|In this first debate, the panel will discuss the role of executives and
CEOs in managing change. Jeff Hiatt will introduce the opposing viewpoint and moderate the
Mid-level managers often look upward thinking that the nirvana for change management
rests with the CEO or head of the organization. Executives express concern that the
excessive expectations placed on them are in fact nothing more than excuses for a lack of
leadership and management skills within the management ranks.
"Don't come to our company and tell me how to manage change," a senior VP and
COO told me just two weeks ago as I was preparing to talk with their leadership team.
"Provide resources to help my managers lead change. I need them to be able to get on
board and take action without me being involved in every activity and every meeting."
How many senior executives feel the pressure for being the critical lynchpin for the
success of a major change? Why can't organizations implement major change without having
active sponsorship of an executive or CEO each step of the way?
Dr. James Johnson (JJ)
I was teaching a Change Management class to a group of 50 middle and upper managers of
a Fortune 100 company in June. I knew right away they were skeptical of buying into my
charge that they and the Change Management team would have to coach the president on a
formal communication plan for the company. The plan would have to contain what he should
say, when he would say it, how he would deliver it and to whom. Later on in the afternoon,
the president made an appearance at the training session, apologizing for not being able
to attend the session. He was in-between planes and wanted to stop in and say
The president had just been at an important meeting where a partnership was being
negotiated and he wanted to fill them in on how it was going. After the president talked
for about 10 minutes, he announced he was off to another meeting. With this, the most
senior manager at the meeting grabbed the microphone and said "This guy says we have
to coach you on how to communicate the change" (he was pointing to me). Their whole
group went silent for what seemed like 10 minutes. The president looked at the senior
manager and replied "Good! I'm going to need all the help I can get on this one.
Listen to what he says."
In my corporate career, I have found that executives who are passionate about a change
want to do all they can to promote and support the change. Many times they don't know how
or just don't have the time to craft a plan to communicate the change. They would be
eternally grateful for some individual or team to give them advice! They know how
important it is for them to show their support for a change project.
I am hearing two conflicting messages. Jeff says, senior executives want nothing to do
with the change and are extremely bothered by the notion that their people are not
competent to lead the change on their own. JJ says, senior executives honestly want to be
involved and participate in the change but their duties and schedule limit them.
But, I think possibly these two messages, which seem on the surface to be conflicting,
really go hand in hand. I see it as the senior executive's comfort and ability levels that
are in question and not their potential roles in a change. The first senior executive may
not be comfortable enough to admit he needs help with the change so he reacts viciously by
attacking and blaming (instead of leading). He shifts his inability and discomfort to his
managing teams by attacking their competency and ability. The second executive (in JJ's
case study) has reached a place of understanding where he recognizes he needs help and is
willing to accept it and be grateful for it.
Still that leaves a huge question in my mind. How do I really know what kind of senior
executive I am dealing with; how do I go about getting their support and participation and
in the manner that best accommodates their styles? And is their support really that
important??? Are they worth the trouble?
I interpreted Jeff's comments and JJ's comments differently. Jeff's discussion with the
senior VP did not equate to senior executives not wanting anything to do with change. Nor
did J.J's experience during the change management course equate to managers wanting to be
involved in change, but not having time. On the contrary. The primary role of any leader
is working through others. This means coaching people, empowering people so they can
"get on board and take action" without the senior VP being involved in every
activity and every meeting. In Jeff's example, the senior VP's desire was for his/her
managers to learn to lead change without him/her being involved in every step of the way.
My response to that is, coach them on how to do that. Inspire them to get involved to
achieve business results. Make it okay for your people at all levels to lead change.
Expect people to lead change for improved business results.
Organizations have to be agile and move quickly to respond to competition, to meet
market requirements, to respond to changing economic and global conditions. The role that
senior management plays in change projects is the advocate role and the reviewer role.
Notice I did not say the implementer or the champion - these roles require significant
time and investment in the details. Senior management's role is to enable and empower
their change agents - so the people implementing the change can move quickly. Leaders
don't own all the work, they own showing visible support for the change and they do this
via hallway conversations, communication updates, and in meetings. These are things they
are already doing and do not require extra time - this is how they work through others.
Don't confuse senior management's active sponsorship role in change with owning the
implementation of the change and managing the details of the change. Is it absolutely
necessary for senior management to show visible support for major changes? Absolutely. If
they don't understand that, they are not leading, they are not empowering their people to
move quickly. It is in senior management's best interest to work effectively and
efficiently through others and to do that, visible support is a must.
The question is not whether executives must be involved in change management. Their
participation is critical to success. Last year I led a best practices study with 288
organizations to find out what is needed for change management to be successful. When
asked, "what was the greatest contributor to your change management success?"
participants responded overwhelmingly, effective executive sponsorship.
I think the question on the table is -- what comprises effective sponsorship of a
senior business leader? The COO Jeff spoke with was right, executive sponsorship does not
mean being responsible for each and every piece of the change management effort. That is
the responsibility of the change management team, managers and supervisors. Our study
results showed that effective sponsors:
- show active and visible support, both privately and professionally
- ensure that the change remains a priority demonstrate their commitment as a role model
- provide compelling justification for why the change is happening
- communicate a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the change
- provide sufficient resources for the team and project to be successful
While executives are feeling the pressure of many different initiatives, it is
irresponsible to not support change management efforts. My logic for this goes like this:
1) executives are responsible for improving financial and strategic performance, 2) change
management is the most important factor for financial and strategic projects to be
successful, therefore 3) to promote improvement within the organization, an executive must
effectively support change initiatives.
Our research shows that the biggest mistakes executives can make are not visibly
supporting the change throughout the entire process and abdicating responsibility. The
executive is a vital part of the change management efforts, but it is the responsibility
of the change management teams to figure out how to make use of this sponsorship. Whether
it is a short speech to a group of effected employees or directly dealing with a resistant
manager, teams should use the tools of executive sponsorship to make their own efforts and
the change successful.
To make headway here, we need to address the core issue. CEOs and senior business
leaders are not all created equal. Some will naturally lead change and be an effective
sponsor. If this is your executive, then you are home free. Other executives may express
the desire to sponsor the change, but simply lack the knowledge and skills to do it
effectively. JJ was right when he said that many executives need direct support and
coaching to be effective sponsors of change. This is still a good situation for the
But let's not dodge the bullet. Some executives do not fall into either of these camps.
In working with many CEOs and senior business leaders, I have found that if they do not
match one of the two types just described, they fall into one of the remaining categories:
- Scenario 1 - They are uncomfortable performing the activities necessary to sponsor the
change and would rather delegate these duties to someone else.
- Scenario 2 - They do not believe that their involvement is necessary for the change to
be a success and do not see why their involvement is important.
- Scenario 3 - They want to distance themselves from any negative fall-out that may
occur from the change (especially when job changes or layoffs may occur).
The challenge for many teams is what to do with senior business leaders and CEOs who
fall into one of these latter categories, and I am not hearing any clear direction about
this core issue.
Hearing Tim's research about the importance of executive sponsorship, I feel it is
important to do all you can to get executive sponsorship. However, I agree that some
senior executives may not get on board no matter what the change management team tries or
does. If that's the case, the team must find the next best thing. Is it possible for
someone else to substitute in this sponsor role? Is there a point in time when a team
decides not to move forward with a change if sufficient sponsorship is not present? Should
the change itself be changed to fit the sponsorship? Are these even options?
Adrienne is right - the change management team must do something to improve sponsorship
in these types of scenarios. One approach is to use change management techniques to
"create effective executives sponsors of change." Since this is a change with
individuals, an individual change management model like ADKAR provides the foundation for
how to manage this change (see tutorial The ADKAR Model of
Using ADKAR, this change would look like:
- Awareness - does the executive understand their role as a sponsor of
- Desire - does the executive understand the importance sponsorship plays
in making a change successful and have the desire to act in this role?
- Knowledge - does the executive know what steps and actions are required
to support the change as an executive sponsor?
- Ability - can the executive actually perform these steps? Can the team
provide the necessary guidance to ensure this ability?
- Reinforcement - what is being done to ensure that the executive
maintains the role of "active and visible" sponsor throughout the change?
In Scenario 1 where the executive may be uncomfortable in this role, the team must
begin by building awareness of the need for the executive's sponsorship and strengthen the
executives desire to act in this role. The biggest task, however, will be to develop the
right knowledge and skills so that the executive is prepared and able to do this correctly
and professionally, and feel comfortable that they are doing the right thing. The Change
Management Toolkit and the Best Practices report both outline an executive roadmap
of actions (broken down by audience and timing in the project) that can be used by
sponsors. The project team should also actively coach the executive and help prepare key
For scenario 2, the sponsor is simply resistant to this active sponsorship role. They
most likely do not appreciate or believe the business risks that face an organizational
when implementing change without the required sponsorship. Don't give up. The team must be
clear in its communications with the executive regarding these business risks. Provide
examples and case studies from resources like the Change Management Best practices
research. Use other influential executives (their peers) to help with this awareness
In scenario 3, the executive wants to insulate themselves from the change. In these
cases, the executive may even be willing to endure additional business risks so long as
they are not closely associated with the process. Is this truly a sponsor of change?
The reason Jeff is not hearing any "clear direction" on how to gain
sponsorship from senior business leaders and CEO's who want to distance themselves from
any negative fall out or do not believe their involvement is necessary in change is
because this is not a black and white issue. This is not an engineering bug fix. I agree
with Tim. Do not give up. For change agents that are struggling to gain sponsorship from
their senior business leaders, you have an uphill battle, however not impossible. Some
additional suggestions are:
- Find out what your senior business leaders care about. What are they losing sleep over?
What concerns them about the competition? What are they excited about in the company? I
would bet that they care about business results.
- Show them how their involvement in the change is going to help get business results.
Show them how their lack of involvement will hinder the change implementation.
- Be explicit and let them know specifically what you need from them. If you must, craft
the message for the senior leader, review it with them and then help them with the
All too often, company wide initiatives are taking place without a word from the CEO or
senior leaders on why the initiative is important. Shame on them - senior leaders are
responsible and accountable for ensuring that their people, their most valuable resources,
are working on the right things, at the right times to achieve business results.
Dr. James Johnson (JJ) - the last word for Round 1
Wow! I believe there is NO "one size fits all" when it comes to change
management. Senior managers are people, too. They are all different - depending on their
personalities, history, experience, compensation plans, and a host of other variables.
If Change Management is really the "people side of change", then senior
managers must be included - especially in large-scale transformational changes. How they
initially choose to be involved is not always what change managers want. Here's what I
hear from debaters that I think sums up the topic:
- Senior managers span the continuum from wanting active involvement to keeping an arm's
length in Change Management initiatives.
- Senior managers have different comfort levels, time constraints, and abilities when it
comes to Change Management.
- Research shows that executive involvement is the greatest contributor to change
management success. These are very compelling findings.
- Senior managers' roles include leading, coaching, empowering, and support. Sometimes
these roles can cause conflicting interpretations from change managers.
- Sometimes senior managers must distance themselves from a particular project for reasons
that are not fully understood by the change management team (politics, PR, economic
outlook, stock price, etc.). This could be the "good guy - bad guy" approach
where the Change Management team has to take the heat.
- Some senior managers may not be exactly "passionate" about the change
initiative. There has to be a WIIFM - What's In It For Me - for them, too. Some won't be
on the train when it pulls out of the first station. You need to get them on board as soon
- There are tools and methodologies that the team can use which can make Change Management
work and build executive sponsorship. Take advantage of these tools. Many concrete steps
were provided by Tim and Melissa.
I think that the Change Management team has the responsibility to try to enlist senior
management's support. If senior management is not supportive, then the team must not view
managing change as an event. Continue working with your executive team, understand that
they are real people, and work patiently to build their competency in managing change as
your input or personal experience on the role of executives in change management.
|This debate address issues that I have seen first
hand in the role of change agent. I also believe that the change agent has to have a
distinct approach or even a change model to present to executives that helps them see the
direction the change is going and how their input will help gain momentum and full
implementation. Without executive support, most change initiatives fail - that is a fact.
I also agree that the executive has to see what the value is of the change and has to
believe that it is the right thing to do, otherwise support would be superficial and
meaningless. Finally, there should be financial or business consequences which can be
measurable and trackable so that the executive's support does not stop throughout the
change and full scale implementation. Measurability has been somewhat illusive but that is
changing. More and more organizations are finding ways to measure change when they have a
change model and methods of tracking progress of change.
It is true that executives are people too. (I think there is some
scientific evidence that executives are human despite thought to the contrary). When
working with executives I try to keep in mind that I, as change agent, can walk away. The
executive puts much more on the line to take a stance and support a change position. There
has to be a valid and critical reason for them to take that stance and support the change.
Change agents and groups promoting internal organizational change should keep that in mind
when encouraging an executive to promote and support a major change.
As there is no one model of success , so there can be no one
ideal model of a CEO. It is the responsibility of the HR professionals within a company to
understand , advise and positively influence the CEO so that her personality, the business
paradigms, and organizational priorities all create a culture which should enthuse the
human resource towards purposeful growth of the organization.
Most CEOs who know what is in there for their business goals will
support change initiatives. Being visible during the change process is a 'hard nut' but
not a challenge that cannot be handled.
Major issue is some CEOs want positive results of change without
wanting to be associated with the short-term consequences of change e.g. exit of staff
(initiated by company or staff!).
The role of the executive is to be the sponsor. Conner [Daryl
Conners book, Managing at the Speed of Change] defines sponsor as a person who can
legitimize the change and differentiates a sponsor from an advocate, who is a person who
supports the change but has no way to legitimize it. So I would disagree with Melissa that
the role of senior management is the advocate or reviewer role. I would however agree with
Tim on his comments about effective sponsorship. I would add to his comments that the
sponsor has to maintain that sponsorship throughout the three phases of change,
initiating, implementing, and institutionalizing. I believe the reason the research
indicates so strongly the need for executive sponsorship is because without sustained
sponsorship, the change merely becomes one more change of the month which
never gets institutionalized.
I would also agree that sponsorship can be achieved in more than
one way, as long as he walks the talk and the whole organization knows that he is fully
committed to the change. I would add that he should not micro manage and I, for one, favor
empowerment as the most effective means of sponsorship. Unfortunately many executives do
not understand empowerment.
Adrienne raises several significant questions, which it appears,
go mostly unanswered. Hence I will take a shot at answering.
Is it possible for someone else to substitute for the
If the sponsor has been correctly identified, then the answer is
Is there a point in time when a team decides not to move
forward with a change if sufficient sponsorship is not present?
Unless you want to become another forgotten change of the
month the answer is yes.
Should the change itself be changed to fit the
This is the most important question asked and the answer is yes.
The reason is the whole concept of aligning proposed changes with the strategy of the
corporation (and hopefully its executives). We should not be undertaking a change
initiative unless it supports the goals and strategies of the corporation. Hence it is not
a case of us trying to shape and train the executive to fit the change, it is our job, as
change agents, to examine the corporations goals and objectives and make a business
case as to why our change initiative fits and supports one or more of those goals and
objectives. While the ADKAR model may help in getting this alignment, I get the impression
that in the first and second step we are trying to get the executive in synch with us when
I believe our role is just the opposite. Our role is to figure out what are the hot
buttons of the executive and develop a plan that aligns as closely with his goals
and objectives as possible. While we have not yet talked about the difference between a
major and minor change we should be aware that if this is a major change there may not
initially be good alignment with the company goals. Here we, as change agents, need to be
innovative and see if there is something presently going on in the company that might
support our change initiative in whole or part. This fits nicely in what many Quality
experts recommend when introducing Quality into an organization; find something that most
closely resembles what you are trying to introduce and introduce the Quality changes
incrementally until the culture begins to change. Unfortunately this introduces another
subject, changing the culture, which will take much longer to discuss. But if it is a
major change we may have to consider introducing it incrementally or changing the culture
before we proceed.
In summary, I believe the role of the executive is sponsorship,
without it the change will fail. In addition I believe it is the role of the change agent
to find some means of aligning the proposed change with either the corporate goals (hence
the executives) or with some facet of the corporate culture which will allow the
change to be introduced incrementally.
I agree with the Melissa's views on executive sponsorship. Human
being always have resisted change initially. Such a resistance cannot be taken to be final
statement from the executives' side. As a matter of fact, there is the need to educate the
executive on the necessity of change. A good leader is one who is able to convert a 'no'
to 'yes'. It calls for leadership capabilities of the executive. When the executive
himself is convinced about the necessity of change,he can convince the employees as well.
But it does take time. Coaching and inspiring the people on the crucial issues of change
would require tremendous patience on the part of executives. At the same time one cannot
make the change take place without any time framework as there would always be the fear of
change itself being made redundant. Thus change under the able guidance of the senior
management is the one desirable to revolutionize the management processes.
There are a number of reasons why CEO's need to be fully involved
CEO's need to be fully involved to: 1. Articulate the change that
they want to happen in the company 2. Make decisions on the changes required at key points
of the change 3. Provide the necessary 'Leverage' to overcome change resistance when it
Notice I say 'involved' they obviously do not need to 'manage'
the change but they need to put together a team that that provide the necessary
information for the progress to be monitored and the decisions made. This team must have
full and regular CEO contact for the following reasons:
1. The CEO's direction and vision needs to be interpreted
correctly including the inner thoughts concerns and issues, (ensuring articulation &
orders are clear) 2. The key to change is very often speed, if the CEO door is not open,
the long lingering lack of decisions is a major inhibitor to change 3. Major change
requires alterations to policy and direction. Usually such changes require decisions from
the very top. 4. People do not usually want the change and very often the most affected
parties are senior and middle management, the only way to effect change at this level is
to exercise executive authority 5. Most people have to balance 'business as usual' with
implementing changes. If the CEO cannot demonstrate the right priorities how is the rest
of the organization going to behave? Time is not an excuse
Having said that the CEO needs a team, this team must be behind
the CEO not in front of him.
The CEO is obviously under pressure at a time of change, but if
they just 'fire-and-forget' the change it will probably achieve the same result - a lot of
destruction and a big hole in the company!
I think that top executives need to be involved at the very least
in two ways.
#1 Goal setting for the change. What do we want to have happen in
the end. If middle management sets the goal and senior management is not on board, you're
sunk. Not only does senior management set the goal but they have to tie that goal to an
improvement in the organizations performance. Basically, why is this our goal and what
will we gain from the change.
#2 Senior executives need to champion the change initiative
publicly and privately. I think you have already said this in one form or another.
I feel that if the senior executive(s) can at least do these two
things half the battle is won.
this page to a friend