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Excelerate Consulting | Change Management Experts

The Role of Leadership in Change Management

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Change is inevitable and takes place in every organization. Whether this is internally or externally driven change, one thing remains certain – effective change management is critical to success and requires high-quality leadership. There’s no denying that change is essential for a business’ long-term interest.

Yet, in the short term, it can cause chaos and wreak havoc on an organization and the people within it. Many questions about the role leaders have to play in implementing and ensuring the success of change management. However, since leaders take charge of an organization and are the ones to implement and steer employees towards achieving these goals, they have the power to ensure the success or failure of not only change management but the entire organization.

Management vs. Leadership: What’s the Difference?

While managers and leaders are often looked at differently, in times of change, managers assume a leadership role. Usually, managerial work is looked at as work that seeks to maintain the organization, whereas leadership is associated with change. Yet, both are necessary when an organization is changing, and both complement each other. It’s true that management is concerned with consistency while leadership is concerned with change. However, both management and leadership make decisions regarding what needs to be done, how to do it, and ensuring that it is done.

In fact, it’s managers who can provide the leadership that’s required during a period of transition. In addition to creating a vision and providing direction, they can inspire employees to make this vision a reality.

How Leaders Can Ensure Change Success 

Effective leadership can transform change management and is a key factor in organizational change. The following are some of the roles management and leadership can play in making change successful.

Sense-Making

One of the major roles leaders play in change management is making sense of the environment around them and identifying issues that need to be dealt with. In addition to using multiple sources of information to guide their decisions, leaders can improve sense-making by taking different opinions and perspectives into account and testing their ideas on a smaller scale before making large-scale changes. Leaders must also take new developments into consideration since these can impact the timeline for change.

Visioning

Leaders assess situations and use their knowledge to determine the needs of stakeholders. Their vision must be focused, imaginable, feasible, communicable, flexible, and desirable. However, it’s important to note that there’s a higher likelihood of the vision being achieved if it’s shared by many. Thus, it should be compatible with the values of those involved in it and affected by it. The more it is aligned with recipients’ values and offers them personal benefit, the more likely they are to view it positively and conform.

Sense Giving

Communication is an important part of sense giving. For change to be effective, leaders must help others understand their vision. Effective communication will result in feedback, including modifications, clarifications, and other changes that will influence the original vision and may even necessitate a new one.

Different levels of leadership must be on the same page for change implementation to be successful. However, one survey showed that while 68% of senior managers understand why major organizational changes are taking place, the same can’t be said for lower management. This is true for only 53% of middle managers and 40% of front-line supervisors. If this communication isn’t effective amongst different levels of management, it won’t be made clear to workers. This will affect feedback and the sequence of sense-making and giving. While 87% of leaders say that they trained their managers in change management, only 22% thought the training was effective. This necessitates the need for more thorough training so that different leadership levels are prepared to handle the challenges that come with change management. Communication is an essential part of being a good leader during times of change. Inviting employees to take part in conversations about change management helps prevent negative commentary and allows employees to feel like their leaders value their ideas and opinions. According to one study, only 21% of employees going through change feel like their employers value their ideas and opinions. Since many employees say they feel powerless over the future amid change at work, this is important to address.

Communication can inspire confidence and urge employees to embrace change, but only 17% of employees rate change-related communications highly. Effective leaders use communication to their advantage. Since people spend almost three hours a day on social media and even use social media for internal communication, leaders can utilize this as a change management tool to effectively communicate with their employees. It should be noted that encouraging employees to voice their views is an essential part of winning their trust and can aid in their recognition of the need for change.

Aligning

By communicating a shared sense of direction, leaders can align individuals and promote working together to achieve the desired vision. One of the ways leaders can promote working together is by identifying saboteurs or those who are not on board with the change being implemented. By identifying them, they can communicate with them and change their minds, effectively ending conflict and ensuring a smooth-sailing change management operation.

Enabling

While clear communication is necessary for effective change management, leaders must go a step further and enable implementation by facilitating individuals and creating conditions under which they can conform to the vision. This includes providing clear instructions, putting frameworks into place, designing works for teams rather than individuals, providing access to information, encouraging discussions on progress, developing feedback mechanisms, and more.

Providing Support During Change

As a leader, it’s critical to provide support to those affected by the change. In addition to opening dialogue and ensuring two-way, one-on-one communication, leaders can address concerns by providing training opportunities and other types of support throughout the transitioning period. Training and other opportunities will both help employees improve their performance as well as facilitate the implementation of changes.

Maintaining Momentum and Sustaining Change

While short-term gains are important, it’s essential to consider sustaining the changes made. While changes are always being implemented, and employers feel that initial initiatives are met 55% of the time, only 25% are successful in the long run. Thus, it’s critical to ensure active involvement and commitment to change to continue the momentum achieved. To ensure this, leaders must be actively involved in the change implementation process and “walk the walk” instead of simply “talking the talk.”

By demonstrating their involvement, they will encourage employees to model their behavior and motivate them to continue working together to achieve the desired vision. This holds true for leadership across levels, from senior management to those lower down.

Summary and Conclusion 

Leaders can be the catalyst for change and can make change management successful by enabling and supporting employees, visioning, sense-making, sense giving, and helping those they are guiding maintain momentum. By prioritizing communication, support, and commitment, leaders can successfully guide their organizations through any change. 

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