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What is organisational change leadership?

Posted on: August 5, 2022

The global pandemic has shone a light on many inefficiencies in business. From supply chains to logistics, remote working set-ups to digital transformation, many aspects of how businesses were and are run and whether they sufficiently assess risk have been highlighted by this global event. The pandemic, alongside political unrest, war, and the heightened effects of the climate crisis, have all brought the need for change into sharper focus.

In an ideal world, organisational change should not be reactionary, but companies should be implementing initiatives to anticipate the needs of all stakeholders during periods of deliberate scaling as well as to facilitate organic growth – or basic stability – in times of challenge. While any kind of change can represent a challenge for many organisations, the transition to this mindset demands unflappable leadership that supports nimble decision-making and which sees change as opportunity.

What is the relationship between change leadership and change management?

Organisational change management is usually a linear process in response to a particular event or situation that demands change. The process is linear because it has a goal as an endpoint, a period of time in which to achieve it, and various milestones to hit along the way. Change managers oversee the process and delegate tasks that cumulatively contribute to change efforts being reached. Managing organisational change such as restructures or implementation of new technologies can be approached in similar ways to project management.

However, change leadership is a more proactive approach to change management that recognises opportunities for continued growth and improvement. Effective leadership requires vision and working closely with all teams. Most importantly, truly effective transformational leadership acknowledges when things aren’t working as planned and adjusts accordingly. Change leaders listen to feedback from employees as well as from senior leaders, and build trust, strengthening organisational culture before initiating change.

What are the four types of organisational change?

There can be various reasons why organisational change becomes necessary. The shifts needed can happen within personnel, through redefining the company’s goals, adjusting the service offering, or in reassessing how the company operates as a whole, such as transitioning to a different business model. Broadly speaking there are four main types of change: strategic, structural, people-centric, and remedial.

For strategic and structural change, additional training and a gradual approach to transition are needed. Remedial change tends to require immediate action. At the other end of the scale, people-centric change really needs a thorough change management communication strategy and support from human resources to navigate potentially strong emotional reactions. People-centric change should be approached as incremental change.

Strategic transformational change

Not all changes within a business are transformational changes. It is possible to make modifications that don’t lead to the business completely redefining itself. However, strategic change management is required for a bigger transition that needs large-scale planning and ongoing change maintenance. Examples of strategic transformational change include updating the company’s mission, introducing new technologies, and employee training and development of new skills.

People-centric organisational change

People-centric change at an organisational level can include redundancies and new hires as well as policy changes which may or may not be welcome. Parental leave policies or flexible work policies may seem like they would be positively received, but it’s still important that they’re communicated with sensitivity. Changes to roles and responsibilities can also cause confusion and resistance. The Kübler-Ross Change Curve and Satir Change Model are both useful in understanding and anticipating normal emotional reactions to change.

Structural change

Major shifts in management, team organisation, and the responsibilities of each department are all structural changes. These often overlap with people-centric change as they often affect all employees. Some of the main reasons for restructuring include mergers and acquisitions, the creation of new teams or departments, and changes to the company organogram. A useful tool to support the process of change in mergers and acquisitions is Lewin’s Change Management Model, which focuses on establishing a new status quo through three steps: unfreeze, change, refreeze.

Remedial change

These are reactionary changes, but they don’t have to be knee-jerk reactions. Remedial change usually happens when a problem is identified and an immediate solution needs to be implemented. It’s not an ideal scenario but one benefit is that judging whether it was a success or not usually becomes obvious quite quickly. Examples of when this may happen include dealing with a loss of talent (sometimes due to a misdemeanour), or something relatively simpler, like addressing customer communication issues.

These transitions are complex and some of the key components that contribute to effective change management include:

  • alignment amongst leadership
  • engagement amongst stakeholders
  • strong internal communications
  • readiness for change impact
  • accommodating training and learning needs
  • implementing successful organisational design

What is the eight-step process for leading change?

The components of organisational change ensure that we cover all bases when planning change initiatives, but what are the actual practical steps we need to take? There are many theories and step-by-step guides to implementing successful change initiatives, but Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter’s is one of the most well-known. 

Developed through research into 100 organisations’ change processes, it consists of eight steps:

1. Create a sense of urgency

Members of all teams need to be on board, so helping them to see the need for change and understand what’s in it for them with bold communication and aspirational vision, will support efforts.

2. Build a guiding coalition

Coalitions that include a diverse group of proactive members will help keep the momentum, while also offering members the chance to develop skills and responsibilities they may not otherwise experience within their job roles.

3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives

Offer clarity in how the future will be tangibly different from the past and concrete examples of how initiatives are linked to making this vision real.

4. Enlist a volunteer army

Buy-in of both hearts and minds, and in numbers, is what brings the urgency to drive change. Your guiding coalition can help with this, as their enthusiasm can influence others.

5. Enable action by removing barriers

There’s nothing worse than excitement and enthusiasm being scuppered by barriers such as inefficient processes and hierarchies that don’t provide the necessary freedom to effect change. Removing barriers and silos will help generate real impact.

6. Generate short-term wins

As the Kotter Inc website puts it, “Wins are the molecules of results”. By recognising, collecting, and sharing them across the organisation, volunteers remain energised by progress. Form this habit early on and keep it going even in tough periods.

7. Sustain acceleration

After initial successes, press harder. The credibility that these successes lend creates impetus; use it to improve systems, structures, and policies, and be relentless with change after change.

8. Institute change

Continue to draw attention to the connections between new behaviours and organisational success as they happen, so that they are maintained and become strong enough to replace old habits. 

Join other aspiring change leaders on an MBA Entrepreneurship course

Change is no longer about empty promises on inclusion and diversity or sustainability — it’s about creating organisations that are future-proofed because important factors like these are built into the strategy rather than seen as add-ons. Customers are savvier than ever and questioning how companies operate and in whose interests. When businesses embrace change and confront challenges to their relevance, they naturally become more resilient.

Learn more about change leadership and the competencies required for successful change management with an MBA Entrepreneurship from the University of Wolverhampton. From handling culture change to maintaining a clear vision under pressure, this 100% online course will equip you with the leadership skills you need to tackle transformation.

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