Change Leadership is Different from Change Management – And Both Are Vital

Rick Schlenker
Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing

Organizations today are facing very significant, perhaps existential, challenges. In an ever-more-competitive environment they are dealing with rapidly rising wage rates and upward pressure across many expense categories. At the same time, customers are demanding even more services along with low prices and high quality.

To deal with these challenges organizations are looking to technology and professional service providers to help find ways to deliver their value proposition while maintaining profitability. Yet it’s been said that up to 70 percent of change initiatives fail to reach their full potential, and the lack of effective Change Management is often cited as the key reason for failure. So, it seems apparent that organizations must have strong change management practices when undertaking substantial improvement programs. We have touched on this topic ourselves in earlier articles, such as one on Introducing Organizational Change and Gaining Buy-In.

It’s true that Change Management is critical for success, but we acknowledge that it’s not sufficient in and of itself. Rather, what’s also required to foster successful change programs is strong Change Leadership. What’s the difference between them? Change Leadership is about Vision – it’s about Doing the Right Things. Change Management, on the other hand, is all about Mission – it’s about Doing Things Right. These twin disciplines work together as two sides of the same coin. Both are vital to instilling lasting, beneficial change.

At the start, Change Leadership is required. This involves having a senior person in the organization articulate a clear Vision of the strategic value of a proposed change initiative. This leader must develop a compelling business case, clearly describe what success would look like, enroll others as co-sponsors, and gain the necessary cross-functional alignment to staff and execute the program.

And while it’s true that today’s change programs will almost certainly involve technology systems, what really matters are the broader business system issues involved. These include: setting the business objectives, developing new business processes, making necessary organizational changes, designing new decision support tools and reports, fulfilling new data requirements, and most importantly, identifying new and different job skills and training needs for the people involved. Experience indicates that what’s often not fully appreciated is that people are the essential drivers of any business system.

In addition, competent Change Management is required to focus on doing things right. Ultimately, the promise of a Vision will only be as good as the ability to execute and govern the change program. Change Managers must develop a comprehensive and credible Mission and governance plan. That involves fully detailing the many steps by which the change program can be successfully implemented. It must also include a series of milestones by which progress and benefits can be measured along the way.

Strong Change Leaders and Change Managers understand that, in developing and executing business system improvement programs, everything is connected to everything else. It’s not any one thing that matters, it’s how everything works together as one thing. To meet the business challenges of today, both visionary Change Leadership and disciplined Change Management are essential.