Leadership and Organizational Change

Recently, while reading a book on Organizational Change and Project Management, I noticed a disturbing pattern.

The book I was reading discusses the creation of a central project office to manage all projects within organizations (note…it is not the book I reviewed here) and looked interesting when I saw it at the local half-price book store.

The first chapter, which provided an overview of the the topics covered in the book, started off on a bad note.  The first few paragraphs eluded to topics like “create a sense of urgency”, “develop political acumen”, “find a champion” and “master the art of persuasion”.

These topics disturb me for a few reasons…but mostly because they make me believe that the authors are trying to ‘teach’ a reader how to ‘play the game’ rather than ‘change the game’.  Organizational change should be about changing the game rather than playing it.

The book continues on about processes and ‘tips’ for getting people to ‘buy in’ to the change that needs to occur.  The authors write about ‘projectizing the organization’ to add value and ‘creating a sense of urgency’ for employees so they understand how important the change is.

As I mentioned, I have a problem with this approach.

As a leader, If i have to ‘create’ urgency for change have I been doing my job? A good leader should already have people aligned with the necessary changes and have them ready to implement change. Steve Roesler over at All Things Workplace described leaders in a recent post titled “Leadership: Facilitating The Show You Are In” as:

People who are engaged with what needs to happen while orchestrating how to make it happen.

Steve is exactly correct.

As a leader, if you are engaged with your team (and they with you), you and your team should already have a grasp on what changes are needed and your everyone should fully understand why those changes are necessary.

If a leader is doing their job, there should be no need to ‘create a sense of urgency’…it should already exist.

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5 responses to “Leadership and Organizational Change”

  1. Bruce P. Henry Avatar

    While I understand the sentiment, I don’t really draw the same conclusions.

    It is all fine and good to say that a good leader “should already have people aligned with the necessary changes and have them ready to implement change.” But how does the leader do that exactly? Well, one way is to create a sense of urgency.

    And to say that if a leader is doing their job a sense of urgency already exists is just plain silly. That implies that a leader doing their job has created a sense of urgency. But that’s exactly the advice you’re arguing against.

    Also, in order to implement any change within an organization in a smooth and orderly fashion requires that you work within the existing structure to gain support for your change. This is particularly true if the change is to the game itself.

    “Political acumen” and “the art of persuasion” are simply tools in the toolbox of a good leader. A good leader without political acumen will get eaten alive by some jackass that out flanks them in the executive ranks. A jobless leader is not particularly effective. A good leader without mastery of “the art of persuasion” is an oxymoron since a good leader persuades (not forces) people to follow them, even when the way forward is unclear or difficult.

    I suspect that there was something else about this book that set off your alarm bells. I’ve had this happen several times with books where the advice they were giving was clearly “good” yet I hated (and hate is not too strong for how I felt about some of them) something about it. The tone, the subtext, something set me off. I’ll bet if you look close you’ll discover the same thing.

    I may expand this into a full fledged post on my blog about project management and other stuff.

    BTW – What was the title of the book?

  2. Eric D. Brown Avatar

    Hi Bruce,

    Thanks for the comment…good stuff and thanks for making me take a step back and think about what I said.

    You make some excellent points here…and are 99% correct.

    I think what bothered me about the book the most was the comment about ‘creating a sense of urgency’ and the description of how to ‘create’ that urgency. My thoughts, which I may not have described well in my original post, is that you shouldn’t have to ‘create’ anything….the sense of urgency should already be a part of the culture of the organization. The term ‘create’ is what bothers me most as it conjures up an idea of ‘making something out of nothing’.

    Now…back to your critique.

    How does this urgency come into existence? At some point it does have to brought to the forefront of the organizational mindset….perhaps that is what ‘create a sense of urgency’ really meant to the authors.

    Your points on Political acumen and art of persuasion are spot on…I definitely downplayed these as a necessary skill set for leaders to have. These are skills that are necessary tools for any leader to have…especially to keep the jackass’ at bay 🙂 The bothersome aspect to these skills were how the book authors were telling readers to use these to ‘play the game’ rather than change the game.

    The book was “Creating the Project Office: A Manager’s Guide to Leading Organizational Change”…which turned out to have some really interesting topics in it. I still can’t recommend it completely though because I felt that the authors were pointing people down some roads that just don’t follow my own thought processes on leading organizational change.

  3. […] read my post titled “Leadership and Organizational Change” and specifically Bruce’s comment.  Bruce called me out on some of my comments in my […]

  4. […] me complaining about the term ‘creating a sense of urgency’ in a previous post (see here and here)….I still don’t like the term ‘create’ but am coming to grips with […]