Leadership Considerations for Organizational Change
I want to provide you with a few things to consider regarding organizational change. In an entry in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Randall and Coakley state that “Leadership is more than an individual acting in a position. It is a process in which change initiatives must emanate from key stakeholders, all of whom are engaged in that process” (2007). This is a very insightful perspective considering how leadership and change initiatives are codependent. However, this also presents a problem because studies continue to find that change is not exactly easy for leaders to create.
In John Kotter’s book Leading Change, Kotter speaks to the difficulty of organizational change and suggests that the issue is rooted in history, not preparing us for transformational change (Kotter, 2012). Kotter suggests an eight-stage change process to overcome this. His steps include establishing a sense of urgency, creating the guiding coalition (team), developing a vision and strategy, communicating the change vision, empowering broad-based action, generating short-term wins, consolidating gains and producing more change, and then anchoring new approaches in the culture (Kotter, 2012). Kotter goes on to suggest that successful change initiatives tend to go through all eight stages in sequence and that if steps are skipped, if new measures are invented, or if too many steps are taken at once, it will actually create problems and hinder the desired change (Kotter, 2012).
However, a study conducted by Higgs and Rowland and published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Science suggests that the odds of successful organizational change are reduced when approached as linear, sequential, or predictable (2011). Their data suggests that successful change is more likely when approaches recognize change as a complex responsive process and embed this recognition within the overall change process (Higgs & Rowland, 2011).
Their findings also suggest that five broad areas of leadership competency are often associated with successful change. These include creating the case for change and engaging others in recognizing it, creating structural change while ensuring an understanding of the issues, building commitment by engaging others in the process, developing effective plans and practices, and encouraging and supporting your people to help find answers to the challenges they face in that change process (Higgs & Rowland, 2011).
The contrast between the two approaches can provide us with some interesting tools. Ultimately, I feel both perspectives offer leaders powerful tools to consider, especially considering that not all approaches will work in all situations. Leadership should understand that developing and sharing the vision is vital because understanding the destination is a big part of any change process.
From there, a leader can clearly define the problems or roadblocks, share why they are issues, generate solutions and recommendations, generate a sense of urgency, create consensus, empower their teams to act and find answers, get those short-term wins, and see the shift in organizational culture. Of course, this insight comes with the caveat that leaders must avoid focusing too much on the specific change over the ultimate destination. Too much focus on a specific change risks building resistance to the change when the ultimate goal is out of focus. To reduce this potential, leaders should bridge the two by spending sufficient time clearly demonstrating how the change helps the organization achieve the destination or vision.
Be sure to check out my article titled “The Effects of Bias Affecting Leadership.”
Higgs, M., & Rowland, D. (2011). What Does It Take to Implement Change Successfully? A Study of the Behaviors of Successful Change Leaders. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(3), 309–335. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021886311404556
Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading change. Boston (Massachusetts): Harvard Business Review Press.
Randall, L.M. and Coakley, L.A. (2007), “Applying adaptive leadership to successful change initiatives in academia,” Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 325-335. https://doi.org/10.1108/01437730710752201