Change management leaders are responsible for envisioning change, driving it forward, motivating employees, and more.
Strong leadership can significantly boost the performance and outcomes of an organizational change project.
In many cases, it can even mean the difference between success and failure. A study by Cloudbakers, for instance, revealed that one of the most influential factors in a change project’s success was executive sponsorship.
Though change leadership and executive sponsorship are not quite the same thing, they are closely correlated – after all, executives who lend their support to a project will be more likely to become involved with it as a leader.
Below, we’ll learn more about change leadership, how it differs from change management, and five of the most important responsibilities that change leaders should take on.
Change Management vs. Change Leadership – An Important Difference
Change management refers to the business discipline dedicated to implementing and managing organizational change programs.
Among other tasks, change managers are responsible for:
- Developing organizational change plans
- Creating employee training programs
- Design change management communication strategies
- Execute, manage, and optimize those initiatives
Change management shares certain qualities with project management, though change management places more of an emphasis on group dynamics and human emotions.
Successful change, after all, depends heavily on motivating and engaging employees.
The need for employee support should not be understated, since employees can easily become resistant to change if they are not engaged properly.
This is one reason why it is important to have change leaders as well as change managers.
Change leaders, as we will discover below, are business professionals, often business leaders, who assume the responsibility of developing a vision for change, engaging employees, and driving the change forward.
5 Key Responsibilities of Change Management Leaders
To better understand what change management leaders do, let’s examine five core responsibilities of this role.
1. Create a compelling vision of change
A vision for change shows what the organization will look like after the change initiative has completed.
While it is important to describe this “after” state quantitatively, one purpose of the change vision is to inspire people and show them where they are headed.
Ideally, this change vision should paint a positive picture that employees can relate to directly.
For instance, if an organization is investing in digitization and digital transformation, the change vision could show how the change will transform the workplace, streamline workflows, and boost employees’ job skills.
The more emotionally gripping and compelling the vision is, the more engaged and productive employees will be.
2. Craft a story that articulates that vision for employees
The change story transform the vision for change into a narrative that outlines how the change project will proceed.
Like the change vision, the change story should be emotionally compelling and aimed at engaging employees.
A motivating story can help to:
- Mobilize employees
- Build consensus
- Reduce resistance
- Keep change teams in sync and on target
Change stories and visions are useful tools that every change leader should include in their toolbox. However, they are just tools – to truly drive a change program forward, leaders must fully engage with the workforce.
3. Enlist a corps of volunteer supporters
Employees are the ones who must actually enact change programs. Although a core change team can guide efforts, more support is needed.
Change management leaders should therefore take a direct hand in earning that support.
Models for change such as John Kotter’s 8-step model recommend building an “army” of volunteers who are enthusiastic about that change and ready to offer their assistance.
As the corps of volunteers grows in size, the change project will gain momentum – however, it is important to continue leading that project all the way through to completion.
4. Embody the change and be persistent
Leading by example is a well-known leadership quality that also applies to change management leadership.
There are several reasons why leading by example is so powerful.
For instance, when leaders embody a change first, then employees can directly see what that change should look like, then emulate that.
However, when change leaders choose not to lead by example, there is a risk that employees will feel alienated from leadership. Those sentiments, in turn, can lower engagement and productivity, or even generate resistance.
5. Engage and collaborate closely with change teams at all levels
Another way to help employees feel more included is to collaborate consistently with change teams.
On the one hand, continued collaboration with teams will help maintain accountability and performance standards.
On the other, better communication will offer more direct insight into the real-time health of the project, giving leaders and managers more opportunities to make adjustments.
Though change leaders’ time is undoubtedly scarce, it is also a good idea to collaborate with teams at every level of the change project, from senior managers to the ground-level employees.
Like leading by example, this type of frontline leadership will make it much easier to garner support and push a change project forward.