change managementIt is well known that change can be hard. And large-scale organizational change is even harder. Because it is both hard and important, much has been studied and written about how to manage change – or how to make change management more effective. This work is well intentioned and helpful, but it falls short. Why? Because change management (alone) doesn’t hold the key to the successful change you desire.

What is Change Management?

Change management is a discipline that has been long-studied, practiced and documented.  A google search will lead you to many different definitions and descriptions – which reinforce the point that we have studied and written much about this practice!  It includes important activities that are typically required for a change to occur.  While the steps involved vary depending on which model you are following, they tend to focus on aspects like:

  • Describing and communicating the change
  • Providing the rationale for the change
  • Planning the change
  • Administering the change
  • Supervising the change

Clearly these are important activities. And yet, for all of the effort, study, and processes that have been built around change management, change is still hard, and far too many changes (big and small) take too long, cost too much, and often don’t reach the desired goal.

Since that is true, there must be something missing.  In classically defined change management, two factors are missing.

What is Missing?

To determine what is missing from much of what is called change management, we must step back to two fundamental truths about change:

  • Change is choice. While we can force people to comply with change, if we want acceptance, we must help individuals make the choice to change.
  • There is always emotion attached to change. Whether the emotions are positive or negative (usually both), data and logic alone don’t define our change choices.

Too often change management is something focused on:

  • Telling rather than communicating
  • Explaining rather than exploring
  • Providing rather than engaging
  • PowerPoint rather than dialogue

In other words, change management, too often feels (to those being asked to change) as something that is being done to them, rather than with them.

The solution is to do more than your change management approach provides – to move from thinking solely of change management to include change leadership.  When we begin to lead change, we move towards a collaborative approach that gives people time, and space to understand, engage in, shape and even participate in the change and its implementation.

Making that shift improves our success rate because it acknowledges the two profound truths about change we just discussed.

What’s My Next Step?

Think about the change you are living through now (or one of them!), and ask yourself if you are mostly managing it, or leading it. If you aren’t happy with your progress, or if you feel significant pressure, push-back or a lack of clarity from your team, step back and do three things:

  • Ask the group how they are feeling about the change – what their concerns, worries and questions might be. When you do you will likely learn a lot, and the exercise of asking (then listening not convincing) will have more impact than you realize.
  • Ask them what you can do to help them through this change. Listen and do as much of these things as you can.
  • Involve them more in the planning and implementation of the change. Even then the change isn’t something people love, ownership can grow when they own the implementation of the change.

We need to manage change, but if we want greater success, we need to do more than manage change, we must focus more on the people who will implement and be impacted by the change.  We must move beyond change management, to change leadership.


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Kevin Eikenberry is a recognized world expert on leadership development and learning and is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group ( He has spent nearly 30 years helping organizations across North America, and leaders from around the world, on leadership, learning, teams and teamwork, communication and more.
Twice he has been named by as one of the top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World and has been included in many other similar lists.

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