The word alone causes many of us to clam up. As leaders today, our capability to lead change is constantly being tested. At the same time, we’re stretching our teams’ capacity to absorb change.
A lot of people will tell you the solution is change management. “Just put a process in place,” they might say. “Let the best practices guide you.”
The truth is, in today’s complex world, I’m not so sure there are best practices.
And I’m fairly certain there’s no such thing as change management. That’s because … all management is change management.
We tend to divide work into two buckets: the “big” stuff and the “little” stuff.
The big stuff is what we usually think needs change management: rolling out a new process or system, unveiling a strategic plan, integrating after a merger or acquisition, introducing new leadership.
No one can dispute that this intensive work requires process. Any of these examples represent a big undertaking, and the sheer volume of work has to be carefully managed to ensure success.
The little stuff—our everyday work—rarely calls to mind change management: training a team member to take on a new task, enforcing a standard or policy, bringing departments together to collaborate on a small project.
This day-to-day work requires process, too. It also needs to be managed, and with methods that aren’t that different from what we often label as change management.
At its core, change management—or just management, as we might argue—is a process that helps us transition from current state to desired future state.
It helps us navigate through points of inflection, which might be big, small, or something in between. When you look at it from that point of view, it’s easier to see that change is actually a constant.
If we adopt this perspective, then change—in the form of ongoing improvement—becomes routine. Everything we do becomes a lesson that informs the next thing. Change is no longer an “event” but rather the way you work. And that keeps us in perpetual forward motion—especially at those critical inflection points, individually or organizationally.
I once worked for an organization that faced a serious inflection point: the company required a turnaround or risked failure. We lived in constant flux, and everything we did was with the objective to improve. And that meant change was just a way of life.
Leadership didn’t treat change as something that needed to be managed. We had projects, sure. There were even people on the team who had formal change certifications and credentials. But we didn’t employ methodologies like Six Sigma, Agile, or ADKAR. Instead, we tested, we experimented, and most importantly, we learned. We regularly looked at and talked about what was working and what wasn’t, and with new knowledge in hand, we could then take the next step in a more innovative and creative way.
In a 2017 article from Harvard Business Review, consultant and author Robert H. Schaffer said:
“Leaders should view change not as an occasional disruptor but as the very essence of the management job. Setting tough goals, establishing processes to reach them, carrying out those processes and carefully learning from them—these steps should characterize the unending daily life of the organization at every level.”
We’re under pressure to move faster and aim higher.
The pace at which we work can be exhausting, and the volume of work overwhelming. There’s something to be said for recognizing the impact of change and the transitions we inevitably experience. But there’s also a case for shifting our perspective on change.
As leaders, adopting a new mindset on change can help us embrace uncertainty and uncover opportunities for growth. And that can help us inspire innovation, boost creative problem-solving, and build resilience in our teams.
If you want to develop your capability to lead continual change—and your team’s capacity to work through it—then reach out to us today. You can learn more about Transitions Coaching and meet our team here.