Change Agility: What It Is and Why It Matters to the Future of Work

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Change is an essential component of life, especially with the rapid pace of digital transformation and work evolution. Readiness for transitions can help businesses and employees. Learn more about change agility and why it’s important.

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Agility is a common buzzword in business. With organizations facing increasing pressure to adapt, shift to dynamic structures, scale, and embrace an increasingly diverse workforce, change agility has become a competitive advantage.

But what do we mean, exactly, when we talk about change agility? And what role does it play in business success? This article answers these questions and provides insights into how individuals and organizations can cultivate change agility.

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What is change agility?

Change agility refers to your ability to anticipate and adapt to change. Change is inevitable. Look at the pace of change in technology alone since the turn of the century. In 2000, just half of American adults had internet access at home. Today, more than 90 percent do [1]. Technology itself has grown more accessible. This enabled the boom in social media, digital streaming, and apps that changed the way we work across industries.

Change-agile individuals have a greater tolerance for these developments and can embrace shifts and ambiguities around the future of work with flexibility and resilience. Change-agile leaders effectively manage change by motivating their employees, strategically planning for new initiatives, and committing to managing setbacks. 

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Characteristics of change agility

Change agility can help future-proof individuals or organizations for the future of work. As we face persistent change in everything from how we work and where we work to what tools we use, change agility can support individual well-being and business competitive advantage. The following traits characterize an employee, manager, or administrator who has change agility:

  • Adapts to ambiguity

  • Flexible

  • Can step out of comfort zone

  • Open-minded

  • Self-aware

  • Holds others accountable

An organization with change agility typically has high employee engagement and encourages critical thinking to create a productive and positive work environment. This fosters the ability to deal effectively with challenges and remain motivated. Companies that use change agility to their competitive advantage often have change management policies and procedures in place to help the business and its teams navigate change.

Importance of change agility 

The ability to adapt and respond to change benefits individuals, organizations, their customers, and society. The pace of change has picked up, and individuals and their organizations need to react immediately and effectively to changes in circumstances. 

Change agility doesn’t require the enjoyment of change. Still, this change readiness creates a competitive advantage, helps minimize risks, and sustains performance.

How to cultivate change agility as an individual

Change agility lets you respond effectively to changes and take advantage of new opportunities. It can help both individuals and organizations navigate industry shifts and prepare for an uncertain future. You can foster change agility in the workplace by pursuing the following strategies.

Develop your resilience.

Resilience is essential to change agility. It reflects not only your ability to deal with unanticipated disruptions or sudden shifts but also your facility for bouncing back and focusing on potential opportunities. Resilience takes a holistic view, balancing the short- and long-term challenges and gains to remain committed and focused on achieving the goal.

Build emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (EI) prepares you to embrace change rather than resist it. You build the skills to reflect on your feelings and question any reluctance you might feel. With greater self-awareness, you can better regulate your emotional response and instead take a practical perspective. 

Emotionally intelligent individuals own their role in a situation. With EI, you can understand how your attitude might impact the change initiative and work to reframe your outlook to a more positive point of view.

Practice continuous learning. 

A continuous learning mindset helps you reframe the discomfort of change. Since you’re focused on development and growth, you’ll position your mind to adapt more readily to new challenges. Plus, continuous learning can provide you with the skills needed to thrive in the new, changed environment.

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How to cultivate change agility in your organization

Instilling change agility in an organization comes from training individual employees to anticipate and plan for change. The following processes can help your business foster greater change agility.

Normalize change.

Change is constant. By openly discussing it and the improvements change offers, you can make people more comfortable with transitions. 

While asking your people to adapt to changes, take the time also to identify what will remain the same. This can help lower anxiety by giving people an anchor of what they still have, know, and can expect. 

Communicate change objectives clearly.

Providing information about the change makes a big difference. People typically respond more positively to changes that they expect and understand. Be transparent not only about coming change but also the reasons for the change. 

Communicate in advance, too. Giving people time to reflect on the change, ask questions, and express their opinions can help with change adoption.

Implement change management processes.

Bringing process consistency to your change initiatives can help employees adapt more quickly. Plus, knowing what steps to expect in navigating the change can lower emotional reactivity. 

For example, knowing that change always involves strategic discussion followed by consultation with stakeholders, testing of the initiative on a small scale, and then implementation cuts the ambiguity. This repetition can help people move forward with greater resilience and return to productivity faster.

Empower your people to take risks and continuously innovate.

Intentionally providing opportunities to engage in cross-functional teams encourages employees to expand their skills. This, in turn, can build their capabilities and their investment in company success. With a broader perspective of the organization, they may more confidently accept the stretch required with change initiatives. 

Promoting experimentation and risk-taking fosters creativity and rewards individual initiative. Giving people permission to fail can help them cling less tightly to the tried and true ways of doing things. You can encourage psychological safety where people feel free to challenge assumptions, speak up, and push back. This can help earn buy-in for the next change initiative.

Developing change agility with Coursera

Change agility is a skill people can develop. Your organization can also develop greater overall change agility. Position yourself to support change agility by learning more about change management. You might learn about Removing Barriers to Change with the University of Pennsylvania or take a course in Leading Transformations: Managing Change with Macquarie University at your own pace on Coursera.

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Article sources

  1. Pew Research Center. “Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet." Accessed October 25, 2023.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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