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Leadership is Change Management

Is change essential to keep your business competitive?


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One of my favorite distinctions between management and leadership is that management tames complexity and leadership drives change. These roles don’t have to be held by separate people and in fact the most successful CEOs are competent in both.

Unfortunately, some believe change management is a project with a start and end date rather than a requisite skill for a leader. Particularly, in today’s world, if you are not changing, you’re probably heading for an invisible brick wall.

Disruption is everywhere and that is both disturbing to the status quo and exciting for those who are doing the disrupting. Whether you are the disruptee or the disruptor, you drive change as a leader — either creating it or responding to it — and it’s a lot more fun to create.

I understand a CEO who has been in a static situation and never developed change management skills wanting to bring in a resource to help him or her gain the knowledge required to facilitate and drive change. I don’t understand, however, how a CEO can bring in some from outside to lead a major change management effort. I’m talking here about substantial movement, like executing a new strategy, a complete overhaul of your sales force, or a sharp shift in culture, not merely changing out your phone system. That’s like hiring a coach to work out for you. The work will get done, but there will be no results.

There are some functions that lend themselves to bringing in an extra pair of hands (i.e. contract work). If you are short staffed in the accounting department and need to speed up the processing on invoices for example. However, if a CEO does not understand change management at least at a high level, progress will be challenging.

There are many change management models out there and if you went to business school in the last few decades, you probably studied one. Understanding and internalizing the steps, whichever model you use, is important, but it starts with the awareness that change does not just happen without effort and understanding. Putting yourself in your peoples’ shoes and asking how they will respond and why they will change is important. How can you best articulate and support the change you are looking for?

A senior executive from Xerox that I was privileged to work with years ago used to talk about “take a pill” managers and leaders who thought that they could just send out a memo and that things would magically happen. I don’t know about you, but that didn’t work with my children or the organizations that I led.

Here are some questions to answer that should get you on the right path.

  1. Why do we need to change?
  2. What will success look like?
  3. What resources are required?
  4. Who will naturally support this and who will fight it?
  5. What support will people need to succeed?
  6. Does our reward system need to change to support this?
  7. How can I best articulate this change?
  8. Who can help me plan the steps required?

Or, you could just send out the memo.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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