Leaders’ Role in Organisational Change

Introduction

One constant feature of organisations is the change they undergo to become well-suited to their operational environments. Increased competition and stakeholder involvement lead to an increased demand for organisations to meet their goals. At the same time, they have to change because technology, demographics, markets, and regulations change. The presence of a change leader in an organisation will allow it to manage the change process well. However, finding the right candidate to promote and sustain changes is often a significant challenge. This paper is going to discuss the parameters that allow a given leader to succeed in introducing and supporting changes in an organisation. At the same time, it is going to explore the various theories of change management to link the observed practice to academic rationale.

When organisations want to change, they have to plan for the resources and time they will consume during the process. The costly nature of changes can be a reason for resistance, which may affect the ability of organisations to benefit from the changes implemented. On the other hand, one must understand that, despite the novelty of change and difficulties in achieving it, many organisations implement many changes in their daily operational environment. For example, organisations that have projects and programmes executed over a given time experience change (Covey & Merrill 2006). The projects and programmes are change creators. The implementation of a company’s strategy is also a change process because it moves members of the organisation from the current position to a better one that is closer to the goals (Carnall 2007).

The management of projects and programmes that require higher degrees of behavioural changes is difficult. The need to change people is the primary source of project implementation delays in many organisations. One major reason for the observation is that the projects require a high degree of supervision, and they are often complex. However, an institution cannot avoid undertaking changes involving behavioural measures. The integration of business cultures and models with product design and services ensures that there will always be behavioural and cultural changes in the organisation to handle (Cameron & Green 2012).

When strategic initiatives fail, many analysts will point to the lack of change management skills as the main reason. Although programme management practices will work with various strategic initiatives, they will only succeed in giving the organisation’s threshold competencies for its operating environment. In addition, organisational leaders need to ensure that their organisations have skills, capabilities, and practices that match the standard policy and practice in place (Callinicos 2004).

Organisations are composed of their members; thus, it is important for leaders and managers to ensure that the program and project management practices that deliver change can win the hearts and minds of the actual implementers. Organisations can look at the existing practices and theories to find what is suitable in their case (Caldwell 2003). At the same time, they should evaluate the possible improvements or modifications to present change management initiatives.

Why strategic change is important

The change management process is structured and cyclic. First, organisational leaders develop a corporate strategy and create initiatives that align with the strategy. Usually, the established initiatives will be responses to variations in a business environment (Bryant 2006). Therefore, strategic initiatives become the collection of finite duration discretionary projects and programmes. They are outside the organisation’s daily activities. Moreover, they have a design for helping the organisation meet its target performance goals. The high prevalence of change management theory and implementations around the world today is due to the highly dynamic nature of business operating environments (Branch 2011).

The volatility of the global economy and linkages with local and international business operations is one of the main causes of change failure. The practices that change enablers use to succeed are as follows. First, they have well-defined milestones and metrics. Second, they have senior managers who give all their attention and capabilities to support the change process. Third, they establish and communicate the values and actions that demonstrate ownership of the change process and accountability to stakeholders. They also use standardised practices and rely on engaging executive sponsors of change initiatives (Burnes 2014).

Leadership and change

The leaders in charge of change management processes must be listeners and patient with the outcomes. It is impossible to force the desired change on the members of any organisation. Such a practice will only suit the organisational goals in the short-term, but they will likely backfire. Thus, the first step in handling change is to appoint leaders with the right skills and mindset for running the process (Furst & Cable 2008). Expertise and competencies allow leaders to make appropriate decisions and avoid the trappings that are common with change programmes that involve groups of people.

Different leadership theories explain the value of good leadership styles that one can embrace when seeking to deliver change to employees in an organisation. Styles will rely on people’s personalities, organisational hierarchy structures, the culture of the organisation, and other business or organisational, environmental factors. Leaders must be able to handle the change management initiative requirements discussed in the previous section (Beerel 2009). They deal with varied situations in different organisations. In all circumstances, the fundamental principles still apply because changes tend to follow similar patterns, and employees exhibit a set of reactions to the process (Beer & Nohria 2000).

Leaders must act as sponsors of change initiatives. When the sponsors of change appear at the executive level, the organisation increases its abilities to handle a change process (Balogun & Hailey 2008). Sometimes, the senior management will be reluctant, as they may prefer to continue with the way things are in the organisation (Bailley & May 2014). However, their reasons for refusing to back projects may not be sufficient. For example, failing to support a project because it is going to affect employees’ jobs and lives is noble, but not enough to ensure that failure to change does not lead to the same fate for the employees. Thus, instead of endangering the project success and putting every member of the organisation in trouble, it is better for the senior executives to act as engaged sponsors (Armenakis, Harris & Mossholder 1993).

As sponsors, leaders play a critical role in integrating project management and disciplined approaches. They improve the odds of a project succeeding dramatically. They also play a vital role in promoting and sustaining project focus by allowing all the participants to appreciate its urgency. At the same time, executive sponsors coach employees and other executives. They communicate the sense and need for change in a particular organisation (Dionne et al. 2004).

Scholarly views on organisational change

Many research reports on organisational change will fail to pass credibility tests because they assume that all organisations operate under the same conditions. At the same time, the study might have used small samples that made it unsuitable for comparisons. Some researchers have suggested that organisational change should be observed based on learning. Instead of looking at changes as a top-down approach to management, practitioners need to see it as a process of learning; the organisation becomes aware of its internal circumstances and capabilities and then reflects on its position in its environment (Hayes 2010). Therefore, the change will be the adjustment of the organisation that comes because of learning the existing differences and the need to adapt to situations (Aitken & Higgs 2010).

Todnem (2005) suggested that the learning approach can shift the attention of change management into the readiness of the organisation to change. However, it does not provide specific steps that the organisation has to follow when it comes to the actual change project and initiatives. Looking at it from the perspective of the scholar makes one realise that change management should be comprehensive. Otherwise, leaders can end up concentrating on a particular part of change management and forget other crucial components (Ferdig 2007).

At the same time, an agreement with the learning approach will suffice when considering the sequential nature of organisational change. It will serve as the basis for handling additional projects to ensure that the adaptation process in the environment is successful. In the new vision of change, scholars see that actions like urgency, creation of strong leadership, and the empowerment of employees play a significant role in influencing effective changes in an organisation. Several other models of organisational change emerged because of the work done by Todnem (2005).

The Kanter model was the first to emerge, and it offered ten instructions that organisation must follow if they are going to manage change effectively. The commandments are not fixed; an organisation can modify them to fit particular situations. The only crucial thing is to ensure that all the ten instructions are followed in any implementation. At the onset of the change process, the organisations must analyse themselves and determine the need to change. After that, leaders have to create a vision and common direction that other members of the organisation will follow. The next step is to come up with a new view of the present situation, which informs every participant in the change process about the separation now and the past (Hekman 1981). A clear separation must prevail before additional steps follow. The next phase in the change management process is the creation of urgency (Todnem 2005).

Urgency compels employees and other senior leaders to dedicate time and resources to the implementation of change. It creates priorities that must be followed. Urgency ensures that any problem encountered is easily handled or transferred to the appropriate departments in the organisation. Prioritisation can also induce discarding of some components of the project for their difficulty to execute (Holbeche 2006).

After the clear separation from the past, the organisation will need a strong leadership role that will provide inspiration to the employees that are implementing the change. Strong leaders know the type of leadership strategy to use to implement changes and handle resistance (Cutcher 2009). At the same time, they are capable of navigating the organisational politics and other challenges that may affect the process of implementing change (Hughes 2006). The leader will assist the organisation to comply with the next instruction, which is to line up political sponsorship. This comes with the realisation that for the majority to become part of the organisation, they must support ideas in the organisation. Influencing other members to support ideas is an essential quality of influential leaders. Moreover, it is a fete best achieved by adequate political sponsorship, where those in power use it to compel others to agree with their viewpoints. An additional instruction entails designing an implementation plan for the change process.

Once a plan is in place, the organisation and its leaders must have an enabling structure of the plan. Many firms end up failing in their change processes because they stop at the planning phase. Others go on to use the wrong combination of resources and structures, such that the plan is not in line with the operations of the organisation. The execution of different aspects of the project will happen according to plan if there are enabling structures. The next step for change implementation is to communicate and involve people. Everyone taking part in the project must remain honest. One implication of this instruction is that it ensures grievances will be highlighted whenever they occur. The policy of honesty will allow leaders and other organisational members to have an accurate view of the process and others who are involved in it (Hughes 2011).

The last instruction is to reinforce and institutionalise change. This involves the repetition of new methods and traditional ones that have been introduced into the organisation. It also includes the collection of all resources that were useful for the change process and distributing them to the relevant departments within the organization so that they can facilitate the institutionalisation of change at the granular level of the organisation (Zhao & Li 2006).

The Kotter Eight-Stage process is an alternative business model for change management. It improves on some aspects of the Kanter model. At the same time, it replaces some of the Kanter instructions (Stringham 2012). For example, it does not commence with a preliminary stage. Instead, it offers the development of a vision and strategy as the first step. The next step that follows is to establish a sense of urgency, and then create a guiding coalition (Stringham 2012). All these three stages are due for delivery by the organisation leaders. The fourth step is to empower a broad-based structure, which is similar to the establishment of an enabling structure that is already discussed in this essay. After that, leaders have to communicate the change vision to their followers. The communication serves as a process shift, where change management moves from the planning phase to the implementation phase. With all the required resources and structures in place, the organisation can proceed to implement the desired changes. In the planning phase, all the information needed to come up with a comprehensive implementation process is considered (Ryu 2013).

The model proceeds to ask leaders to anchor new approaches in the culture of the organisation, and then generate short-term wins. Finally, it calls for the consolidation of gains to produce more change. In the end, the model suits change management because it recognises the cyclic nature of change.

A recent and relevant theory of change management is the Luecke’s seven steps established in 2003. Luecke (2013) observed that the Kotter 8-steps model was comprehensive, but divided steps unnecessarily to make it cumbersome for some organisations that do not fit into conventional structures. In the Luecke (2003) model, the first step is to mobilise energy and commitment through the joint identification of business problems and their solutions so that the additional steps will be easy to implement. It also ensures that everything that ought to be captured at the beginning of the process is captured (Piderit 2000). The next step is to develop a shared vision. This vision relates to the way leaders hope to organise and manage the competitiveness of the organisation. These first two steps lay the foundation for picking leadership, which comes as the third step. The model assumes that the process of selecting leadership will involve all other leadership tasks, such as the selection of the vision. Thus, it jumps to the next step of institutionalising success through formal policies (Moore & Antao 2007). The policies will eventually cause the formation of structures within the organization. It is similar to what other models refer to as the creation of an enabling environment for the execution of the change plan. After that, the model moves on to call for a focus on the results. It cautions against focusing on activities (Kim et al. 2013). The main reason for this caution is that focusing on results can derail the process (Kondalkar 2009). Leaders can concentrate on activities and see that they are doing well in terms of managing change, but all that will be futile when the organisation does not end up in a favourable position than it was before. The primary aim of the change, as highlighted in the model, is to adapt to the changing environment and to learn about opportunities and challenges for future adaptations. Thus, it is only results that are relevant to the process (Jones & Recardo 2003).

The last two steps are essential for supporting the focus on results. The model advises change leaders to start changing at the periphery, and then spread the change to other units; instead of pushing it from the top. Lastly, the model advises that organisations must monitor and adjust strategies in response to any problems encountered in the change process (Beal III, Stavros & Cole 2013).

Reflection

A perplexing fact about change management is that many of its parameters appear as common sense, yet the implementers often overlook them. After studying the various theoretical models of managing change, I now see that it is important for managers to have an in-depth understanding of the organisation. A manager will not know how to assign different instructions to various components or departments in his or her organisation if they do not have this understanding. I also find the ‘results’ focus’ strategy as a holistic approach to thinking about change. It should be useful in all cases that require changes to happen in only one or a few parts of the organisation. Having an overall outlook will help the leader ensure that the implementation of change in one area does not cause a breakdown of processes in other parts of the organisation.

I was impressed by the advice to focus on results and not on the process. On many teams that I have worked in, leaders have often focused on the process. I remember situations where team managers wanted to ensure that everyone was working; thus, they give extra work to any person who seemed to be idle. The team managers did not appreciate the completion of tasks early. Instead, they were concerned more with the management of the team as it worked. Thus, they evaluated their progress with the number of tasks assigned and managed. However, without a focus on results, they failed to create the changes that were required in the organisation. Although I was not involved in teams for very long, I had tacit knowledge of previous failures. At the time, I could not mention a particular source of failure. After going through the change management theoretical models, I am now convinced that the lack of focus on results denied the team manager the right information that would influence the change process appropriately.

The holistic approach has been a key motivator for many present models of management. I recall the balanced scorecard and the total quality management concepts of performance as being aligned with organisations in a comprehensive nature. In fact, research by Holbeche (2009) showed that the total system and the linkage with all the parts of the organisation are essential for thinking about change. The realisation arises because changes do not happen in isolation; instead, they cause additional changes to other parts of the organisation. Eventually, the change process becomes a continuous feature (Holbeche 2009).

Although I trust that the systematic outlook of the organisation is essential, I am also aware of situations or contingency circumstances. I believe that there are special cases where a situational or contingency approach would be most relevant to handle change. Therefore, a hybrid of the two views may be the most practical in most organisational settings. For example, a manager may find it easy to go with a situational approach when reviewing a good approach to use when dealing with workers’ strike. The main difference from the other models will be the outlook of the organisation that will be relevant in this case. Nevertheless, I do not see the situational approach as being satisfactory for a broad range of problems. Even when employed, it should, at least, incorporate the leadership aspects of the other models. Every approach to managing change will fail if there is no change in leadership.

My understanding so far is that people have beliefs about systems and other people operating in the same environment. They rely on these beliefs to interact with other people and achieve common goals for organisations and the self. Thus, an important thing for change managers to have is people management skills. The managers should be able to balance the psychological needs of the people in an organisation so that they can achieve a desired level of commitment. When I face leadership choices regarding the change, I know that I am supposed to show commitment to the change process and use my skills and resources to support it as the main sponsor. Employees will then learn from my approach to the process to commit to the programme or project. I am also now aware of non-related factors that can lead to failures in a change in the organisation. For example, when the goals of the change process are not clear, then employees will not succeed, even when they are committed and have resources. Skipping a step of any change management model will jeopardise change results.

In the past, I relied on formal approaches to change management as the only way to achieve success. Now I can apply the same principles to informal methods and use them as well. For example, when I am in a formal group setting and need to implement change, I will consider working with my political powers to influence the urgency for change, and then go on to establish structures that allow other members and me to realize the change. There is no definite way of coming up with structures, but the aim of the change process will inform the endeavour.

An open approach should let me handle future employee concerns in my capacity as a manager. I know that being honest will be an excellent way of ensuring that the information passed from one person to another remains accurate. Therefore, I will be improving my communication skills in the future by stating that those who communicate back during the change implementation process should also embrace honesty. I have identified that honesty, results, and people’s behavioural attributes are critical features of the change management process that I should focus on to improve my management skills.

I am aware of resistances to change that can arise in organisations. Therefore, I will be using the models learned to deal with employee expectations at the readiness stage of organisational change effectively. I do not expect to succeed as a manager always. However, I know that following practical and theoretical suggestions in various research reports and scholarly works will be the first step to succeeding. My experience that continues to increase in the field of leadership and change management should be another perfect source of information to influence my future decisions as a management practitioner.

In this regard, I have identified five methods of dealing with change challenges. They will provide me with the necessary political mileage to implement the desired changes in an organisation. The methods are education, participation, facilitation, negotiation, and coercion. They are situational and have inherent drawbacks. Therefore, I will be very selective in their use, depending on the available factors for change.

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