Can leaders really deliver effective change?

Strategies for success in your next leader-led Change project.

With a rich and diverse history of designing and delivering learning programs, it's no surprise that while leading and delivering Change, I am also passionate about sharing that knowledge with others.

I firmly believe many job roles; project managers, business analysts, communications experts, executive assistants, will significantly benefit from a high-level understanding of change management basics.

And in the future, as change capabilities increase across the business, change managers, like myself, will be more consultative. Change Managers will create the strategy and roadmap, and then delivery will happen as part of BAU activities.

In theory.

In practice, leader-led Change has many opportunities for failure. If you're a Change Manager, enabling others in your organisation to deliver Change, here are some things to watch out for.

Leaders and SME's have a day job.

Change managers are great at delivering the Change because it's their job. Change managers focus ONLY on providing good Change, and nothing else because that's what they were hired to do. Change managers also have about four extra sets of ears, ears that hear differently. They are better at picking up subtle undertones in conversations and figuring out what people mean when it seems like they are resisting a change.

An leader is less likely to have the headspace to focus on excellent change delivery because they're doing their 'day' job. It's a mistake to assume adequate stakeholder engagement is happening, and systematic training is taking place. Leaders rarely have the delivery skills required to deliver compelling training. Think IT technician explaining a mail-merge. Great comms will lack cut-through because they're not coming from the right senders and training may be haphazard, squashed in around other actions that take priority.

When things don't go to plan, relationships could suffer. Whose fault is it? You can blame Change, but they didn't deliver the Change. You can blame the SME's, but they're not equipped to deliver the Change.

Are SME's and Leaders better than Change Champions?

You'd be mistaken to assume leaders can deliver Change more effectively than Change Champions. Change Champions are mostly volunteers. They're often eager beavers willing to go above and beyond, to learn, to excel and be seen for future opportunities in their functional area. Well-chosen champions give their temporary secondment 150%. Leaders, again, are trying to fit this (and the other 25 changes) around 200 incoming emails a day.

Having just finished a leader-led Change project here are tips for ensuring you have the best chance of success.

  • At the outset, deliver a short workshop on what proper Change Management looks like (to you). Leaders may have worked with Change Managers in the past, but we're all different. Your methodologies may not align with their views of what good Change it. Get on the same page from day one.

  • Choose a collaboration and communication tool that works for everyone and stick to it. I'm a great lover of technology, Teams, SharePoint, Jira, Yammer. Not all leaders share my passion for technology. The communication in my recent project would have worked better if we used post-its on a whiteboard. Don't let your communication preference foster a lack of communication.

  • Insist on oversight of the training materials. Multiple roll-outs need to start with a cookie-cutter approach. Sure, some areas will need training material tailored, but everyone should start with the same content. Ten SME's creating their bespoke delivery material will be a disaster. Without training know-how SME's make training too technical. Help them write in plain English reminding them to write as if the audience were young adults.

  • Insist on doing a high stakeholder analysis. If your leaders already have relationships with stakeholders across the business, you may be mistaken from thinking you don't need to meet these stakeholders. Only by doing this analysis, at a high-level, can you appropriately guide your leaders on how to deliver the best Change, and manage any perceived resistance. Change Managers are like sniffer dogs. We sniff out potential pitfalls and put strategies in place up front as we've seen the pitfalls many times before. If I'm leading a team of Change Managers I'd check in with stakeholders to make sure their training was well-received. If you have a relationship with the stakeholders, you can do the same following leader-led training.

  • Drink a lot of coffee! Remember, in a leader-led change project, your most important stakeholders are your leaders. Check-in with them often. Don't assume important tasks have happened. Remember these guys usually are busy, and even though they are delivering the Change, there is a lot you can do to support them, but you have to ask.

Sharon Connolly is a Change Leader working in financial services in Sydney, Australia.

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