Undeveloped Leaders Sink Change

According to John Kotter, one reason organization changes fail is because leaders don’t develop a vision for the change and “communicate, communicate, communicate” it to their organziations.  Well, a study in Human Resource Management Journal* indicates that vision is not the only thing leaders fail to develop.  They also fail to develop the change agents within their organizations that will implement the change.

Based on a survey of the management experience and attitudes of 90 people from 27 different organizations, the authors found that the role of change agents tends to be poorly defined and poorly understood in many organizations.  This ambiguity is compounded by the finding that change agents are not systematically developed in the techniques and processes of effective change management.  As the authors point out “not only is a poorly-trained change agent likely to be highly inefficient at managing the change process, but, certainly in the early stages, the risks posed to the change process by change agent `incompetence’ could be serious.”

Why aren’t change agents better trained in change management?  The authors believe it is because of a perception that change management is essentially an “add on” to normal management responsibilities and thus requires no additional training or development.  Apparently, the assumption is made that if you can manage, you can manage change.  This assumption is unfortunate given the extensive literature on the skills and abilities managers need to be effective at change, particularly in the areas of communication.

We know that communication is critical to effective change and that not all communication is the same.  Not only do managers need to know when to communicate and to whom, they also need to know what types of conversations to have.  According to the respondents in this study, change managers need to be able to negotiate, influence, and persuade, all of which involve different types of conversations.

If organizations are to be more successful at change, they will want to invest more in developing the skills of those responsible for implementing the change.  Among those skills is the ability to determine what type of conversation to have and how to carry them out.

* Buchanan, D., Claydon, T., & Doyle, M. 1999. Organization development and change: The legacy of the nineties. Human Resource Management Journal, 9(2): 20-37.

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