Successful Strategy Leaders as Experts in Change Management

Strategic planning and execution and change management are inextricably linked.

Operational planning, the day-to-day tasks and processes that keep an organization running smoothly, is like keeping the lights on. It’s about maintaining the status quo. In contrast, strategic planning is the engine of growth and transformation. It’s about doing things differently to propel an organization forward.

The transition from operations to strategy signifies a significant shift — a form of change. And change, as we all know, can be met with resistance. This is where the concept of change management comes into play. It’s not enough to chart a new strategic course. Leaders must also navigate the complex terrain of change management and guide their teams effectively through the transformational journey.

At its core, change management revolves around people. It involves leading individuals, teams, and entire organizations through shifts in processes, procedures, and mindsets. This is where strategy leaders play a pivotal role. Their task is not merely to devise brilliant strategies but to ensure that these strategies are embraced, adopted, and executed effectively by everyone involved.

Why change is often met with resistance

Resistance is a natural human response to change. For leaders, understanding the cognitive processes associated with change is a crucial step in effective change management. It helps leaders understand the typical causes and effects that are associated with embracing or resenting change. 

The typical change journey begins with awareness and understanding. People are informed of the impending change. As employees absorb the change, questions about its implications surface, and individuals start pondering how it will affect them personally. From here, we can picture a fork in the road with two paths to change — a positive path and a negative path. 

The negative path: Here, perceptions of the change are negative, and the change is met with resistance. In this mode, change is seen as a threat, and compliance is driven by necessity rather than enthusiasm. This is a less desirable path, as it can lead to adverse impacts on morale, productivity, and overall organizational performance.

The positive path: On the other hand, individuals can stay on the positive side of the curve. They see the opportunities presented by the change, recognize its potential benefits, and begin to take proactive actions such as getting involved in the feedback process or assisting others. Here, engagement is driven by a genuine desire to embrace the change and contribute to its success.

The ultimate objective of change management is to reach a point where everyone is aligned with the new direction. While not everyone may choose this path, it is essential to strive for a collective understanding and acceptance of the change. This paves the way for a smoother transition to the “new normal.”

Understanding and managing the process of change adoption is crucial to change leadership. It provides insights into how individuals respond to change and offers strategies to keep them on the positive path, where they see opportunities rather than threats.

How effective leaders navigate change

Leading a team through change is a step-by-step process, and effective leadership requires different approaches at each stage. The dynamics of change management have been widely discussed. There has been a lot of literature offering valuable insights into how leaders can guide their teams through transformation. 

One such example is John Kotter, a renowned expert in leadership and change management. He outlined a framework for leading successful change initiatives. This framework consists of eight key steps:

  1. Create a sense of urgency: Provide a compelling reason for change to motivate your team.
  2. Form a powerful coalition: Assemble a team of influential leaders to champion the change.
  3. Create a vision for change: Develop a clear and inspiring vision of the future state post-change.
  4. Communicate the vision to a “volunteer army”: Effectively communicate the vision to engage and align the organization.
  5. Remove obstacles: Identify and eliminate barriers and obstacles that hinder progress.
  6. Create short-term wins: Celebrate small victories to show progress and build momentum.
  7. Build on the change: Use that momentum to drive further change and continuously improve the process.
  8. Anchor the changes in corporate culture: Ensure that the new changes are integrated into the organization’s culture and become the new norm.

During a recent episode of The Strategy Gap podcast, Joe Rafter, Vice President at Capgemini, shared invaluable insights on effective change leadership. His advice highlights three key strategies:

  1. Inclusive vision creation: Involve those who will be impacted by the change in creating the vision and strategy, whether that includes managers or the people implementing your strategy. Embrace their input to build a collective solution. While some leaders may fear pushback, Joe emphasizes the importance of facing resistance early in the process.
  2. Leaders’ presence and engagement: Senior executives need to actively engage with stakeholders throughout the change process. By seeking feedback, listening genuinely, and making necessary adjustments, leaders can prevent resistance from festering.
  3. Culture management: Recognize that organizational culture always plays a role in change efforts. Creating a culture that embraces change is going to significantly improve your strategic execution. Actively manage the culture to ensure it aligns with the desired change. Without proactive management, culture can either support or hinder the change process, so leaders must take the reins and guide it in the right direction.

These insights provide a practical roadmap for strategy leaders to navigate change effectively, empowering them to guide their organizations toward a successful and sustainable transformation.

Unlocking strategy leadership and mastering change 

As a strategy leader, you’re guiding your team through a journey of change across the organization.

If you’re eager to explore these concepts further and gain invaluable insights into strategy leadership and change management, check out more from our conversation with Joe Rafter on The Strategy Gap podcast, Transforming Leadership: Strategy & Execution. In this episode, Joe Rafter helps us delve into the key elements that drive successful business strategies, including authentic leadership, tailored actions, resilience, and self-awareness.

You’ll gain a deeper understanding of how to navigate the complexity of change management and strategy execution. Join us as we uncover the tools and knowledge that can elevate your strategy leadership skills and guide your organization to greater heights. Listen now

Listen to The Strategy Gap

A podcast about the space between savvy strategy and practical execution, including everything that can go wrong on the way. 


Meet the Author  Chelsea Damon

Chelsea Damon is the Content Strategist at AchieveIt. When she's not publishing content about strategy execution, you'll likely find her outside or baking bread.

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