Change management myths - leadership of change is NOT innate

Myths play a useful role in our everyday life. They help to simplify and present stories that build shared understanding and insight.

The role of workplace myths

The world of work also has its ‘myths’ which are the shorthand that guide and influence the management of a business.

I want to focus in a series of post on  some of the common myths about change management in order to challenge our thinking on how we approach the need to change our business approach.

Why are change management myths self-limiting?

If your business holds onto ‘false beliefs’ about change management then you are likely to be blindsided by failing to plan and manage any new initiative or project.

One way of thinking about myths is that they are ‘fanciful fiction’ that help us make sense of the world. We must remember that they are not reality, they reflect a widely held but false belief.

So what are some of these myths, let’s confront them head on.

Myth 1 – Leaders must lead change

Do we need leadership in change management?

For change to happen it must be led, so who gets to set and lead change in the workplace?

There has been some discussion that for too long we have relied on outside experts to guide our change management journey, or that we try to straddle two competing approaches to change that assign leadership differently.

Both of these discussions however focus on the importance of leadership to achieving success in introducing change.

Leadership of change often, inevitably, gets assigned by default to managers. We can’t assume however that our leaders (read managers) have the skills to take on the role.

Leaders know the way in change management

Making change happen is NOT an innate skill of all leaders

In nursing we often used to talk about senior nursing managers being promoted based on their clinical and caring skills but failing to have the necessary ‘management’ skills. This insight reflects the reality that you can be promoted to a management position but still have a long way to go before you have all the skills necessary to successfully ‘own’ or ‘live’ the role.

The same could be said for managers and change management – knowing how to successfully bring about change is a skill which will distinguish you from your colleagues and stand you in good stead, but it is not an innate skill that managers acquire just because they’ve been promoted.

Cultivating and developing change management skill and a leadership style will help you lead and drive change. So what are some of the key change management leadership skills worth developing. I’ve put together four worth your consideration.

Four skills needed by leader to lead change

Listening with compassion#1 Have an ear to the ground when leading change

Don’t surround yourself with ‘supporters’ who are all saying the same thing. Get out and about and listen to what your colleagues are saying.

It is not always going to be easy to ‘listen into’ the vibe or views of all – so your job is to develop ways that help you gather input (anonymous or otherwise), i.e., listen to the chatter at key breakout times or social events, dig into what is behind seemingly innocuous questions at Q & A sessions, and engage with the naysayers to get a better understanding of what lies behind their resistance.

The key here is confronting the reality of the change, warts and all. Not everyone will embrace a change initiative. You need to understand this reaction and plan to address it in your messaging of the vision.

Read also Lessons in Change Management: Deep Listening is Essential

#2 Recognise and work with the winners and losers as you manage changebusiness insights and analysis

In any change there are ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ and knowing who these are, what the nature of the gains and loses are, and then working with them to make the best of the change at an individual and organisational level.

This is a bit like playing the politics of workplace change. Knowing the real or perceived impact on a change and being prepared for, and genuinely building solutions, will go a long way to smoothing the way for the change.

Read also Navigating the Politics and Emotions of Change

stay on target with change management#3 Stay on target – reinforce the strategy that is driving change

The imperative for change is often driven from strategy. Your business strategy is your planned response to changing strategic drivers such as market, people, profits, market share or regulation and often involves a change in business practice or systems.

Change management should revisit and reinforce the strategy and visions behind the change. If you do this you give the change greater meaning and relevance to staff. This is akin to aligning the organisation to the strategy.

Read also Linking Strategy to Operations: Six Stages to Execution

#4 Confront the ambiguity and uncertainty of change

Change brings uncertainty and will often be challenging and confronting to those who are used to ‘having all the answers’ and being in control. Help them build a new narrative to their work and the business.

Adopting a more flexible and less determined approach to workplace challenges as you roll out change will support and encourage new solutions that are necessary.

In summary

While making change happen is not an innate skill there are many ways that leaders can hone and develop the skills necessary to support strategic and business change.

Finally don’t forget to inject some fun into the change journey.

If you need some guidance on this I recommend you read my blog on ‘Could fun be the antidote to change resistance’.

Need help?

Are you struggling with introducing change or simply want to support your managers in bringing about change? Contact me for more information and assistance.

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn. Harriet

Beecher Stowe