In their Harvard Business Review article, “Change Management is Bigger than Leadership,” Gregory Shea and Cassie Solomon discuss change and how leadership needs large-scale organizational transformation in order to be effective.
They argue that in the rhetoric of organizational issues, the solution is usually thought to be a new boss: “Old dogs will learn new tricks when the lead dog — or ape, or penguin, depending on the management fable of the moment — shows them off.” In other words, the idea is that a new leader will be the main driving force for change by refocusing the group.
The concept that new leaders are capable of bringing about sweeping change isn’t necessarily wrong. Often, it’s quite right. A new boss might be just the change that’s needed if the old boss wasn’t getting the work done.
However, changing the leader is only effective if the organization is also undergoing transformation. This is what will affect employees, many of whom don’t work closely with the alpha dogs in any case. As Shea and Solomon write: “Call it a species strength. We behave based on the reality around us.” If the work environment changes, so will the workers.
Shea and Solomon’s observations speak to the reality of leadership. Leaders are vital: no doubt. But, so are larger changes to organizational culture, too. This is especially true in the Canadian public service, where innovation often lags due to red tape.
So if leader and cultural changes are both needed, the question then becomes like the scenario of the chicken and the egg. Which came first, the leader or the organizational transformational? My answer is that one can’t exist without the other. This is slightly different from Shea’s and Solomon’s opinion. They place organizational change first and foremost because they are talking about large industry. But, in the public service, leadership is still needed and still sought after (who is going to cut the red tape?). Organizational transformation is a leader gets the work done.
Animal metaphors aside, what has been your experience of organizational change? Did you have a strong leader who tried to teach your organization news tricks? Tell us in the comments!