Sailing the Winds of Change: How to Pick Your Crew

Sailing the seas of changeWinning a sailboat race hinges on how well and how fast you can change course. Conditions switch quickly: wind, waves, weather. Making split-second decisions in response to that feedback means the captain needs to know exactly who does what and how well they will execute. Racing depends on role clarity.

It is the same with effectively leading an individual, team or organization through change. Champion sailors take the time — upfront and deliberately – to define each role, recruit the right person, expert or leader. Then, they further invest in orienting and preparing each person for their role; calibrating each contribution so that it leads to team success.

What is Change Management?

As in sailing, action and change take place at an individual level. It is Priya, Wayne, Sujoy and Nancy moving from their current behaviours to desired future behaviours. Moving from the current to the future state requires marrying both the technical and people sides of change.

What is change management

Why Bother with Change Management?

Why bother with change management? Research shows how projects succeed more often with formal change management. Initiatives employing effective change management are six times more likely to achieve results. (Prosci 2012 Benchmarking Study). Research by McKinsey from 2008 with 3,199 executives from around the world confirmed that one in three change projects succeed. This echoes John Kotter’s findings cited in his 1996 book Leading Change.

What are Change Management Roles?

No one wants their project to be a sad statistic. When putting together your project team, here are some helpful things to consider:

  1. Who do you need as must-have crew members?
  2. Who must you recruit to join the critical, early stage discussions?
  3. When identifying key stakeholders and assessing impact, who helps develop that list?
  4. When scouting for talented sailing mates, who wears the hat of the ‘change management expert?’

To illustrate the various change management roles and to show how these fit together, consider the example of a national sailing association. They need to introduce new Canada-wide training.  To apply change management principles and methodologies, here is how those roles play out.

Ultimately, the fully recruited change crew looks like this:

Change Management Roles

So what do these roles look like, exactly?

Project Management

For an association, this might be a volunteer leader donating their expertise, or it could be a part-time assignment for a member of the full-time staff.

The project manager’s responsibilities include:

  • Defining, mapping, and clarifying the technical side of the change (communications, resources, policies and procedures, adjustment of existing training.
  • Developing and implementing new solutions.
  • Building more effective and efficient processes.
  • Accurately scoping the project (budget, resources, timing).
  • Managing the budget, tasks, and staffing to reach desired outcomes.

Board Leaders and Executive Staff

For associations this might be the ultimate governance level consisting of elected volunteer leaders and, perhaps, an executive staff director. For corporations, this may be its senior management team. These leaders are charged with:

  • Providing oversight for the change project.
  • Recruiting leadership colleagues, such as the executive director or board chair, to co-sponsor the change.
  • Securing financial and human resources.
  • Being active communicators — sharing the story and results of the change with the organization.
  • Removing barriers to change — conflicting priorities or insufficient budgeting.

Lead Sponsor

This leader is the most senior, recognized and credible person capable of actively sponsoring this project.  They act as “the face and voice” of this initiative; regularly communicating the compelling case for the project. Key accountabilities include:

  • Authorizing funding and approval for initiatives within the change project.
  • Providing clarity for the purpose of the change.
  • Generating support and commitment from other leaders.
  • Establishing the strategy and direction for the initiative.
  • Playing a prominent and active support role in the initiative.

Middle and Front-Line Managers

This group is critical for effectively leading change. Working with each of their direct reports, team leaders clarify for each person the daily priorities amidst the chaotic cross currents of emails, meetings & deadlines.  In a national association, this might consist of volunteer leaders in local chapters or contracted training directors. These superintendents, managers, directors and/or supervisors can:

  • Prepare their teams to deal successfully with change.
  • Anticipate and pro-actively manage ‘change resistance.’
  • Provide training and coaching to guide teams successfully through transition.
  • Provide reinforcement to help ensure desired behaviours and new processes ‘stick.’

Change Management Team

This group develops, manages and oversees the actual change management plan. For an association, this may be a volunteer donating her expertise, or for a business, it could be a part-time staff assignment.  They will:

  • Focus on managing the people side of change.
  • Anticipate and respond to the challenges of guiding people through the transition.
  • Guide people away from the old ways to new — the goal is to minimize productivity loss and turnover, while maximizing the rate of adoption of the new processes.

Functional Supports

These folks contribute specific programming supports. For example, this could be staff resources from the legal or IT departments. Their responsibilities include:

  • Giving training, professional development, coaching and other supports for successful rollout of change management initiatives.

By taking the time to recruit, orient and coordinate your project’s formal change management roles and accountabilities, your setting yourself up for success as you set sail into the prevailing winds of change.  This upfront work will also you help minimize the chaos on deck as unexpected situations arise.  Having the right crew goes a long way to passing the final race buoy and reaching project success.

Annette Martell


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