The Challenges of Leading Change

Last week we held our third free learning event on the challenges of leading change. This time we also had two guest speakers, our Associates Phil Badley from DiamondNine and Stan Johnson from Athena Education.

Leading change presents new challenges for many people and organisations. During the session we worked through what we think the key ones are:

1. Business as Usual vs Change Leadership

Otherwise known as ‘in the business’ and ‘on the business’, a good change leader will focus on improving a service and understand the changing environment around them. It is often overlooked that people can work in both BAU and change environments, but it is important in this position to ‘change hats’ when required.

Often in the public sector we train our managers to be great leaders of service delivery. We promote managers who are experts in their field and competent in ensuring that services are run effectively and consistently. Leading a change programme, however, is a significantly different skill and mindset.

This can be described as the difference between working ‘in the business’ and ‘on the business’ and often presents a real challenge for managers and leaders to be able to switch between the two. Awareness of this difference is useful and can help managers to distinguish. Whilst that’s not to say it’s impossible to do both, it’s important to make the time and headspace to make the switch from one focus to another or get additional support in driving change if required.

2. Resilience

Leading change can be a lonely job and can often feel like being a lone voice in the dark. During the session our Associate, Phil Badley, reflected on the importance of taking care of yourself and allowing the time to ‘recharge’.

Managers and their teams can run low on drive, motivation and energy for the change.

Another frequent challenge to leaders’ resilience is having several and conflicting priorities. This can be linked to the first challenge, juggling delivering the service while also changing it. Change journeys can also impact other parts of the organisation without managers realising. There are times, for example, when one part of the organisation is working to save money and another is looking to generate income, which can create conflict.

Although it’s important to acknowledge that planning is not the ‘be all and end all’, spending some time thinking about what priorities, dependencies and conflicts exist both in and out of a change programme is time well spent. Phil described “getting your ducks in a row” to reduce the stress of going through the change journey.

3. Identifying what is under the surface

When a change journey is going well or is struggling to get started, what can you see and what might be going on under the surface?

The iceberg metaphor is one familiar to many. For change journeys this is an example of what might be visible, and what might not be:

In change journeys most organisations focus their effort on what can be seen above the surface, where you can find the strategies, goals, policies, structures and procedures. This is what you can see during a change and are often the easier elements to deliver in change journeys.

Under the surface is actually where sustainable change happens. This is where individuals’ thoughts and feelings towards the change are; the beliefs and values of your staff and the interrelationships that exist. In order to achieve sustainable change, it’s crucial to dive below the surface, engage with staff and truly understand the feeling in the organisation and what is going on that people can’t ‘see’.

The iceberg is a useful tool to challenge how deep the planning for change is going. One attended reflected that they felt that they had the resources and plan in place to make the change happen, but questioning this with the iceberg in mind made them realise that they had not thought deep enough below the surface of into values and behaviours.

4. Seeing change through to the very end

Many leaders of change are familiar with the change curve, and while this is helpful to understand  behaviour, it assumes that change journeys end positively. This is not always the case in the public sector, and managers are often launched into the next change initiative before the first one has finished.

While it’s important to be constantly evolving, it’s crucial to understand the impact of this on your teams and your own resilience. Stan summed it up nicely: “change is like taking antibiotics, if you don’t complete the course you just create resistance.” Take time to reflect what change has happened, celebrate this and think about how you can remain on course leading your programme.

How can we be ready to lead change?

At Trueman Change we like to keep it simple. To help you reflect on your own change journey we have developed a change readiness assessment tool to score various aspects of change journeys. At the event we shared a simplified version of this tool. These six questions help individual leaders reflect on where their change programme currently is:

  1. Am I clear what the future looks like?
  2. Do I have a clear need/reason for change to communicate?
  3. Am I clear what will be different?
  4. Am I in touch with the people I need to be to make this happen?
  5. Have I got a plan? Who will do what by when?
  6. Do I have the resources to make it happen?

Asking these questions alongside considering the iceberg metaphor will help you to really think through your planned change journey to set you up for success!

If you’d like some practical help and support with your change journey contact Lucy at 

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By |2020-10-20T07:24:36+00:00January 24th, 2020|Categories: News|Tags: , , , , |

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