Implementing change: the critical role of workforce planning and capability development

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When managers take on a change management project, they generally expect to encounter challenges that call for skills in persuasion, conflict resolution and people management. However, managing a change program also requires a range of more technical management skills. These can sometimes be overlooked in the drive to bring staff on board but are critical if the change is to be successfully implemented.

One of the first questions a manager needs to explore when faced with change is: does my team have the skills to work in the new way? Staff might understand the desired goal (‘client centred services’, for example, or ‘digital by default’) but not have the experience and know-how to translate these concepts into operation. Skills audits can therefore be an important step in preparing for change. A manager needs to understand the skills that will be needed to operate in the proposed new way and to determine whether there is a skills gap within his or her team.

Once gaps have been identified, decisions need to be made about how those gaps will be bridged. Do new skills need to be brought in through recruitment, or through training and staff development, or a mixture of both? This can become a strategic decision for the manager: if a particular skill set is critical to the new way of working then recruitment of experienced staff might be the most effective approach. Where recruitment is not an option, training existing staff in high-impact, critical skills must form part of the change program. A hybrid approach is also possible: a manager can choose to bring in experienced contractors or consultants to bridge gaps in the short term on the understanding that they will share their skills with ongoing staff. These are all strategies which help build the organisation’s capacity for change.

Of course, training is not the only option available to managers when it comes to changing the way staff work together. Change tool kits can be provided to staff so that they have information at their fingertips about new structures and strategies. Redesigning work processes in consultation with staff can also help to translate the goals of a change program into practical reality.

Finally, a significant challenge all managers face at times of organisational change is managing that change while continuing to deliver on a day-to-day basis. Managers need to be able to hold the business together while simultaneously changing it. This is a major test of any manager’s technical skills and, if not managed well, can undermine progress being made to implement change. To navigate this challenge, it is essential as a first step for a manager to establish a clear set of priorities and then communicate this to staff. Staff can feel overwhelmed by the need to manage their existing workload and also contribute to the change program – so it is important that they have visibility of key priorities and understand what work can be put aside or stopped while the transition occurs. This can also be a time for managers to identify one-off projects that can be managed by bringing in temporary or external resources. Resource planning in this way means that staff are supported through the change process and the team or branch can continue to deliver core programs and services.