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OCM Value Add Part 3 – Humans’ Desire for Credible Leadership

As we set out on our yearly goal of envisioning what organizational change management (OCM) will look like in the coming year, we reviewed two vital questions to assess OCM’s value:

  1. Does the OCM increase the speed of the organization’s adoption o/’f their future state?
  2. Does the OCM sustain changed behaviors? Does the change “stick?”

With the above two questions in mind, we set out to, first, determine the year’s business priorities and the changes to OCM that enable those priorities.

So, we decided to look into the future, i.e., beyond the next calendar year, and see if we could get a picture of the longer-term value of OCM.  In doing so, it became obvious that the changes needed to be tied to the way humans change. OCM aligning with the way humans change. Imagine that!

That created five challenges that govern our thinking. They are:

  1. Humans’ desire to retain control.
  2. Humans’ desire credible leadership.
  3. Humans’ preference and success in learning by doing.
  4. Humans’ desire to understand the “bigger” picture.
  5. Humans’ desire to be a part of something that matters. Something that makes a difference.

In this post, we will look at Challenge # 2: Humans’ desire to work with credible leadership.

Challenge #2 – Humans Desire Credible Leadership

  • Credible (knowledgeable and trustworthy) leadership is perhaps the most important variable in ensuring change. It is the foundation needed for humans to change.
  • Case in point…. from our last blog we talked about the need humans must have to believe they are in control… or feel they have as much control as they can get. This allows them to adapt to changes more rapidly. Study after study indicates that even if you are sharing bad news, humans want to know what it is and how it impacts them.
  • Perhaps this is obvious, but trust in leadership is the lynch pin that makes this work. If people don’t believe what leadership is telling them, or what they are hearing, they will not change! It’s that simple.
  • What isn’t simple is building and maintaining that foundation of trust at many levels and across the organization.
  • While transparency regarding the future is a good start, it is not all of it. Leaders must own successful change. While not expected to perform the tactics of a change management program, they do need to be aware of their responsibilities, how change impacts the bottom line, where points of resistance exist and their responsibility in managing them, and the impacts of the change to their employees.

How it works today:

  • The role of credible leadership today is primarily addressed with communications that are transparent, high level, and aimed at creating excitement about the future.
  • The process and art of management of expectations is not fully understood by leadership. The overwhelming approach is to wait to communicate until they have all the answers.
  • Leadership does not fully understand what OCM is and its role in driving behavior change.
  • Leadership is often less than proactive on issues that are most likely to present resistance and their role in mitigation.
  • Leadership does not understand its specific accountability for the success of OCM.
  • Leadership views change management as a necessary evil and most often at the project level.
  • Leadership does not actively seek input regarding change from managers and change champions.
  • Management and leadership cannot articulate their specific roles in OCM.
  • Leadership cannot articulate the impact of the changes on their employees.

What tomorrow will look like:

  • Change communication occurs at both the strategic and tactical levels…..and at the same time. Strategic communication constantly sets the context for the tactical.
  • The need for leadership to set expectations is constant and includes what isn’t currently known but will be and when.
  • Leaders are actively involved and understand the specifics of how the business strategy will impact their people.
  • Leaders understand how the various projects complement each other.
  • Leadership groups are aligned on the business strategy and understand how change impacts the acceleration to the future state and ensures sustainability of behaviors.
  • Leadership and management understand their specific accountabilities in OCM.
  • Leadership and management understand OCM, how it works and its value.
  • Leaders own change communications and can articulate how the changes impact employees.
  • While changing, many Leadership Development programs are “lite” on OCM at the leadership level.

Near term actions you can take as a change practitioner:

  • Know where your leadership currently stands (utilize an external assessment) in their understanding of OCM’s value, potential points of resistance to change, accountabilities, alignment on the strategy, and their roles in driving change.
  • Ensure leaders understand their employees’ need for control and that communicating when they will they know more is often as valuable as having the answers themselves.
  • Ensure leadership understands their employees’ current questions and concerns regarding the future.
  • As a model for the future, share your organization’s plan for AI, the process and timing to advance essential impacts to roles, when you will know and share more, and their expected involvement in the process.
  • Ensure that your external consultants have a “bent” towards their client’s leadership education on change management. In short, look for a change management consultant who is looking to “put themselves out of business.
  • Ensure that leadership’s role in OCM is part of your Leadership Development curriculum.
  • Engage “Report Out to” leadership on addressing Change Management issues and risks. See leadership as a partner vs. a boss.

Point of Interest: For anyone who has led an OCM initiative, you know that “making change stick” is perhaps the least understood and the least successful of OCM efforts. It involves changing behaviors and leadership’s role in achieving that goal. Since we are talking about leadership in this edition, here is a link to a McKinsey piece[1] that does a nice job of identifying the challenge and what we know about changing behaviors. 


Steve MacGill, Consultant Advisory Board Member, The CARA Group

Author Steve MacGill, Consultant Advisory Board Member, The CARA Group

Steve MacGill is an independent management consultant, advisor and freelance writer with over 25 years of experience in Organizational Change Management (OCM) and Leadership. He serves on CARA's Consulting Advisory Board and is a frequent contributor to our Blog on OCM-related topics such as change resiliency, building OCM competency, increasing OCM value, as well as the human side of change.

More posts by Steve MacGill, Consultant Advisory Board Member, The CARA Group