When leading a change, we tend to focus on the change management skills and experiences needed – the what. But I would contend that how a leader conducts change is the most critical element for success. A traditional code of conduct outlines expectations on how to act in alignment with the organization’s values and culture. So what code should a leader follow to conduct organizational change? Changes have stages and change leaders need to conduct themselves differently at different times. At first as a train conductor, then as an orchestra conductor, and finally as an energy conductor.
All Aboard: Conducting the Change Train. The first step of change is creating awareness of our need to change. This often requires the leader to be out in front, looking down the tracks at the external and internal business factors that can help or hinder our success. The leader also needs to engage others to create movement. At this phases of change, thinking about change as a train conductor makes sense. A train conductor is responsible for directing the train’s movement. For coupling or uncoupling cars that are needed at different parts of the journey. He or she also ensures that any cargo is assesses, reviewed, and consciously taken on or off the train. Planning and execution are critical parts of change, and leaders should engage the energy of the early adopters.
Moving in Harmony: Conducting the Change Symphony. A common, often fatal flaw, of a change initiative is failing to pivot on how the change is conducted. Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch were iconic change conductors. But they were so busy driving the train they forgot to ensure the organization was moving in time with them. In the Senn Delany change model they talk about unfreezing to create change. We all have patterns, habits, and beliefs frozen in our minds. For true change to happen all leaders need to unfreeze and bring their perspectives and experiences together to create a new organizational rhythm. Once the change has movement, it is critical for the leaders to shift to helping people know how to change and giving them the ability to change. This is when the change leader needs become a symphony conductor. This type of conductor focuses on interpretation of the work and real-time communication of those interpretations. He or she is accountable for looking at the entire score, rather just individual parts. The conductor is ultimately responsible for having knowledge of every instrument and demonstrating how to get the best out of each part when working together.
Be Electric: Conducting Energy.
Both the train conductor and symphony conductor have a unique role standing in front of the change. As we move to the implementation and reinforcement stage of change, the change leader now needs to act as an energy conductor – helping to carry the change current and spark energy across the organization. Andy Hargrove say change is easy to propose, hard to implement, and especially hard to sustain. That is because we need to ensure we have a complete circuit across the organization to move and maintain energy. In science, a conductor is a material which permits a flow of energy. A substance’s conductivity depends on how easily electrons can move through it. Most materials are neither good conductors, nor good insulators. They don’t readily conduct, but if enough energy is supplied, the electrons will move. It’s important to realize that we all have different energy currents and not all of us readily move. It’s also true that with enough energy we can be spurred into motion. It’s critical for the change leader to remember that resistance and heat also impact conductivity — and to strike the right balance between enough and too much energy so that we don’t cause an explosion.
Change is both a noun and a verb. It is the act of becoming different, and the action of becoming different. We tend to focus on change nouns -plans, projects, and timelines. But the verb – our action- is the only way to actually conduct change. Change leaders need to conduct change – and themselves -differently at different times during the change process. Successful change leaders know how to think and act like train conductors, orchestra conductors, and energy conductors.