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Change Management is Dead: It’s About Change Leadership!

December 11, 2019

So you think you can manage change?

Good luck.

It’s time that change management proponents ditch the hubris and naïve optimism that change can be managed. In reality, it’s about adaptation and learning to sense and distinguish the subtle, meaningful events from the irrelevant transitory ones, and creating a followership towards a shared vision, one driven by a mutual understanding of urgency.

The concept of “change management” is elusive. How the heck can people “manage” change. It’s actually an arrogant concept, one created by fallible people for fallible people. So let’s abandon this rather silly descriptor and think about how people can lead themselves through change.

There’s no shortage of change. It’s everywhere–all around us. So many events that arise are unexpected, or at least hit us very quickly. Or are all change events unexpected?

Think about the parable of the boiled frog. Place a frog in boiling water and it leaps out of the pot. Place it in cool water and slowly turn up the heat and the frog will succumb to the rising (changing) heat. This is what happens to society on a grand scale. Think climate change.

The problem is that there’s an increasing inter-connected array of events taking place around the world. And as our global economy becomes increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent so, too, do the effects of events that occur 12,000 kilometres away. An attack on an embassy, a border skirmish, or a tsunami can unleash unanticipated ripple effects.

You can’t manage change. You try to anticipate it and then adapt to it. That’s the core competency that each of us needs to develop and continually strengthen. At a collective level, it makes an organization that much stronger to adapt to whitewater events which can capsize the unprepared.

Management guru John Kotter provides a very useful model for leading change efforts. His eight step process, which has been adopted by many organizations and leadership practitioners, encompasses the following steps:

1) Establishing a sense of urgency
2) Creating the guiding coalition
3) Developing a change vision
4) Communicating the vision for buy-in
5) Empowering broad-based action
6) Generating short-term wins
7) Never letting up
8) Incorporating changes into the culture

At the core of Kotter’s model is building change adaptability within an organization and learning how to focus the energy of employees towards a shared vision.

Some “experts” advocate the benefits of predicting hypothetical events through scenario building, a certainly worthwhile endeavour which some companies do very well, such as Netherlands-based Shell. However, when it comes to leadership the role of those in executive positions is to prepare their organizations (public, private, non-profit) for the eventual shit-hits-the fan event. It’s about change adaptability, which starts with change leadership. This is why Kotter’s change leadership model is so useful.

Change leadership evokes the critical importance of humbleness as a leader.

Take some time to reflect on events that have occurred at your workplace, where despite senior management’s best efforts things more or less imploded, or bigger events in the political or economic spheres where public leaders proved to have a less commanding grasp on the situation. Humbleness was most likely an absent feature.

What would you have done differently in that situation?

Are you ready to take the plunge to be a change leader?

True effectiveness comes from embracing the reality and thrill of the unknown. – Kevin Cashman

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 11, 2019 2:16 pm

    Useful article!

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