Contexts for Change

Leadership through change must provide meaning, encourage practical wisdom about how to do things differently in particular circumstances and build in review so that learning becomes the norm.

It may help to think about this in terms of an “unless/cannot” framework of levels of work – unless certain conditions are provided by wider levels, change at any particular level cannot be fully achieved. One good reason for thinking in this way is that it indicates where to strengthen efforts when change runs into difficulty. A common response is to focus on what are perceived to be the “failures” at a particular level, it is likely to be far more effective to look to what is not happening in the level that should be providing context.

Level 6

Unless leaders at level 6 propose and explain changes in the light of current and anticipated economic, social, political, technological influences, level 5 cannot define and describe a strategic intent for those changes and thus direction and values for the next decade.

Clear leadership at level 6 will sustain reputation so that it is the touchstone for all change. Everyone in the organisation will be clear about his or her role in protecting it and will be proud and confident to represent the organisation through the initial change and beyond.

Where leadership at level 6 is not clear, costs of change are likely to run out of control, reputation is at risk, change resisted, likely to be inconsistent and eventually to stall.

Level 5

Unless leaders at level 5 create a clear picture of the strategic intent for the next five to ten years and send an unequivocal message that there will be change, people working at level 4 cannot make appropriate decisions on what capabilities will be needed for the future and hence will not be able to develop appropriate strategies to bring them into being. Thus they will only take that action “too late”.

Clear leadership at level 5 will provide a sense of purpose for the change so that it will be understood and accepted and effective re costs, practices, systems and culture. There will be effective collaboration across departments/divisions, clients/customers, partners will hear clear, consistent messages and each person will know where his or her work fits in the new regime and will be confident that their contribution is valued.

Where leadership at level 5 is not clear, there will be complaints that “there is no vision”, people will keep their heads down assuming the change will go away and everyone will protect their own patch.

Level 4

Unless leadership at level 4 reviews the anticipated requirements over the next three to five years and decides on plans for strategic development of the organisation’s capabilities, people working at level 3 cannot identify what best practice operating processes are going to be needed.

Clear leadership at level 4 will provide a sense of direction so change will be paced, will ensure budget discipline to minimize extravagance and waste and balance between efficiency and effectiveness, and between quality and cost.

If leadership at level 4 is not clear, people will complain that they do not know where they are heading, pacing will be too fast or too slow, costs to serve will be out of control.

Level 3

Unless leadership at level 3 provides systems, processes, standards and resources necessary to create current best practice over the next none to two years, then people working at level 2 cannot provide the leadership, planning and scheduling and information services needed by people at level 1.

Clear leadership at level 3 will provide a sense of fairness about change and the way it is being handled, people will be able and willing to enhance their professional/technical skills (especially important where part of change is to create more specialist roles). It will also ensure cost-effectiveness by ensuring the continuous work of “cleaning up” waste and extravagance in Levels 1 and 2.

If leadership at level 3 is not clear, there will be resistance, loss of confidence and large numbers of grievances and appeals about the ways in which change is being handled. Costs are likely to increase while quality declines.

Level 2

Unless leadership at level 2 provides planning, scheduling and information for the year ahead, people working at level 1 cannot use their individual skills in different ways and remain efficient, do in-process problem-solving when processes are changing, identify waste in changed circumstances and control it whilst producing what the client/customer sees as good quality.

Clear leadership at level 2 ensures trust in the organisation as changes are made and signals that change is likely to be continuous rather than one-off. Leaders at this level are especially valuable and vulnerable because they are in pole position to build or weaken trust as staff, customers, clients experience change in particular situations that impact them directly.

Clear leadership at this level holds two key balances: one is between best possible response to each customer, employee, supplier and the cost of that response (costs to serve), the other is between work as it needs to continue and changes in working processes and/or conditions.

If leadership at level 2 is not clear, people working at level 1 will feel their contribution is not valued and their needs not attended to; waste will not be controlled, costs and absenteeism will rise.

© Gillian Stamp