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Ken Brophy
May 29, 2020

Change Leadership versus Change Management – You need both

Right now we need amazing Change Leaders to help our organisations survive and prosper.  But it can be a lonely world and how do these same leaders keep track of everything they have to do, even to define what they need to do?


For such a frequently thrown around term, there is often a lack of understanding around what Change Leadership means. In large part, this confusion stems from Change Leadership being used to mean different things in very different scenarios.


As a standalone term, it’s typically about challenging the status quo, envisaging bold visions and creating the momentum for effective change, which is normally undertaken by the senior leaders at the top of an organisation. In this context, as John Kotter from Kotter International puts it, “Change Leadership concerns the driving forces, visions and processes that fuel large-scale transformation”.


But when used within the context of managing the process of change in an organisation, the term “leading change” has a different definition and can refer to the set of activities which Change Managers utilise within an organisation that help support and enable change.


So where are the differences in Change Leadership versus Change Management and how both fulfil vital functions in a business landscape, seriously impacted by the pandemic.


To compete in our fast-paced, but Covid disrupted business environment, organisations are changing more frequently and rapidly than ever before. As we have seen even during isolation, far from slowing down, change is what we urgently just need to do.


Because this state of flux and ambiguous working environment, organisations must include elements of both Change Leadership and Change Management within their everyday roles.


Change Leadership

This is about leading, supporting, and transitioning teams and individuals smoothly through the change. McKinsey research suggests that half of all efforts to transform organisational performance fail either because senior managers don’t act as role models for change or because people in the organisation defend the status quo (which can be a tough argument right now but people can be afraid of what change means).


Change Leadership clarifies what a change is trying to achieve, what its impact on people will be, and then visibly leads the organisation throughout the period of change (not getting pulled into other day to day activities).


Change Management

Change Management comes up with interventions and plans to manage change smoothly into the organisation, to minimise disruption, resistance, and dips in performance, and where possible, improve the likelihood of the change taking hold.


At their core, both roles are focused on people. In their own way they help put a lens on how people in the organisation will need to work or behave differently in their job, enabling people to transition from their current state to a desired future state.


The growth of Change Management as a recognised discipline is evidence that many organisations know they are in a constant state of flux. And there is increasing recognition that an organisation’s ability to adapt and its people’s willingness to change, translate directly into organisational performance.


But for the change to be successful, people need proof that key decision makers and leaders understand, commit to, and sponsor the vision and case for change. For them, the change needs to be leader-led and not project-driven throughout the change initiative’s lifecycle.


This is why Change Leadership is such a critical component of managing change.


For significant change to take effect, the ability to lead change is needed at every level of an organisation, and that includes executives, senior leaders, middle managers, and team leaders. It is these people that need to lead by example and take ownership of the change – engaging, supporting and rewarding people, and driving the change forward to make the new way of doing things the new norm.


But where there seems to be a gap in many organisations is that those people tasked with leading others through change may lack the capacity, desire or knowhow to do so, or to do it well. This will have a significant effect on the change outcome.


Change Managers can use particular tools to support leaders and thereby help to close this gap (notwithstanding that HR play a big role around coaching/development).


Effective Change Leaders will deliver consistent messages through clearly outlining why the change is required, what it will deliver, the benefits of such action and who will be impacted and by when.


To ensure each key leader is aligned and committed to the vision, the case for change and the scope of work, there needs to be ownership of this plan. This is where the Change Manager comes to the fore as they will bring change frameworks to drive consistency. This will also ensure the Change Leaders are aware of their accountabilities in embedding the change (its more than just announcements) and realising the benefits of the change in their working environments.


Think of the organisation as a connected system (see my previous blogs and articles on ‘aligning the organisational cube’). Change will ripple through it, impacting stakeholders downstream that you may not have initially considered.


Change is never easy and with so many aspects to consider, organisational change can be a daunting task to get a handle on. Both ‘roles’ bring critical skills to an organisation at a time like right now (a disrupted, confusion, uncertain Covid world). Change Leaders and Change Managers play a mutual beneficial role in driving all the required activities to ensure the organisation can carefully navigate the myriad of requirements to drive effective change.


Click here to view my video on Change ‘Alignment Leadership’ which covers the leadership role in more depth.

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