The Role of Change Management in Strategy

By David Silverstein

How many times have we heard it?  “We had a good strategy, but we didn’t manage the change very well.” You know what we say to that?

Consider how complete your strategy was in the first place; if it didn’t account for the challenge of effective change management, was it a good strategy to begin with?

Strategy, in fact, is all about change. Your strategy defines the highest level process in your business. It is the process by which you deliver on your mission. It is a process designed to transform inputs—resources of all sorts—into outcomes, generally financial in nature (but not always). While possible, rarely does formal strategy formulation result in a decision to simply, “maintain the status quo.” And anything other than steady-as-she goes means change. Follow that logic and you quickly conclude that strategy and change management go hand-in-hand.

Where Do You Start?

Leading effective change isn’t just something that starts with the roll-out of strategy to the greater organization. It’s something that starts the moment you begin talking about strategy, because change must start at the very top. All too often we find that senior executives believe that they are on board with a new strategy and that the rest of the organization’s resistance is what they need to address. But the truth is that getting buy-in and building consensus at the highest level of the organization isn’t nearly as easy as it seems. Does the executive team really buy-in? Are they willing to challenge the CEO? Are they willing to challenge each other? Acceptance—passionate acceptance—can never be taken for granted.

Why this Strategy?

It’s important to understand why you believe in your new strategy. And if you do, if the people at the top of the organization “get it,” why shouldn’t everyone else? What is it that makes so much sense to the executive team that we believe others will resist? What cognitive process did they go through? How much time did it take? What can we learn from the executive team’s process of buy-in and acceptance that can be extended to the rest of the organization? Why do we need a different process for the masses?

How Do You Change?

Often new strategy means some degree of culture change. That, too, must begin at the top with the honest practice of new behaviors. Walking the walk…taking the talk…it’s about leading by example. People at all levels tend to emulate the actions and behaviors of their leaders. So look in the mirror and ask yourself, what does this change mean to me?

Walking the walk…taking the talk…it’s about leading by example.

Put a Plan in Place

So you can pretty quickly see why change management is key to strategy. In fact, without a plan to manage change, you don’t really have a strategy at all. And it can’t become an afterthought. From the very beginning, we must chronicle the research, the discussions and debates, and your options, your risks and your choices, among other things, so that we can recreate the very same process for your people, albeit at an accelerated pace.

That is the essence of change management—sharing the cognitive process and the rationale for your strategy. After that, the other parts of your plan begin to fall into place, including effective communication, dealing with anxiety and facilitating smooth transitions. There must be a plan for all of it. As we’ve said before, it’s both about the planning…and the plan.

David Silverstein is the CEO and founder of the Lean Methods Group. He is a frequent public speaker and author.