In major change initiatives, once the design is complete and the change project begins, there are two fundamental change processes: planned and emergent. Conscious change leaders orient to both – attention needs to be given to emerging dynamics and the plan should be adjusted as necessary. Dean and Linda Anderson (Beyond Change Management) note the existence of three different change leadership styles that dictate the way change leaders facilitate their change processes:

  1. Control (make it happen)
  2. Facilitate (help it happen)
  3. Co-create (partner into existence)

They further say that leaders need to be aware of their normal change leadership styles as, when operating on “autopilot”, decisions will be made that match the respective leaders’ styles. The resulting change processes that the leaders facilitate will model and promote a certain type of culture. As leader, if you are not conscious of your change leadership style, you may inadvertently design and facilitate change processes that promote an undesired culture. The impact of the three styles on change facilitation is as follows:

  1. Control (make it happen) – this consists of direct control over every aspect of the change process, including attempts at controlling people involved in the change. The change process is viewed as objective or “out there” and has to conform to the designed processes and desired speed of the plan. Authority mechanisms and structures are used to get the job done, communication is one-way and people typically feel alienated in the process, as if their feelings don’t really matter.
  2. Facilitate (help it happen) – although plans and structures are put in place for the change to be executed, the human resources that have to do the work are taken into consideration. Barriers or other obstacles are removed and mid-course corrections are made where necessary. Training is offered to support employees before and during the change implementation and two-way communication attempts are stepped up in terms of frequency.
  3. Co-create (partner into existence) – extensive collaboration with all employees is undertaken, before during and after change initiatives. The desire here is for all to participate in significant ways in the creation of something new and meaningful. Employees feel empowered and take ownership for their respective parts of the initiative. Here leaders support the change with initial direction based on market needs, but allow the actual change process to emerge in response to the initial direction they offer.

For simple change processes (for example, redesigning and rebuilding the office parking lot), a more directive control leadership approach could be adopted. For more complex change processes that impact employees emotionally (for example, implementing a new information technology system or the implementation of a new strategy), a participatory approach is essential. Leaders need to be able to recognise their “normal” leadership style and adapt it for the prevailing context or they may inadvertently sour the company culture.

Dialogue, empowerment, engagement and co-creation are essential ingredients for change success – if leadership style is non-supportive, resistance will be the result. Employing the services of a co-creative style change leader may be necessary to accomplish the objectives of the intended change.

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