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Best Practices for Leading Change

Leading Change
In your organization, is there a distinct strategy behind the people side of your organizational change, or is there simply a collection of tactical communications or training activities that need to be “managed” during a rollout? Change leadership requires the courage of swimming upstream, often against the ingrained habits of your organization.

There is a difference between truly leading change and just managing it:

  • Change Leadership: Executives and managers take a personal interest in the change project succeeding and unite people behind a common vision.
  • Change Management: Relying on predetermined communications and training to meet behavioral change goals. While these tactics will undoubtedly be a part of every change plan, they are not enough to ensure adoption.

We often see this challenge in our knowledge management initiatives, where regular emails about a new collaboration tool do not lead to desired levels of adoption. Regardless, whether your organization is currently going through changes related to people, process, technology (or all at once), change leadership is crucial to success. Change leadership underlines the importance of the change and ensures appropriate resourcing and priority. Change leadership is also better suited to a complex, rapidly-changing environment, which reflects most organizations.

How to Lead Change

Don’t treat behavioral change like an afterthought. Many change practitioners are brought in right before a launch or even after a project has already failed once. This makes the job of encouraging adoption much more difficult: at EK we find that most people take time to process new changes and integrate them into their daily work – something that the change team may have already done because they were aware of the change sooner. This concept is especially true for difficult changes such as changing roles or organization structures. Leading change in this way means that the behavioral change required from people is a priority from the onset of the project.

Ensure sponsors show their dedication. Often, all change activities are delegated to external consultants or those within an organization who do not have influence on the direction of the change. While bringing in experts can greatly increase chances of high adoption, fully outsourcing change activities will undermine the change effort. It is crucial that people who have institutional trust and decisionmaking authority take on the role of sponsor and that they make a concerted effort to be involved, active voices throughout the change. An absent sponsor on a project where change is “managed” can make the people being asked to change feel like they have no say in the outcome and can exacerbate resistance.

Enable people to change, don’t force them. Sometimes leading change means adjusting an approach based people’s previously misunderstood needs. Making the change easier to digest with the help of the people involved is an evolving conversation. This requires less focus on dealing with people considered “troublemakers” and more on truly listening to and acting on people’s concerns – perhaps about user experience, unnecessary features, or institutional knowledge that is not being tapped in the change project. To create even more opportunities for people to change, you could try an iterative, or agile approach to rollout. This will help build trust as people’s input improves the technology, process, or organization structure after each iteration.

Are you managing change but not yet leading it in your organization? EK’s change management consultants can help you put together a strong change strategy. Contact us to learn more at info@enterprise-knowledge.com.

Katy Saulpaugh Katy Saulpaugh An adept enterprise agile coach, change management consultant, and content strategist. Katy specializes in helping clients achieve business agility and organizational change through coaching, workshops, and program leadership. More from Katy Saulpaugh »