The Desperate Need for Change Leadership

For years, the concept of change management has been relegated to high-paid consultants and consulting firms that use phrases like, “think outside the box” and “synergy.” If you immediately think of a commercial from the 90’s I applaud you – you are my people – but let’s get back to the topic at hand. Change was also something that you went to class to learn and gained “belts” to be able to take organizations through complicated change management lifecycles and frameworks. Matter-of-fact, now that I think about it, the change management marketing model is the predecessor to agility in its commercialization and complication.

Let me be clear, companies have tough and complex challenges, and the larger the company the more difficult it is to bring true change. But what I also know is that when a consulting firm comes in and then leaves 2 years later, client companies are sometimes changed, sometimes not, but are definitely lighter in the proverbial pocketbook with no guarantees that true change is going to stick.

Enter change leadership. This is not a new concept but is a product of the modern movement that is both rooted in lean (manufacturing and product), as well as agility. Lean and by derivative, kanban, was developed in partnership with Toyota and led to a number of improvements in both manufacturing as well as multiple other verticals by introducing internal feedback loops and building in change. Agility took these practices and brought them to software development initially and added customer interaction and rapid feedback as well as multiple cultural “disruptions.” At the heart of both was the idea that small changes bring huge improvements over time. Individuals impact teams and impact the organization as a whole. This is done through both relationships and influence rather than through directives and projects (see graphic below). With this approach, change becomes part of the culture and becomes baked into the leadership structure and the practices inside the organization.

But, what is the difference in approach, application, and in overall “culture” between change management and change leadership? Well, I used a great write-up by Harvard Business Review on Change Management and how it measures success and then used experience, training, expertise, and input from other “change professionals” to call out where change leadership differs or varies slightly. Please note, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list and it is not meant to be a “manifesto against change management.” I’ve been privileged to be involved with and lead multiple transformations and I can tell you that the absence of either of these is a “death strike” to transformation and if I had to choose between change management and nothing, I would choose change management all day long. But you tell me, what do you think of the below infographic? Does it resonate with you? Do you see areas where both could be successful or where one or the other would be more of a successful approach? What did I miss?

As always, it is important to approach any framework or method through the lens of “this only works where people are willing.” Hopefully, change leadership and its approach helps prepare people for change and bring a long-living culture of inspection, adaption, evolution, and feedback that keeps us from having to make giant “revolutionary” changes via projects. But again, I envy your thoughts!


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