Assessing stakeholders, delivering timely communication, and building buy-in are all critical elements to successfully manage organizational change. But for me, the ace in the hole is always the personality of the change leader. Getting the right person, regardless of their title, visibly and actively involved can cover up a lot of weaknesses in your change program and propel it forward at a rapid pace. Conversely, the best communication and training in the world will not be half as successful if you don't have the right leader championing it.
Many years ago, I worked with a retail sales organization that was transitioning to a new time and expense tracking system for their stores. My job was to work with the person responsible for this effort-I'll call him Mark, to protect the innocent-to design and implement a change management strategy for the pilot rollout of the new system.
Mark had a big personality. He was demanding, assertive and even a bit brash. But, he was also funny, engaging, and extremely hardworking. On the one hand, Mark had the ability to create support for his ideas; but he could also deal with people in a sort of bull-in-the-china-shop kind of way. Further, his job title and position at that time did not immediately convey significant and formal organizational authority. Yet, over time, I realized he was the biggest change management asset I had.
Mark's background was in store operations, so he understood very well what was important to front line store employees and had instant credibility with that audience. He wore his passion for making the stores the best they could be on his sleeve, and it was infectious. His energy and willingness to be the visible face of the program allowed us to get in front of a lot of audiences in a short period of time.
Together, we built a reusable, scalable strategy that included the standard components for managing change (stakeholder assessment, communication plan, and training plan). The result was highly successful-the pilot went incredibly smoothly, and the strategy we used easily scaled to handle the full implementation. But again, the single biggest factor in our success was Mark.
Looking back on that experience, the lessons I took away are:
- Leadership in change management does not have to come in the form of a title-I'll take credibility, passion, and energy over organizational authority any day.
- If you're able to choose your change leader, look for these types of qualities, focus on giving them the tools they need to succeed, and keep them organized.
- If the change leader you're working with struggles in these areas, part of your job becomes both helping this person improve and finding other change agents that can fill the gap.
In sports, it is often said that successful teams reflect the personality of their leader. Likewise, the same can be said in change management. Look for the passionate, believable, and energetic people like Mark to lead your change-even if they don't necessarily possess the fancy job title.