Leading Change

KJKim M. Johnson, MD is the Director of NMAC’s Division of Community Advancement and Leadership Strategies (DCALS).

Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Change is happening everywhere and its speed and complexity is increasing. The future success of our organizations depends on how successful leaders are at leading change. In today’s marketplace, change is a requirement for continued success and competent change leadership is a most coveted leadership skill.

I recently attended a training entitled, Leading Transformation: How to setup your changes for success. The training offered a new construct for change management called “transformational change.” “Transformation” is a new and challenging type of change that has emerged, and it is by far the most prevalent and complex type of change in organizations today. Transformational change involves a number of very critical and unique dynamics that demand a new leadership perspective, skill, and style. Because leading transformational change is so radically different from managing  or leading a stable organization, leaders cannot simply lay their old way of thinking, behaving and operating on this new world and expect success. This means leaders themselves must transform in order to lead transformation successfully in their organizations.

Over the past few decades, leaders have done a phenomenal job of increasing the productivity of their organizations. However, because today’s change is so often transformational, making it more complex, the requirements of today’s leaders are expanding. The challenge is that today’s marketplace is not asking for just leadership. It is demanding change leadership– even more, transformational change leadership– a new breed of leader for a new breed of change.

Leaders must know the type of change they face before they can know how to lead it. Developmental change is the simplest of the three types of organizational change. It represents the improvement of an existing skill, method, performance standard or condition that does not measure up to current or future needs. The key focus of developmental change is to strengthen or correct what already exists in an organization.

Transitional change is more complex. Rather than just improving what is, transitional change replaces what is with something entirely different. Transitional change begins when leaders recognize that a problem exists or that an opportunity is not being pursued and something in the existing operation needs to change or be created to better serve current and/or future needs.

Transformational change is the least understood and most complex type of change facing organizations today. Simply said, transformation is the shift from one state of being to another, so significant that it requires a shift of culture, behavior and mindset to implement successfully and sustain over time.  In other words, transformation completely alters the way an organization sees the world, their constituents, their work and themselves.

Determining the type of change your organization is facing

What type of change is your organization facing? In order to determine what type of change your organization is facing, answer the following questions. If you answer “yes” to 2 or more questions for any one type, then that is the primary type of change occurring in your organization.

Developmental Change Questions:

  1. Does your change effort primarily require an improvement of your existing way of operating, rather a radical change to it? ___ Yes   ___No
  2. Will skill or knowledge training, performance improvement strategies and communications suffice to carry out this change? ___Yes  ___ No
  3. Does your current culture and mindset support the needs of this change? __ Yes   __No

Transitional Change Questions

  1. Does your change effort require you to dismantle your existing ways of operating and replace it with something known but different?  ___Yes  ___No
  2. At the beginning of your change effort, were you able to design a definitive picture of the new state?  ___Yes  ___No
  3. Is it realistic to expect this change to occur over a pre-determined timetable?  ___Yes ___No

Transformational Change Questions

  1. Does your organization need to begin its change process before the destination is fully known and defined?  ___Yes  ___No
  2. Is the scope of this change so significant that it requires the organization’s culture and people’s behavior and mindsets to shift fundamentally in order to implement the changes successfully and achieve the new state?  ___Yes  ___No
  3. Does the change require the organization’s structure, operations, products services, or technology to change radically to meet the needs of consumers and the marketplace? ___Yes   ___No

Knowing the type of change your organization is facing is only the first step. Leading your organizational changes is the next. NMAC will be providing capacity building assistance for non-profit organizations that are going through a change process. Please see the Building Leadership for Organizational Change and Sustainability program (BLOCS) details on our page at https://www.nmac.org/blocs

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