability to manage change itself. Change is often messy, unpredictable, and uncomfortable. To get through it successfully, you have to be able to persist in the face of adversity, tolerate emotional discomfort, reflect and learn from your experience, and communicate effectively with others.

Both technical and “change management” skills are rarely mastered in a classroom. While training might be the starting point, most people will require repeated practice over time to learn both kinds of skills. You may understand a new skill well, but in order to execute it successfully your body has to move, speak, or behave in ways different from what you’re used to. Developing capacity is a biological process. That’s why driver’s education isn’t just classroom-based.

It’s also why commitment and clarity are necessary, but not sufficient, for successful change. You can be extremely committed to making a change and very clear about where you’re headed, and still struggle to actually achieve your goals. The capacity to make changes that involve habitual behavior doesn’t develop overnight. It takes practice and time, especially for new behaviors to become integrated and automatic.

Action Steps: Building Capacity for Change

  1. Clearly define the new skills and competencies. Be as specific and concrete as possible. What do you (and/or your team) need to be doing differently in order to make the change you want? Be sure to consider both new technical skills that people might need as well as new interpersonal skills and/or management skills.
  2. Create opportunities for practice. And be clear about the standards – how will you know when you or others have mastered the skill?
  3. Get resources and support. Sometimes people need help changing their behavior. This might include classroom training, on-the-job training, a peer consultation and support group, mentoring, or coaching.
  4. Make sure policies support the new behaviors. For example, if you’re asking the customer service representatives to spend as much time on the phone as necessary to ensure that a customer is satisfied, make sure that people aren’t rewarded for high call volume.
  5. Plan for mistakes and failures. Use them as an opportunity to learn. As a leader, allow them for a period of time without consequences, but provide prompt feedback.
  6. Take good care of yourself. Good self-care is the foundation that supports our ability to manage ourselves well in the midst of change. Eating well, getting enough rest, and engaging in regular physical activity are all important ways to build your capacity for tolerating the stress that can come with change.

How have you been most successful in building the skills you’ve needed to make a change?

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