Change the way we lead change (at least for the moment)

Does Organisational Change Management (OCM) need to apply some change management to itself? We are expecting too much of leaders to effectively lead change in today’s environment. We aren’t setting them up for success, rather we are asking too much of them. The role of the Change Manager is changing to one of the Change Leader as they are better positioned than business leaders to effectively lead change.

Current OCM theories and research tell us that ideally business leaders lead change, and I am a strong advocate that you can’t outsource leadership. Having said that I constantly hear that leaders neither have the capacity (time) nor in some cases, capability to effectively lead change. So, what are we doing about it, and do current OCM theories support or hinder effective OCM?

Organisational Change Management (OCM). Let’s get the philosophical arguments out of the way: Let’s accept that there is a big difference between Change Management and Change Leadership. Let’s agree for argument sake that Change Management is primarily focussed on the process of behavioural change, the tools and techniques to plan and control changes; and that the focus of Change Leadership is the bigger picture, the vision, the motivation of people to actively support changes.

Transformational Change and Tactical Change. Let’s also acknowledge the differences between transformational change (strategic) and project change management (tactical). At the strategic level the emerging requirements of OCM were highlighted in The Financial Review published on 28 February 2019, in an article titled: Transformation officers replace consultants, Tony Boyd wrote that, If you are not transforming yourself you are standing still. That is fast becoming the new mantra for Australian business as companies take control of projects that would previously have been handed to external consultants….Two standout examples of the trend were apparent on Thursday when BHP Group and ANZ Banking Group announced the appointment of new chief transformation officers reporting directly to the respective CEOs.

Boyd’s article also noted that, Anne Bennett has been Executive General Manager, NAB Transformation, since December 2017, and Alexandra Badenoch became Telstra’s group executive transformation and people in October 2018.

I’m inclined to believe that the appointment of Jonathan Price (BHP) and Maile Carnegie (ANZ) are not simply to take control of projects but to drive real transformation.

The argument however is not one of consultants versus internal Change Managers, it’s one of how OCM should / could be given the authority to lead project (tactical) change, at least while organisations build change leadership capability (if not internally than externally from management and leadership institutions).

Opportunities and Risks. The key opportunities of allocating OCM authority to Change Managers are: increasing the likelihood of successful change adoption both in terms of speed and overall utilisation; and business leaders see what good looks like i.e. Change Managers lead by example. The risk is that business leaders become lazy and are happy for the Change Managers to ‘do that change management stuff’, resulting in leaders never learning how to truly lead change because they have never seen good change leadership before.

What the theories tell us. John Kotter says to create a guiding coalition as step 2.  Jeff Hiatt and Tim Creasey’s research, in their Prosci® methodology, shows that the greatest contributing factor to successful change is active and visible executive sponsorship. TheChange First (People Centred Implementation) methodology suggests that effective change leadership includes 12 essential change leadership skills. The UK basedCHAMPS2® change process notes that the leadership commitment combined with business area participation is key to overcoming resistance to change, creating broad experience of successful change and reducing reliance on external consultants.The Change Management Institute (CMI) Change Management Body of Knowledge (CMBoK) notes, in Knowledge Area 12 that ‘change managers are instrumental in leading the way and developing high-performance change teams, …’ however stops short of suggesting they should be leading change in the target organisation. Even Kurt Lewin (the father of Change Management) notes that in Phase 1 (Unfreezing) Step 2, we need to Ensure there is strong support from upper management.

We all appreciate the challenges in today’s Corporate and Public Sector environments that include the speed of change, the disruptions, transparency requirements, expectations of customers and shareholders, and ultimately the VUCA[1] environment.

Authority to lead. Change Managers often sit within project teams, or lead change teams within the organisation’s People & Culture function or in a Transformation Office, depending on the nature of change and the organisational structure i.e. project based or truly transformational. From my experience, they generally have little to no authority over those who are impacted by change, rather they rely on their ability to pursued, influence, motivate, and challenge to execute change management activities.

Coach and Captain. The current paradigm is that the Change Manager is the coach, who provides the game plan, drills the players, considers the opposition, gets them to the dressing sheds; the Change Leader is the captain that leads the team onto the field, they take the hits, they question decisions of the referee, they drive the team to defend when needed and attack at every possible opportunity, at the end of the game the winning Captain takes the accolades and losing Coach cops the ridicule.

Captain-Coach. Is it time that we consider redefining the roles of the business ‘sponsor’ and the Change Manager? Giving the Change Manager the requisite authority to not only plan and support change management activities but truly execute change. Could / should we accept that the expectations we place on modern-day leaders with regards to leading change (especially project based change) is unrealistic and that Change Managers could / should lead change. As the team develops, the Captain-Coach model can evolve, having a Captain (business leader) on the field and the Coach (Change Manager) reverting to the traditional place on the sideline. 

Competencies to lead. Change Managers will have a thorough understanding of the changes and associated impacts, they will have analysed the stakeholders and planned engagement activities, they will have identified potential areas of resistances and have developed tactics to address them, they will know who needs what training, and they are by their DNA and training exceptional coaches.   The Change Manager could be the Captain Coach.

Capacity to lead. Change Managers currently allocate time and effort to coach the business sponsors and leadership teams to support them in having the knowledge and skills to manage themselves and others through change[2]. From my experience, when leaders have never seen effective change leadership coaching has limited utility. Leaders need to be lead, and Change Leaders need to be shown how to effectively lead change. I propose that by giving the Change Manager the authority to lead the change, they will free up time and effort spent coaching, to provide them with the capacity needed.      

Complicated or Simple. Some may argue that giving Change Managers the authority to lead change will create complicated or competing lines of accountability for leaders and project managers. I on the other hand would suggest that it complements a simple functional leadership approach where there are clear lines of authority, especially within a controlled Program / Project. 

Change Management authority. Given the current expectations on business leaders to lead change in today’s environment it is worthwhile rethinking the roles of the Change Manager and the business leader. To give the Change Manager the level of authority (commensurate with their accountabilities) to effectively lead change on behalf of and in close collaboration with the business leader. Using an agnostic change management process[3] I propose that the Change Manager could and should lead change management activities (at least in tactical change initiatives) given their experience, skills, knowledge and attitude as illustrated in Figure 1.

Change Management and Leadership Skills, Knowledge and Attitudes

[1] Volatile Uncertain Complex Ambiguous

[2] Prosci® ADKAR® – Knowledge and Ability

[3] Developed and used by From the Front Pty Ltd

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