Managing Change or Leading Change: Does It Matter?

At first glance Change Management (CM) and Change Leadership (CL) may be considered interchangeable and simply more jargon used to confuse a familiar concept. Stay with me on this post as there is a significant difference when the end-game is the desire to create full adoption and sustained capability of any Change initiative. Over my career I’ve had the benefit of involvement of Change initiatives ranging from departmental in scope to transformational. Some made it to full adoption; others were a “one-and-done” spike of changed behavior only to revert back to status quo. The difference? Some Change initiatives were managed well while those that turned out to be sustainable were lead to full adoption.

Leading Change to full adoption implies that we not only manage Change to deployment, we must continue to lead Change through implementation…and beyond to the desired goal of full adoption.

Today, more than ever our organizations are confronted with the need to make sweeping changes to remain competitive. Many organizations feel the pressure to adjust to a new dynamic workforce of Millennials. We see the rules of engagement changing and long-held paradigms [a.k.a. Training] coming up short when sustained capability at the Point-of-Work are the basis for sustained capability. Many must become more agile in the face of changing regulatory requirements, resilient to changes in product and service portfolio evolutions, rapid growth aspirations, amazing new technology options…and…and…and. Everything we do is a function of adopting Change as effectively and efficiently as possible.

With successful Change being as continuous of the demand to adopt it, something needs to…well…Change. It has been my experience that a Repeatable Change Leadership Methodology is the answer.

A few years ago I was honored to be a guest speaker at an IQPC Talent Management Summit in Las Vegas on the topic “Change Leadership: When Change Management is Not Enough“. Prior to the event Katherine Mehr of IPQC, interviewed me for a marketing piece related to the breakout session. The interview dialogue follows and may provide some valuable insight behind what might otherwise be considered jargon.

Katherine:   How would you define change leadership?

GW:   I think the best “short definition” is this… Change Leadership (CL) is Change Management (CM)…PLUS…additional activities that drive three key leadership attributes:

  • Inspiration,
  • Influence, and…
  • Strategic Integration

Here is an example:

Desired results of virtually any change initiative are comprised of sustainable and measurable positive outcomes. What drives these outcomes are human performance – action – new or changed behaviors at the Point-of-Work. All too often, “supporting new or changed behavior” represent our primary target. To be successful in that endeavor we train the workforce under precepts of traditional CM and then we expect sustainable performance…and often come up short.

The more cross-cutting the Change…meaning the more organization-wide the affect…or the more transformational the Change initiative may be…the tougher it is to drive changed behavior within the limits of traditional CM tools.

This shortfall is where inspiration, influence, and integration come to play…if for no other reason than they impact thinking”…they address the human ingredients of values and attitudes, which in turn shape the way people think about things. How we think about things represents our unique behavior biases. In other words, many of us do what we “think” we should do in a given situation. Lacking any other influence or inspiration, our choice of behavior defaults to how we think we should act.

If we neglect to influence and inspire new thinking…all the CM efforts in the world will not move the human performance needle to the point of sustaining capability…which, by the way, is the ultimate target of any effective Change initiative.

Katherine:   In previous conversation, you have mentioned that change and leadership must be consistent, collaborative and comprehensive. Can you elaborate on that?

GW:   For me…the concept of consistency begs the question – “How can you be consistent when virtually every change is different …or has different implications?”

Consistency is not intended toward the language of “what is said”……as much as it is “what are the component parts” of what is said. To that end, we work within a replicable model that addresses the same key components regardless of the actual change, be it department level or a broadly reaching transformational change. To shape “thinking” we have to anticipate the unspoken thoughts/questions of those on the receiving end of change. Things like:

  • People want to know what’s going to happen to them and why. WIIFM?
  • They want to know what is expected of them…what’s at risk if nothing is done?
  • Who is impacted by their contribution?
  • Who is going to prepare them to be successful…how? …when?
  • Where do they go for help?
  • Who else believes in this change?
  • How will we know if we succeed?
  • Is this temporary or permanent?

Collaborative – implies cross-level interaction and opportunities to communicate:

  • From a visible, accessible Sponsor early and often throughout the change effort;
  • To formative input venues like focus groups or interactive discussion forums…which, by the way, represent a great opportunity for using Social Media venues like blogs, wikis, & communities of practice;
  • To cross-functional change teams;
  • To downstream [post GoLive] feedback loops to harvest issues, challenges, successes, and best practices that manifest post GoLive.

Comprehensive – The best examples surface in communications – in particular communications that are “localized” – meaning…audiences across the organization are segmented so the most impactful and relevant value proposition is communicated to each segment directly.  No one-size-fits-all propaganda messages can pull this off.

In short, comprehensive implies we treat Change as a continuum – We PrepareWe DeployWe Iterate – We ImplementWe Adjust. In other words, CL is not limited to a transaction or an event; it is a continuous process along a Learner-to-Performer Continuum core to a Performance Paradigm.

Note that I have distinguished deployment from implementation. Deployment gets us to GoLive. IT hands off a new system, training has been completed, we have a GoLive party with three-bite shrimp, clowns, balloons and face-painting…and somebody shouts over the wall to the IT Help Desk, “INCOMING!”

Implementation speaks to routinizing the Change into day-to-day work. Implementation is not too dissimilar to the process of building workforce capability at the Point-of-Work…or reaching competency to use HR-speak. Implementation is not within the scope, nor charter of the L&D function and this point of differentiation highlights where CM often fails to sustain capability. We effectively manage Change up to the point of GoLive, and then we move on to the next project.

Treating implementation as a part of the Learner-to-Performer CL continuum enables our shift from surviving change as an event or a transaction to a sustained capability.

Katherine:    What is change management’s role in organizational development (OD) intervention? (Discuss how we only leverage CM to tactical advantage….talk about what we are missing)

GW:   Change Management is a standard tool in any OD Practitioner’s toolbox. I get the sense; however, that the focus of OD has shifted over the last few years from a top-down management of organization-wide change to facilitating from bottom-up.  This is a good thing, and it shifts responsibility of individuals and their engaged contribution play a greater role when it’s bottom up. But…where those individual are…at the Point-of-Work…is not part of what a Training Paradigm was ever tasked to address.

Success stems from engaged and empowered individual contributors and teams that contribute to momentum and help build critical mass. That means they need the tools, assets and relevant resources to succeed at the Point-of-Work. Never has the need been greater to expand the OD toolbox to include attributes of performance consulting and repeatable Change Leadership principles to bring inspiration, influence, and integration into the effort.

The OD Practitioner (and in a lot of cases this may default to the Learning & Development function) should be tasked with sustaining change. To do this effectively, Change cannot be viewed as an event to survive or a transaction to complete successfully.

The organization should be treated as a “dynamic learning and performance ecosystem”…a system of systems, if you will, where different motivations and contributions are scattered across levels and functions. As such, our approach must become more holistic than ever before. The tactical aspects of CM are not robust enough to meet the velocity of change we face today without recognizing the implications of Change within each “system” of the organizational eco-system. One-size-fits-all training cannot hope to fill this need. We must move downstream to the Point-of-Work to address critical moments of need that are tied directly to tangible business outcomes.

Katherine:   How does effective leadership exemplify a positive business culture for change?

GW:   I’ll answer this with two words –Empowerment and Sponsorship

To put this into an example, I will recall for you one of those moments in my life that I would classify as a defining moment.  This quick story is based upon a Change initiative that was cultural in nature and impacted an entire organization.

In a previous life, I managed the Sales Training function at one of the top three long distance carriers. The competitive environment was intense to say the least. The new Business Sales Group President was making the rounds to each department and dropped in on our staff meeting as a guest. Sales were sluggish and his mission was to turn that around. He said simply…

Our mission is to sell minutes on our network. If what any of you are working on does not promote the sale of minutes to the network, you have a responsibility to raise your hand and question the activity!”

Short and sweet and to the point. I cannot recall ever feeling more empowered to accept his challenge to change the sales culture at our company, particularly when I was not directly “selling minutes”…I managed a sales training team tasked to prepare our sales representatives to successfully sell minutes. We had a significant Change facing us.

Looking back on that defining moment, it was amazing to me how that single, simple visit he made transformed our momentum to sustain change. He empowered us with the ability to question and to challenge our activity to ensure alignment and contribution to the mission. There were no major meetings, no fanfare, no gala events…simply a direct “localized” communication tailored to a group with a specific task – effectively train the sales force to sell minutes.

The third of ten components of the Change Leadership Model just so happens to be SPONSORSHIP and it addresses selection and recruitment criteria for identifying and engaging an effective Change sponsor.

The key leadership characteristic I seek in a sponsor is… “Willingness

  • Willing to be a vocal advocate for the Change
  • Willing to be visible across the organization, both horizontally and vertically
  • Willing to be accessible for receiving input and sharing opinion/advice to both the Change Team and the general population

There are certainly more attributes that exemplify effective leadership than empowerment and sponsorship, but these are two of the most critical for leading change that are typically outside of traditional CM activities.

Katherine:   What are a few critical success factors for leading change?

GW:   Actually, there are ten critical success factors in the repeatable model I will introduce at the conference. We do not have time in this interview to do justice to each of them in detail, but I can provide a quick hit for you now:

  1. Validation – Articulate a compelling business case for change. Is there a problem worth solving with the proposed Change? How painful and visible is it? (See Calibration) Does anybody give a rip? If so, who? How do we convince business-organization-department-individual that this Change is necessary? What is the business case for the Change in terms of business impact? What is the cost of doing nothing?
  2. Calibration – Define tangible business performance indicators [PIs] of successful change. To define relevant PIs we must define current state…the “AS IS” state prior to the Change. Define the business impact at risk. What are the projected tangible business performance indicators of successful adoption of the Change? Are there intangible benefits to include as well? This phase serves as guidelines for measuring evidence for reporting formative business impact from deployment through implementation.
  3. Sponsorship – Recruit and engage willing leader(s) to be visible and accessible advocate(s) throughout the Change effort. Which leader is willing to commit to adopting the Change as a viable approach to reducing time-to-impact? Is he/she accessible, visible and highly respected to the organization and the Change team?
  4. Value Proposition Cascade – Render a “localized” value message at every level impacted by the Change. What is the “WIIFM” value message at every level impacted by the adoption of the Change?
  5. Tactical Change Road Map – Define explicit plans to communicate, prepare, inform, equip, sell, train, and support the Change event to and for the user population. This is not simply a Point A to Point B roadmap. There are stops along the way; some of which may be iterative in nature. What is the timeline of events?
  6. Create Readiness – Application of performance consulting skills and integrate an agile design, development and delivery methodology for assets that embrace a Learner-to-Performer Continuum that address all five moments of need at the Point-of-Work. Is the right technology infrastructure in place and can it scale? What other functions must be at readiness to launch a pilot?
  7. Mobilization – Identify and empower team resources needed to engage and execute the Change road map. This often means identifying and starting small with a pilot project and scaling off the success.
  8. Deployment – What are the scope and logistics of the GoLive event for the Change pilot? Debrief feedback and fine-tune through pilot iterations. Extract and report impact measurements from the Change pilot results. (See Calibration) Determine readiness to scale.
  9. Implementation – Replicate pilot roadmap on a larger, prioritized scale. This is a process of routinization and integration of agile development assets and performance technology into workflows. Extract and report relevant impact measurements from incremental implementations as you scale. (See Calibration)
  10. Sustained Capability – Effectively communicate and celebrate success beginning with pilot deployment. Share user “wins” widely, newly-found best practices and feedback. Harvest learning, user-generated hacks and cheats from feedback. Integrate discoveries into future learning solutions. Determine how long, when, by whom, and how are success metrics captured, formatted and reported? (See Calibration)

These CL success factors are template-driven and supported by worksheets that provide key questions and actions required within each of these factors.

Katherine:   What are some best practices for actually implementing these factors within an organization?

GW:    In reality, the ten critical success factors I briefly described in your last question play a “best practice” role. To extract something worthy of the “best” best practice out of those ten factors, I would have to say:

“Make the tenets of Change Leadership something that is REPEATABLE!”

I guess what I’m suggesting is to always use these principles to ensure a consistent approach to Change Leadership across the organization. This ensures that you establish a recognizable and standard expectation within the rank and file that leadership has “got their back” when something is happening, and Change will be effectively and efficiently handled every time. By replicating these ten success factors, we “routinize” the expectation of how we will lead Change across all levels of the organization. Replicating these ten success factors creates a consistent expectation for two significant groups:

  • Those on the receiving end of Change, and
  • Those tasked to initiate and drive Change

Regardless of where you are in the organization and what your individual role may be specific to the Change initiative, there will be:

  • A defined beginning point that is relevant to each role involved;
  • Questions regarding “What, Who, When, Where How, & Why” and the requirements for us to provide answers to everyone impacted at every level;
  • The need for line of sight from an individual’s contribution to the affect their actions have on the business mission, and…
  • A transparent accounting of success or failure with the Change initiative

Katherine:   How do you get your key stakeholders to take an integrated approach to executing these initiatives strategically?

GW:    If we successfully routinize Change, leading it becomes what I categorize as “ordinary work” as opposed to something extra that we need to do. Change Leadership must become a cultural doctrine…a discipline…and expectation. Engaging key stakeholders early and often and providing an input and feedback conduit are great ways to encourage both a holistic and an integrated approach to leading Change.

Another benefit that can promote adoption is the byproduct of a compressed timeline for building the CL plan. The template-driven approach provides a clear structure to ensure key success factors are not overlooked, and it promotes visibility to key players who should be involved…from visible Sponsor(s) to key stakeholder segments impacted by the initiative. The more frequently the 10-step approach is applied, the more familiar and less reliant upon templates the process becomes.

Bottom-line for me is this – the most successful Change strategy is one that manifests effective tactical execution that yields a sustained capability. Effective Change Management alone is not enough. In the same light, Training alone is not enough to drive sustainable performance. An holistic approach following the Learner-to-Performer Continuum and addressing all five moments of need are critical. That does not mean CM is a waste of time, or that Training is not necessary. To ensure sustainability, we should wrap the added power and momentum that these principles of Change Leadership give us around our tactical execution of effective Change Management. Likewise, we should adopt a Performance Paradigm that embraces the Point-of-Work since that’s where tangible business value is created…or lost.

Closing Thoughts and Shameless Plug

Experienced Organizational Change Agent and Workforce Performance Strategist

Currently seeking a leadership role with a progressive firm that is aligned with creation of sustained, organizational Workforce Capability. With more than 20 years of success, I promote a change methodology that enables sustained performance outcomes through blended application of innovative learning & performance technologies across enterprise business applications and process workflows.  From past senior leadership roles with multiple direct reports, and as a performance consultant at the core, this proven, holistic approach enables convergence of continuous learning opportunities with on-demand performer support within a dynamic, ecosystem-wide continuum from “point-of-entry” to “point-of-work”.

My experience confirms that many organizations are stuck in a Training Paradigm – where tradition promises that training will drive performance. Unfortunately, that is a myth –Training alone only drives potential.

Valid evidence of sustained workforce capability only manifests post-training at the Point-of-Work. Disruptive thinking? You bet! Change that promotes radical cultural re-think and operational integration and adoption of a Performance Paradigm represents the solution, and that is what I bring to the table.

Strong business acumen enables addressing performance challenges with operational stakeholders as a trusted advisor who speaks fluently in relevant terms of key performance indicators that address tangible evidence of business impact specific to their scope of work.

Recently RiFed from Xerox Global Learning Services as a Performance Strategist and seeking a new opportunity.

– Performance Consulting
– Transformational Change Management
– Custom Learning & Performance Solution Development
– Workforce Capability Strategy Development
– Learning & Performance Technology Evaluation, Selection & Integration
– Impact Measurement and Reporting


Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Advocate, Coach, Speaker 
(317) 437-2555
Web: Living In Learning