August 1, 2022

The (very challenging) context for change management

Just as change is constant in life, it’s also constant in leadership. Even the most well-optimized organizations must ebb, flow and adapt with the times.

That’s why one of the most important skillsets leaders can hone is the ability to manage change.

Fortunately, your leadership toolbox is probably already filled with the skills you’ll need. Difficult conversations, negotiation, systems-building and more. Change management simply draws on all of them — and sometimes all of them at once!

That’s part of what makes change management daunting. I could devote a year’s worth of blog posts to it, but I would hate to stop writing about career design and time and energy management, so I am going to limit my discussion for the time being to a two-post series.

For the first, let’s dig into the change management context. Then stay with me for the next post, which will be my best tips for surviving (and maybe even thriving!) while leading change.

Change is hard

Change management gets a lot of attention among my clients for a simple reason. It can be really tough. That’s because change, even when sorely needed, is a lot of work. It upsets patterns, norms, and comfort zones, and so many people don’t love it.

Leaders often don’t love it, either. They may find themselves asking people to do things they are unaccustomed to doing, try ideas they think won’t work, and work hard on something whose outcome is not guaranteed. Change introduces uncertainty, and it can feel threatening. People may fear being unable to adapt or being on the losing end of a new equation.

And that’s just what leaders experience externally. Leaders may also be plagued by impostor syndrome, fueling doubt, worry and cycles of rumination. Change may also occur amid times of societal upheaval (often labeled VUCA — volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous), which understandably exacerbates stress.

No wonder change management causes so much concern!

Of course, this is also why it is such a ripe area for leadership development. Because the reality is, the world is always changing, and so organizations must, too.

That’s how I came to be discussing this topic recently at the ADVANCE PHM 2022 Gender Equity Symposium. My goal was to provide attendees with an overview of what it takes to lead and manage change and how they can begin to build those skills. I’d like to share this insight with you, too.

The levers for change management

The way change comes about will depend on the dynamics of power and influence in your organization.

Power is about authority and the ability to directly make things happen. When you use power and authority, you lean on your role in the hierarchy to get things done. Make a decision, then issue a directive to implement it.

This approach is a blunt instrument, and it can be very effective. It can also bruise feelings and have unforeseen consequences, as I have written before.

In contrast, influence is about shaping the views and actions taken by others. The beauty of influence lies in the fact that you can wield it even in the absence of authority. You can use it in tandem with power, and you can also lean on others to leverage their influence. However you employ it, influence is more subtle than power, but it is also less direct and less certain. It may also depend on your ability to recognize who your allies are, and the negotiation skills you bring to your conversations.

Power and influence will determine how change arises in organizations. A closely related consideration is decision rights – that is, the authorization to sign off on decisions.

Recognizing who can make decisions (who has the power) and who can influence decisions (typically in some kind of advisory role) is important as you seek to bring about change, and it will inform your work as a change manager. You need to know who to talk with when you need things done and how you should approach them. Understanding where they fall in the decision making process will help you figure this out.

Embracing change

Although change is hard, it is frequently necessary – and it’s often good. It’s how teams and organizations grow. It’s how we improve outcomes and transform organizations for resilience and longevity.

Change almost never unfolds perfectly, but if you manage it well, you’ll be glad you did the work once it’s in the rear-view mirror. Especially if you lean on the principles of good change management. These include using power, influence and decision rights as points of leverage.

Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll explain how you put them to work.

Unlock your potential and align with what matters most to you. 

It’s that simple.


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