Turning Change Management into Change Leadership


If you have ever worked a corporate job, you have probably heard of the term Effective Change Management. If not, perhaps you have heard of something similar. Many individuals and organizations spend a lot of time and money trying to figure it out. Here, I want to take a second to provide some clarity and perhaps some new ways to look at it.

Let’s start with what Change Management is. Change management is an umbrella term covering all types of processes implemented to prepare and support organizational change. Effective Change Management is merely doing all of these processes effectively.

Before we continue, we must admit a few things to ourselves. To begin with, we must acknowledge that change is constant. Furthermore, you cannot and likely would not want to stop it from happening. On that note, we must recognize that organizational change should be ongoing. Specifically, if an organization seeks to remain competitive in an ever-changing world, then that organization must be willing to navigate those changes and act accordingly. So, what tips can I provide for creating an effective change management process?

It should be no surprise that my first tip for creating effective change is avoiding change management. Instead, we should deploy change leadership. Don’t worry; this is more than just a lesson in nomenclature. Instead, it’s a frame of mind and a leadership approach.

I contend that the two ideas are quite different. For example, change management seeks to manage the challenges of growth and change. However, can that really be done? It seems to me that you will be less likely to achieve the management of change because, many times, you cannot control or manage the variables. So, why not simply lead the change and adapt?

From an organizational standpoint, change leadership involves effective communication regarding the expected outcome with strategic partners and workers. Furthermore, organizational leadership requires a high level of dedication to see the change through. Do you see the difference?

Let us examine this from another angle. From a worker’s standpoint, change leadership requires understanding both the reason for the change and the ultimate vision or outcome of the change itself. On the surface, this seems simple enough. However, consider the collaboration this would actually entail. Think of the buy-in that would accompany this kind of collaboration. Simply taking the time to demonstrate the importance of the change, defining what is needed in that process, and really painting the picture of what the expected outcome should look like can all go a long way toward realizing quality change.

Furthermore, with solid collaboration between the organization and the worker, processes can actually be innovated or improved upon in that process. This principle alone differs substantially from most management initiatives. However, this new approach benefits the entire organization as any processes are usually improved upon when gaps are identified. This is especially true when leadership understands that they likely didn’t have all the answers ahead of time. Again, we don’t get such results when change is dictated during change management

My second suggestion is a continuation of the first. We need to change how we view team roles and the change itself. Rather than manage the change and micro-manage any possible outcome, we should provide our teams with the ability to innovate the process to help maximize the change’s long-term potential. We can do this by empowering our people to provide feedback, make corrections, and experiment with potential weaknesses or processes along the way.

Organizational leadership should remember the REAL goal by asking the following question: “Do we want the process the way we have laid it out, or do we want the most effective process to maximize buy-in and output?” Of course, the second is usually preferred. However, if that’s true, we must admit that those working on the process have valuable insight that should be considered. This feedback should be a focal point during implementation. At the very least, it could help refine any potential flaws or weaknesses that leadership had not considered previously.

Of course, a question always arises about resistance to change. My advice for dealing with resistance to change in an organization is relatively simple. I find that when there is resistance to change, it’s usually because the leader or leadership team has done an abysmal job of communicating the vision or benefit of the expected outcome or because the leader has not done a good job of expressing that the organization must change as the world around it changes.

It is rather simple. Change is constant and forever. We can choose to accept and lead it or fight it and lose. At the same time, some sort of organizational consistency is necessary. Unfortunately, management doesn’t usually know how to reconcile these two points. That’s where leadership comes in. However, leaders need a better understanding first.

To help leadership understand this, I like to use a football metaphor. Just because a quarterback calls an audible doesn’t mean that the quarterback isn’t continuing in the attempt to score a touchdown and win the game. Sometimes, an audible must happen to move the ball due to the obstacles that have popped up. Once the team understands that an audible was called, it’s easier to change direction and continue the positive momentum. The catch here is that team must understand both the play and the location of the goal.

Unfortunately, many organizations make an audible appear as though they have changed sports altogether. The best advice I could give is to spend more time explaining the desired outcome. This is a much better approach than just calling the audible and hoping it works out. Moreover, for the audible to be effective, the team must understand what or where the goal is and what the play is designed to do.

Let’s look at this another way. How many times do organizations withhold vital information from their workers? Well, a quarterback would have a pretty hard time with an audible if he didn’t let his team know what the new play was or if the team wasn’t allowed to see the play, practice the play, or even see the endzone.

Talk to the team. Help them understand that audibles happen and help them understand why they will be called from time to time. Then, let them be a part of the play by using their strengths and providing input into other possible solutions. And finally, allow your people the flexibility to familiarize themselves with the play.

There is one more tip that I can offer on this subject. Many organizations approach their operations as though they are constant. True, this helps establish rules and expectations. However, when approached this way, workers often get frustrated and resist the change when a change occurs. So, why not approach it as though the change is already the expectation? If approached this new way, change will be resisted much less.

Easy ways to accomplish this might be by saying something like, “This is probably going to change at some point, but here is how we are doing it right now. We do it this way currently because we believe it will allow us to get to the vision more efficiently. However, things can always improve, so if you have any ideas to improve this, let us know.” Approaching it this way sets the workers up with the expectation that change is on the way and expected, and it also provides them a creative outlet to help improve a process passively or directly. The organization wins either way because processes are continually improved and can course-correct when necessary. This should result in efficiencies, accuracies, and profitability. Everyone wins.

To lead change, you must expect it and embrace it. Don’t try to manage it, mitigate it, or dictate it. You will lose. Instead, consistently explore ways to use change to your advantage when they arise. Better yet, you could proactively seek change out. I tell my students that we must constantly improve and try to tear apart how we have always done things. Because I can promise you this, they CAN be improved.

Did you enjoy this article? You might also like my article titled “The Difficulty of Change and How to Overcome It.