Leading Change. Whose Job is it Anyway?

This article is adapted from my latest book "Game On! Change is Constant – Tactics to Win When Leading Change is Everyone’s Business”

I frequently find myself being asked this question. Who should be responsible for leading change in my organization? Change Management Office, HR, People and Culture, middle management, c-suite?

My answer. “All of the above and more. Leading change is everyone’s business.”

Everyone can (and must) lead change

When everyone can lead change, employees know that they are making a difference and getting things done. They are motivated and engaged.

Organizations must give employees autonomy to lead change. This needs trust and commitment. It also means breaking down the hierarchy so that everyone can make decisions and initiate and drive change.

There may be principles to guide employees or guardrails within which they can operate but everyone is encouraged to lead change to the extent that it makes good sense for the organization.

When everyone can lead change they are held accountable for their actions and there is a no-blame culture.

Winning team

If you are familiar with my writing you may know that I often like to use the analogy of a soccer team to represent the organization.

Business people soccer pitch (Blue) copy.jpg

On the soccer field, as in the organization, leadership does not necessarily equate to taking charge. On a winning team, everyone can lead change. Influence, authority and the ability to lead change can come from any player, on and off the field. Managers and coaches encourage the players to seize opportunities to lead change, and when they do, both the team and the player achieve more.

Size doesn't matter

Google, despite its mammoth size, has a flat structure, with few levels of middle management. Every employee can lead change. Google’s policy of empowering and facilitating employees work, has led to a large number of innovations and consequently to the outstanding success of the company.

Eric Schmidt was CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011. Two of his leadership principles were:

·      Let your employees own the problems you want them to solve.

·      Allow employees to function outside the company hierarchy.

To make employees own their work, Schmidt provided a very broad definition of the company goal and left the implementation entirely to the employees. He defined Google’s goal as ‘Organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful.’

Every employee could relate to it and lead change to achieve it. Schmidt did not allow hierarchy to obstruct employee performance, and allowed them freedom to create their own projects and choose their own teams. They were allowed to lead change.

Flat(ter) structure

We can only have an organization where everyone leads change when we have a flat or flatter structure. In a hierarchical structure with a command and control approach to management, employees will not lead change. They will wait to be told what to do, and all decision-making will be held by a few and directed to many. 

Command and Control copy.jpg

Employees will not put their head above the parapet to make a suggestion or share an idea, due to the fear of being shot down. Employees will not initiate change, even if they are best placed to do so, because that’s not their job. In a hierarchical structure, change is driven by those with titles that suggest they should know what they are doing.

Innovation and creativity will be stifled. The organization will be slow to make decisions, and unable to respond to internal and external forces requiring an imminent or immediate response and subsequent change.

Employee engagement will be low, attrition will be high, and it will be hard to attract talent. Millennials will not be attracted to an organization with a hierarchical structure. Millennials have a lot to say and want to be heard. They want to make a difference and drive change.

In terms of working for an organization, millennials are looking for:

·      An opportunity to learn and grow

·      An opportunity to drive change for good

·      An Interest in the type of work

·      An organization that encourages creativity

·      An organization that is a fun place to work

·      An informal work environment.

Hierarchical organizations just won’t cut it. Organizations have to look at their structure and ways in which to flatten them—now. Talent is attracted to organizations in which everyone can genuinely lead change and make a difference.

Game on!

When organizations nurture leadership of change on an organization-wide level, the entire organization and every employee will prosper and grow.

Everyone has a significant contribution to make and their voices need to be heard.

Moreover, they need to be able to challenge the status quo, make decisions, initiate and drive change and be seen as leaders in their own right.

Leadership in the soccer team is distributed. In some moves, some players take control, and in other moves, others take the lead. Leadership is fluid and dispersed. The best players know when to lead change and when not to. They know when it is best to lead change and when to follow.

Apart from at half time, the soccer game is 90 minutes of rapid play. There is no time for the team to come together and decide who is playing in what position. There is no time to stop play and decide who is going to drive change.

This means that everyone on the team knows they can drive change and do whatever they need to do at any point to bring the game home. 

Organisations today have to be the same.

Karen FerrisComment