There are two key roles to successful change in organizations: the role of the sponsor/change leader and the role of manager as change agent. There are many other roles, but these are the most important based on my experience being part of change.
The first critical role is the change leader. When I look at change as it occurs within many organizations, it typically happens within the board room, is implemented by a ‘select’ group of change agents throughout the organizations, and it fails. In order for change to be successful, leaders need to capture the hearts and minds of employees. I have seen change efforts that do analysis of the details of what to change, why to change, what it means to the company, new processes, and new organizational structures. However, rarely do these changes consider the impact it has on employees, the ones who are critical to its success. These methods also assume that what needs to change is best determined by the executive committee versus change that is organic from within the organization. Change leaders need to shift from heroic leadership of this is what we are going to do to one that enables workers to envision change, experiment, learn, and evolve the organization from the ground up.
Change leaders need to set the vision and use the vision to reinforce a culture of learning. By creating a culture of learning and experimenting, employees are empowered to experiment, fail, make incremental change, and participate in moving the organization towards the vision. Change is not a large process or program. It’s the way of life at a learning and growth organization. The change leader/sponsor is in this case the CEO and executive team who create this learning environment.
Front line management and middle management also play a central role in making change happen. Managers can be considered change leaders to their staff and they can be change agents to those who are above them in the hierarchy. They are the ones who take the vision and create the environment that engages and empowers employees. They work collaboratively with their team. They make employees feel like they are part of the change, are empowered to experiment and try new things, and can provide feedback to the leaders on what is and is not working. Managers are critical for setting up the environment where small successes can be defined and then celebrated. Front line managers create a safe environment to build new ideas that work towards the vision and reflect to see what works and what does not work.
A culture of learning, a change sponsor/leader who sets the vision, and managers who are change agents drive organizational growth.