While no one who understands change management, least of all LaMarsh Global, would deny the important role that leaders play in change, there is a danger in over-valuing that role.
We have been seeing a lot of articles in business magazines and blogs creating the case for good sponsorship on the part of leaders in the organization. What worries us is not this message. It is true and vital.
The danger is that the readers of these blogs and articles may take away the impression that good leadership is enough. It is not.
We recently had a COO of the most lucrative business unit in a Fortune 100 company tell us, “I’ll do whatever it takes to make this change successful. I don’t know what that is, though. I keep asking and get that ‘look’ from the project head that says, without words, that I should know what to do because I am the senior leader. But I don’t.”
A willing Sponsor is only one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is the able Change Agent. That is, the project team member(s) who figures out what the people impacted need from that Sponsor. It they don’t assess the Targets, determine what their issues are and build the action plans to address those issues the change will not be successful.
Don’t let the importance of the role of the Sponsors distract you from the important role of Change Agents. In fact, the willing Sponsor who is not told what to do, when and how, by informed Change Agents can do more harm than good. If the target populations do not understand why they have to change, what is/are the root causes of the need to leave the current state, a leader who comes out with a strong message about how wonderful the future state will be may lose his/her own credibility and cause the listeners to close their ears to this message. We need to address their issues and make sure those are the ones being addressed.