03 May Change Leadership and Change Management. What is the difference and why does it matter?
In my previous blog I wrote about the context of the new world of hyper change. Our world has been changing so dramatically that we now truly live in a VUCA world—a world where the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity of life and work around us are changing at a rapid pace.
If we acknowledge that we have entered the Age of Change, then we also need to ask ourselves if the way we practice change management and change leadership today is good enough to lead change successfully in the new world. The differences between change management and change leadership are becoming increasingly important. You might ask: ‘Are these concepts not describing one and the same thing? Isn’t it just a question of semantics or emphasis?’ The answer is that it might have been the case some decades ago when change was relatively easy to anticipate. However, to conquer the challenges of the Age of Change we need leaders who can truly lead change.
So, let’s discuss the differences.
Change management, which is an established term, refers to many well-honed tools and processes change managers use to implement specific change initiatives. Ideally such initiatives, which are implemented with the help of change managers, would originate within the envelope of an organisation’s vision and strategic objectives. The basic aim of change management is to integrate new initiatives with minimum disruption to exiting systems, while minimising resistance factors that could slow the process down or put large cost burdens on the organisation.
Usually change initiatives are managed within specific time, quality, budget and scope parameters. This set of requirements makes the process of change management comparable to project management—in fact many of the techniques and tools are interchangeable. Change management focuses on effectively implementing specific change initiatives in organisations. Fortunately, over the last two to three decades, change management techniques have accepted and incorporated many tools and processes that aim to achieve better and faster engagement of the people who are involved in or affected by the implementation of change initiatives.
Change Leadership: When we compare change leadership with change management, the fundamental difference is the intent that leaders create visions for change. Leaders then use transformational skills to influence the opinions of their people, so they would follow to make the envisioned change initiatives happen. The notion of change leadership often revolves around creating a notorious ‘burning platform’ to spur the urgency of the leader’s change initiative.
The focus of change leadership, according to leadership academics, Higgs and Rowland (2000), is the ability to influence and enthuse others through personal advocacy, vision and drive, and to provide access to resources to build a solid foundation for change initiatives.
For change leadership to be successful it needs outstanding change management to implement a leader’s visionary change initiatives. The one cannot successfully exist without the other. Very often, change initiatives that are created through change leadership as explained above fail because such a strong link between change leadership and change management does not exist within organisations. Leaders with exceptional transformational skills may create and advocate great visionary change ideas in their organisations, but organisations do not necessarily have the required capacity, capability and change-fitness to implement change initiatives successfully and repeatedly.
Change Leadership in the Age of Change
The contemporary focus of change leadership is on visioning, transforming and implementing specific change initiatives in our organisations. The focus on individual initiatives that appear on the leader’s strategic radar, or to respond reactively to unforeseen challenges in the business environment, is outdated and insufficient. When leaders say they practise change leadership, it does not necessarily mean that they are actively and continually leading change. Certainly, it means that they are pursuing particular visons or impressive initiatives. This is not sufficient leadership in the Age of Change. To lead change successfully, we need to enhance our core understanding of change itself.
In the VUCA world that is filled with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, the practice and process of leadership must start with a focus on the ecosystem and nature of change in itself. We must lead the change ecosystem and the processes within it. The change ecosystem is where all individual change initiatives originate from—and we can lead that strategically, if we understand how the change ecosystem works. We can lead this system to produce faster, better and more successful initiatives. When we understand how we can effectively lead the change ecosystem, we can leapfrog many challenges and create proactive change. Change has truly become a continuous dynamic phenomenon, similar to a natural ecosystem. We must treat it as a permanent and pervasive reality. It is now something that needs constant attention—for leaders and organisations alike.
In the world of leadership, something similar happened about seven decades ago. Management and leadership practitioners began to realise the importance of focusing on and including human relationships in the application of their daily leadership actions. They recognised that a singular focus on work or production-oriented leadership behaviours were no longer adequate to lead people successfully. Likewise, the concept of change has reached a similar stage as human relationships reached decades ago.
For us to continue to lead successfully in the Age of Change, we must use a new set of leadership skills that treats change as a continuous dynamic ecosystem in our hyper-changing world and progressive organisations. This new kind of leadership is distinctly different to leadership that prepares organisations to become ready for specific change initiatives—it is a kind leadership that prepares and equips its people to be fit for any change—planned and unplanned—seen and unforeseen.
The mantra of this new kind of leadership is: ‘Leading change is always on the agenda.’ It should be a continuous focus for everyone and always important. To a large degree the whole organisation must be included in the change leadership process. Leading change would then become part of everyone’s thought process and daily activity. This new mental model of change leadership is practiced continuously and inclusively—similar to how we lead lasting trusting relationships in organisations.
The key leadership principle for the Age of Change is that we need to actively lead change from an ecosystem perspective, rather than leading with the old reactive ways we have been familiar with. The outcome of leading change this way is that all necessary and opportune change initiatives are fully anticipated, well resourced, and resistance that may occur is reduced to a minimum. The organisation—its systems, processes, resources and people—will be aligned to invoke or challenge any change initiative. Clearly, this new leadership mind-set is different to contemporary leadership that is singularly focused on solidifying readiness for individual initiatives and employing change management, on an initiative-by-initiative basis.
In this Age of Change we need leaders that can and will lead change.
In my next blog I discuss the reasons why so many change initiatives fail. I also introduce something I call the natural Pre-Life-Cycle of change and I discuss how we can lead change successfully.
IncludeChange developed a novel integrated leadership framework that will help you become a change-fit leader in the Age of Change. Our leadership framework provides comprehensive methods and clear actions on how to lead trusting relationships in inclusive ways and how to govern organisations to execute mutual objectives at unusual heights of performance. Embedding our new leadership framework into your organisation will help you lead change in a proactive and inclusive manner. It will position leaders and organisations many steps ahead, well before change impacts. Because you would become a change-fit leader by adapting the principles of the leadership framework, you will lead change pro-actively by becoming a disruptive change-maker in your own right, in your own context.