A practical, jargon-free guide to Relational Agility in the workplace – and the differences it can make at all levels within your organisation. How does Relational Agility work? Read on to find out more.

I feel strongly about Relational Agility. So strongly, in fact, that I have trademarked the term.

Why?

Because I believe it brings strong points of positive difference to the way I work.

Relational Agility lies at the heart of my entire approach. Indeed, it’s one of the programmes I offer to support change in organisations like yours. In a nutshell, Relational Agility concerns the essential psychological know-how, and a series of practical steps as the tools that leaders need in order to influence the behaviour of others for smooth organisational change.

Its underlying principles are based on relationships; with ourselves, with others, and with our environment and systems.

The One Constant Thing in Our Lives – Change

To mis-quote Jane Austen, if I may, it is a truth universally acknowledged that change is one of the few certainties in our lives. Not least in the workplace.

Nothing stays the same.

Whatever sector you work in, there is continuous change of some sort. Regardless of the size of your organisation, or how much experience, you have in leadership, you and your team will almost certainly go through several transitions. Some of them will be significant – life-changing, even, and therefore, most likely to generate fear in those on the receiving end of them.

Yes, this sounds strong, but in some ways, it’s a positive; we wish to protect the things we care about.

Nevertheless, change happens. It must happen. Today’s environment demands that organisations evolve constantly if they wish to remain competitive. To survive, thrive and grow, rapidly evolving technology, innovations in service and product development, and a globalisation of markets force businesses to respond with strength and speed.

  • Whilst saving time, money and resources, increased automation is a perceived threat to job security.
  • The revolution is here. It’s everywhere, happening all the time, and it’s getting faster. Plus, it’s not going away any time soon.
  • Our personal lives, too, are in constant flux, the clearest illustration being the effects of the pandemic on every aspect of how we live, shop and work.

No wonder then, that so many are struggling with the New Normal and yearn for things to stay the same.

Organisational Change in the Modern World.

Organisational change happens when a company moves from its current state (whatever that may be) into its new, desired future state. For this to occur, the people affected by change will need not only to accept it, but also to buy into it; ideally, championing its transition.

Instances of change could involve:

A redundancy programme

  • A company-wide adoption of a new type of technology
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • A change in leadership
  • Organisational re-structuring
  • A crisis management programme
  • A change in strategy and direction, involving the adoption of new product and services, and the dropping of others

The above list isn’t exhaustive. But fundamental changes such as these can be exhausting.

It’s Important to Know This

For change to happen, we need to acknowledge two things:

  • Change does not happen in isolation – like ripples in water, it resonates outwards to the entire system or environment that it happens in.
  • Simply delivering effective change is not enough. It requires the willing involvement of every person who is to be impacted by it.

The Barriers to Effective Change

Yet, we resist change.

Uncertainty, loss of control, loss of workplace standing (for those well-regarded in their status-quo roles), more work to do, fear of redundancy, resentment, concerns over a perceived lack of ability to “do a new job” – they all have one thing in common:

They are FEELINGS. That is, emotions felt by people, whether realistic and likely to happen – or not. And after all, your organisation is made up of people, your most valuable asset.

Chris Rodgers, author of Informal Coalitions writes about Impose, Inform or Involve – standard approaches to change management. However, these amount to a degree of Thou Shalt, rather than acceptance and agreement.

And this is where Relational Agility steps up.

How does Relational Agility work?

Gantt charts may be meaningful and practical, but in my view, they fail to get to the nub of the matter: people are at the very core of smooth, successful change.

In fact, here, we should talk more of transition. That is, minds moving from one state to another: a place where they’re ready to be in acceptance mode. If we assume that thoughts govern behaviour (as in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), then creating the conditions for them to come along with you for the entire journey makes perfect sense.

Relational Agility focuses on 3 key areas:

  • Self
  • Others
  • System

Let’s take each of them in turn:

Self

As a leader, Relational Agility and painless change starts with you, and you alone.

That is, how you “show up”, your day-to-day behaviour, how self-aware you are, your mindset, and much else besides.  In brief, the Self part of Relational Agility is about preparing yourself to be the best you can be in your role as a senior manager. For instance, how well equipped are you in:

  • Personal development?
  • Growth mindset?
  • The benefits of positive psychology?
  • Resilience?

Others

It’s an obvious thing to say, but your organisation is made up of others. And, they may not be jumping around with excitement at the prospect of change being forced upon them. Consider:

  • Your understanding of group and team dynamics, and how we relate to each other
  • How people respond to threat, governed by the amygdala in the brain, and how they can move from anxiety to healthy acceptance of change
  • The difference between change and transition

System

  • Your organisational structure, systems and culture will need to be understood before successful change can take place. And, they may be complicated and perhaps hard to see from “the inside”.
  • Moreover, there may be power and politics issues, as well as social and unofficial networks to be factored into the mix.
  • Importantly, transition is more easily manoeuvred with powerful storytelling and a strong narrative to ensure buy-in.

As you can see, there are several aspects to Relational Agility that we can’t cover in the one article. I cover all the above in my tailored 6-week programme for leaders and senior managers, so do get in touch if you would like to learn more.

However, I hope I’m offering some key takeaways:

  • That emotional intelligence and empathy make for influential, well-liked leaders, who will be in a strong position to implement long-lasting change.
  • That leading change can be draining and is never easy.
  • That managing fear is key
  • That the involvement of others is, well, everything

In my opinion and experience, Relational Agility is powerful. My 20 years’ experience as an Organisational Development Consultant and an Executive Coach has given me the knowledge to recognise that it works.

It could work for your organisation.

If you liked this, why not read more of my content on change here.

Sign up here to receive a free copy of my ebook on Successfully Leading Change.

Written for those currently in Management or Leadership positions, it contains:

- 24 pages packed with detail and insight
- The outline of an approach drawn from 20 years working in, with and leading multinational teams through change
- The psychological know-how of a qualified Coach, Therapist and Organisational Development Consultant

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