Part II: Change Leadership Process

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Vision and what it takes to do vision work effectively (hint: it’s not to write a killer vision statement). Our Change Leadership framework has four parts, though, because telling and retelling your vision story is not enough to make even the most compelling vision a reality. Leaders also need to show people the way.

What is Process?

Many people seem to confuse process with bureaucracy. In fact, as my colleague Sam Franklin frequently observes, process is one of the most creative parts of change leadership. That’s because Process is not about setting immutable rules or micromanaging the specific steps that every individual or team will take to move from today’s reality to tomorrow’s vision—it’s about showing people that changes in their behavior have the power to bend the trajectory of the organization and perhaps the world around them.

First, let’s address the most fundamental issue: all change is ultimately behavioral. That means that you can change systems, change contexts, change expectations, change anything you want, but at the end of the day, for things to go differently, people have to change what they do or how they do it. Certainly judging from the massive proliferation of books about change in recent years (all due love to James Clear and Charles Duhigg), change is hard and behavioral change is the hardest of all. (Also, judging from personal experience and observation of hundreds of clients over a couple of decades, it really is.)

Second, as brothers Chip and Dan Heath wrote in their exquisite book, Switch, change is emotional before it is rational. We think that change happens through appeals to our rational minds (“analyze, think, change”) but it really happens at a subrational, emotional level (“see, feel, change”). Process is about connecting the vision to the emotional (or, the gut) experience that the intended change will bring. It is about connecting the “what” to the “how” in a way that first establishes the imperative for change (vision) and then lays out the way that we will get there together (process)—but only if everyone does their part.

Finally, and as a last step, Process does require specificity. Leaders must clarify exactly what must change and how. The nature of how the business will operate in the future must be well understood and internalized by leaders, managers, and frontline employees alike. Those shifts need to be defined with as much clarity about what will be the same and what will be different as possible so that everyone can effectively execute the intended change. Note that this is not the same as simply reverting to adopting Byzantine rules and the micromanagement noted above; this is about defining the most essential shifts and ensuring that everyone is empowered to make the concomitant changes in their behaviors.

When Change Leaders Are Strong in Process

Effective change leaders map out and manage an effective process for getting from the current state to this future vision, and align the resources and capacity to implement this process effectively.

Here are the specific competencies that effective leaders of change Process cultivate:

  • Ability to understand and internalize the key behavioral and operational shifts required to get from current state to future vision

  • Ability to align and manage financial resources, timelines, and organizational capacity

  • Ability to leverage a purposeful cycle of engagements, meetings, and activities to advance the work

  • Ability to use data effectively to monitor progress and adjust course

  • Ability to proactively identify and mitigate risks

  • Ability to set and organize team around operational norms

These competencies balance between the cerebral and concrete, and require the capacity to navigate between understanding where people are and pushing them to go where they need to be—often a journey that requires growth for leaders and their teams alike. Next, I’ll share more about why Relationships are the third domain of our leadership framework and how cultivating them can make or break any change effort.