“Learning’s role, in my mind, is to help organizations as change agents and sponsors [to] think about not only the process and structure [of a change management project], but also about the human component,” Upchurch said.
But more often than not, he said, organizations are reacting to change instead of anticipating it, and learning is typically pulled in on the back end. “In the rare case where [the change initiative] may be an HR system, learning may be involved,” Upchurch said. But “in most cases, we’re still seeing that being an afterthought.”
Training leaders on change management could use some refreshing, according to the Towers Watson study. While 82 percent of organizations reported training their managers in the area, just 36 percent said it was effective.
Upchurch said CLOs should aim to embed change management skills in the course of a normal leadership development program. That way, when change initiatives do come up, leaders are prepared to act without having to drop everything and take on new training.
He recommended applying case-intensive learning around the subject in a leadership development curriculum, studying how successful organizations have dealt with major change initiatives, and evaluating the skills and behaviors those leaders had that translated to success. Then, find ways to create experiential learning opportunities — whether they are simulated in a classroom or on-the-job assignments — for leaders that permeate down through the organizational ladder to lower-level employees.
Above all, Miller said, communication needs to be prevalent throughout any change initiative. Smooth communication aligns the organization from top to bottom. Without it, learning’s impact on change is heavily diminished.
Upchurch said, “When you think about the strategy for learning and development, the CLO’s job is going to be to make sure we’re helping leaders see where their strengths are and then helping create the skills and development opportunities to grow those leaders to where they need to be to manage the change.”