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Enabling Your People to Lead Change

We’ve said it before, Change Management is Dead – Long Live Change Enablement and we mean it.  Change Management has had it’s time, but we must acknowledge the shift in responsibility when it comes to business transformations.   Today more than ever, it’s important for employees at all levels to be empowered to contribute and continuously develop.  In fact, we’re constantly hearing stories of individuals making significant impacts and driving change who aren’t in leadership positions. A great example of this is the plastic water bottle ban at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). It’s rumoured that an employee was responsible for driving this change, which will not only divert more than 10,000 plastic water bottles daily, or nearly 4 million each year, but will also limit people travelling through SFO from digesting microscopic pieces of plastic – yuck!  The impact of this change is astronomical and would not have been possible if SFO didn’t have a culture where their people were enabled to lead change.

Change comes in many forms and does not have to always be as large-scale as the SFO example. Regardless of the size of the change, it’s important for businesses to focus on creating an environment where their people are enabled to lead and make decisions, while also being provided with opportunities to upskill.

Having the right leaders are key in fostering such an environment.  Leaders here play an important role in motivating their people; they’re not competitive and focused on letting their people shine, are strong communicators and overall just great people managers.   More importantly, leaders delegate and encourage their people to lead while they provide support as needed.

Finding and developing leaders that do this takes effort and much support from the business.  To begin with, companies need to have strong leadership development programs that match their people to the right roles, strong recruitment practices, ongoing development on soft and hard leadership skills and constant feedback and coaching.  These activities should be reflected at all levels of the organization and helps to provide managers with guidance on how they should lead their people.

The next step is for managers to be able to identify and cultivate informal leaders.  Informal leaders are change champions who have the power to influence their peers often without formal authority, and are individuals who truly believe in the change themselves.   These people will vary from project to project, and have strong social networks within the company.  They’re able to get insights and share details about the changes with their colleagues with minimal direction.  They’re not afraid to express their point of view, share ideas or engage in conflict.   They also possess a great understanding of the change and the impact it will have on them as individuals.  Finally, they exhibit a willingness to learn and grow. This is important as many of the changes we are seeing today involve technology and require some form of upskilling.

Having the right leadership in place and a culture of enablement is not easy. In fact, it’s said to take from two to three years to change a company culture.  To start with, it’s important for leaders to be visible.  Their desire for the culture change needs to be seen and heard for it to resonate for employees.  Leaders should embody what the company stands for at all times and they also need to be able to clearly articulate the reasons behind the culture change and what it will mean for them and their people.

So, what are the reasons for the change and what will it mean for them and their people?  Understanding this is perhaps one of the most challenging steps in establishing a new culture. 

We recommend completing a change readiness survey or asking some questions of the questions included below to help get the juices flowing:

  • What do you like about the current culture?

  • What’s not working with the current culture?

  • Why is there a desire for a change in culture?

  • What do we aspire our culture to be like? Why is culture important to you?

Once you’ve collectively worked on these questions, don’t hesitate to bring in some experts to help develop your culture.  From this point, it will take a lot of testing with focus groups, surveys and other activities to gauge if you’re moving in the right direction.  It’s also critical to have timely and transparent communication throughout the process.  Communications is foundational to all changes and if not done right, it could result in failure of the change.   Finally, the last step involves taking a close look at your people.  Based on your new culture, do you have the right leadership team in place?  Do you have the right roles? Do you have to amend your hiring practices?  This last step is often the hardest, but is necessary to get that culture work right.

Businesses are entering an exciting time as changes are happening rapidly and the roles within the businesses continue to evolve with them.  It’s definite, change management has had its time.  It’s now time for change enablement to come to the forefront, and for businesses to act so that they don’t get left behind.



Krista Schaber-Chan

Managing Partner



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