On December 1st 2016, a group of regional HR and talent leaders gathered at the AbbVie’s Singapore office and had some interesting discussions around how to manage change successfully. Thanks to our host Assil Omar, Talent Management, Development, and Acquisition Director, Japan Asia Pacific, and Indrajati Nugroho, HR Director, South Asia at AbbVie. We were able to bring together more than 20 HR professionals from various industries and organizations including Daimler, GE, Celgene, P&G, Monsanto, J&J, and Vodafone, just to name a few.

Sharing and discussions came from many different angles, but interestingly, change was the common theme in the meeting.

Change is the only thing that is constant

In a time when past victories are no longer a guarantee of future success, change is purely inevitable. Externally, the digital force is transforming all industries and has changed the competitive landscape completely. Organizations are not only competing with their traditional competitors, but are also having to view companies in other sectors as competition. Internally, there is a need to keep up with the way we do businesses, regardless if you’re a 100-year-old organization or a start-up or a spin-off business somewhere in between. There is a constant need to balance between scale and agility, stability and innovation, and resources and cost. In order to stay on top of the game, smarter organizations have chosen to be proactive in leading change rather than re-actively being forced to change.

There was a great case study shared by an organization that is 130 years old, and it was impressive to hear how they took a global change initiative called ‘Leadership 2020’ that involved all levels from the Board of Directors to millennial leaders. The approach they took was daring as they had realized what was needed was not baby steps to fine-tune the way they work, but big, bold steps into the future that required a shift in values and competencies.

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Not afraid of making mistakes

The way we manage change also needs to change. There is a strong need to be more agile, because getting everything perfectly ready before we make any changes is simply impossible. The sharing from another organization over 100 years old was another great example. When they decided to walk away from a management concept they were well known for, there were a lot of push backs both internally and externally. Instead of investing too much time to persuade everyone and waiting for all to be on board, they implemented it in a few phases, piloting in some parts of the organization first, making adjustments as they roll it out in a broader scope, and then finally, a complete company-wide change. The key in this case is not to be afraid of making mistakes and admitting change is always a work-in-progress.

Back to the basics

Now you may be thinking, “Aren’t we getting our people confused with all these constant changes?” A lot of organizations are asking the same question. From the structure of the organizations, to divisions, business lines, performance management systems, communications systems, it can feel like everything is changing. And so to avoid this kind of confusion, many discussed the importance of getting back to the basics: What are our expectations of our people? What kind of behaviors do we want to encourage? How do we differentiate or how much do we want to differentiate our employees, Who do we hold accountable for our employees’ careers within the organization?

These are all critical questions organizations need to ask when defining their talent philosophy. With these fundamentals clearly articulated, organizations will find conscious leadership and engaged employees with a shared vision—even in the mist of constant changes. Getting the basics right is like holding a torch for your people on a path that may not always be straight and bright.