Leaders: Managing Change in Digital Environments

In assignment 1, we were asked to create a one page visual as well as a written synthesis of our readings and consultations with colleagues with regard to digital learning and change. Of particular interest to me were Kotter’s 8-step model as well as the reflective leadership theory outlined by Castelli (2015) (Kotter, n.d.). During communication with my colleagues, I kept the Kotter model and the reflective leadership theory in mind, and how they may apply in practice, as my colleagues described their experiences managing change projects in digital learning environments. First, however, I have summarized Kotter’s model and the reflective leadership theory, followed by a synopsis of my communications with my colleagues, combined with brief reflections based on my personal experience.

Kotter’s 8 step model takes leaders through a series of processes that provides structure to their project. As Al-Haddad and Kotnour note, “His method starts with establishing a sense of urgency by relating the for change to real potential crises, building a team trusted to support change, having a vision and strategy, communicating the vision, implementing the change and planning short term win, consolidation gains and constantly institutionalizing change” (2015, p. 250).

The reflective leadership theory can be summed up as one that: creates a safe environment that promotes trust, values open communications, connects work to organization mission, builds self-esteem and confidence, respects diverse cultures and customs and challenges beliefs and assumptions” (Castelli, 2016, p. 221-226).

While working as the Deputy Director of Learning Teaching and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh, Anne-Marie Scott led a 3-year project to retrofit over 360 lecture rooms with audio/visual recording capabilities. With a significant budget and numerous technical aspects, the initial project scope was certainly ambitious. However, over the duration of the project, unforeseen factors emerged, which added considerable challenges. For example, during an industrial action strike, one of the leaders suggested the recorded lectures could be used to replace “lecturers who were on strike” (Scott, personal communication, February 19, 2020). This resulted in a lack of trust with regard to the use of recorded lectures and threatened the success of the project. The importance of trust is referenced by Castelli, “Sarros et al. (2014), the ability to motivate others is one of the key skills required by leaders. This is accomplished by the leader’s ability to create an open atmosphere that promotes trust […]” (2016, p. 221). To address this contentious issue, Anne-Marie’s project team created a lecture recording policy that stipulated the legal use of recordings which helped to address the lecturers’ concerns and restore trust. From my personal experience, I have learned that unexpected issues and resistance to change should be anticipated and planned for whenever possible.

The issue of trust was an inherent factor in the project that my colleague, Sharon Ambata-Villaneuva led in her role as the Manager of Education and Technology at the University Health Network in Toronto. The project was established to integrate the Privacy and Cyber Security training program for the Toronto Academic Health Science Network (TAHSN). In relation to the issue of trust, Ambata-Villaneuva related that “This entails strategies such as facilitating discussions and navigating the political terrain to overcome the hurdles” (personal communication, February 23, 2020) to achieve project deliverables. It has also been my experience that anticipating the need for transparency to ensure trust is an integral part of the success of a change initiative.

Both of my colleagues stated that they had used Kotter’s 8-step model, but did not apply it in a prescriptive manner. Instead they used the model as a starting point and then adapted it to their needs throughout the project lifecycle, which provided the advantage of structure, as well as adaptability.

As a result of my past experience, combined with my colleagues’ shared stories, and the readings, I believe that various models and theories can be used synergistically to enable leaders to adjust their project plans to ensure the success of their change initiatives while keeping up with the increasing demands of the digital age. After all, as John F. Kennedy was quoted as stating, “Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” (Meliorate, n.d.).

References

Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234-262. Retrieved from https://doi-org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215

Castelli, P. A. (2016). Reflective leadership review: A framework for improving organisational performance. The Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217-236. 10.1108/JMD-08-2015-0112

Kotter, J. (n.d.) The 8-step process for leading change. Retrieved from https://www.kotterinc.com/8-steps-process-for-leading-change/

Meliorate [website] Retrieved from  https://www.torbenrick.eu/blog/change-management/20-awesome-quotes-on-change-management/

Change Management Steps: Make Sure You’re Headed in the Right Direction

Winston Churchill was quoted as saying, “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction” (Wisdom to inspire). I believe that this is often true. Particularly when it pertains to organizations making decisions about the changes to their structure and the process by which they should come to a decision should involve complex analysis.

In my career, I have had the opportunity to participate in transformations in private sector organizations as well as similar initiatives in government and crown corporations. Based on my observations the drivers behind the need for change, the methodologies and processes selected, vary within those environments, however, the overall goals are similar.

For this blog post, we were asked to consider four questions. One in particular stood out for me.

What role does leadership play in managing change?

Keeping that in mind, while reading the articles for unit 2, I noted that there were a number of theories, strategies and models (Biech, 2007).  For me, there was an almost overwhelming body of knowledge that made me realize I would need to focus on what resonated the most for me. To that end, the CHANGE Model outlined by Biech (2007) included six steps that present a logical process, while allowing for overlap and adjustment throughout. The six steps are:

  1. Challenge the current state
  2. Harmonize and align leadership
  3. Activate commitment
  4. Nurture and formalize a design
  5. Guide implementation
  6. Evaluate and institutionalize the change

In particular, I believe step 2 is crucial to ensure leaders are united in their understanding of the change and their role to visibly support the change. If not, the success of the initiative risks being undermined by the very people who have been enlisted to support it. The potential risks are significant as Biech notes here, ““We know of another example where it took four years to implement a telecommuting plan. Why? Resistance from the middle of the organization stonewalled the plan” (2007, p. 2).

Further to that I saw some connection to the seven change management best practices outlined by the Prosci methodology which are:

  1. Mobilize an active and visible primary sponsor
  2. Dedicate change management resources
  3. Apply a structured change management approach
  4. Engage with employees and encourage their participation
  5. Communicate frequently and openly
  6. Integrate and engage with project management
  7. Engage with middle managers

The potential pitfall of not engaging with middle managers in step seven is noted in this statistic,   “Middle managers were revealed as the most resistant group in Prosci’s research, with 43% of participants identifying managers as the group most resistant to change” (Prosci, n.d. p. 8).

Al-Haddad and Kotnour (2015) also highlighted the effect of leadership support stating, “Leaders can be seen as change makers who guide the organisations into the desired state of future performance (p. 240). Like Prosci, they too, specified the need for an organized approach, “Moreover, it is important to adopt a methodological process to achieve the desired outcome” (Al-Haddad & Kotmour, 2015, p. 254).

Although I believe all of the steps in a change management initiative are important, I do think some are critical. Specifically, as I’ve emphasized in my post, the role of leadership and the adoption of a structured, organized approach. Because as Benjamin Franklin stated, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” (Goodreads, n.d.).

Photo by Nick Jio on Unsplash

References

Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234-262. Retrieved from https://doi-org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215

Biech, E. (2007). Models of change. Thriving through change: A leader’s practical guide to change mastery. Alexandria, VA: Association for Talent Development. Retrieved from https://royalroads.skillport.com/skillportfe/assetSummaryPage.action? assetid=RW$1544:_ss_book:22651#summary/BOOKS/RW$1544:_ss_book:22651

Goodreads. (n.d.) [webpage] Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/460142-if-you-fail-to-plan-you-are-planning-to-fail

Prosci. Best practices in change management. Thought leadership articles (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.prosci.com/resources/articles/change-management-best-practices

Wisdom to inspire. (n.d.) [webpage] https://wisdomtoinspire.com/t/winston-churchill/VyeUWnbmK/there-is-nothing-wrong-with-change-if-it-is-in-the-right-direction

‘Full moon’ Leadership

Going through the exercise of assessing leadership traits based on the 20 characteristics that we were provided was an interesting process for me personally as well as engaging with the other three people on my team (Leigha, Lisa and Owen). Our top five traits were similar, just in a different ranking, however the remaining 15 were quite varied from each of our personal perspectives, which wasn’t surprising as the 20 characteristics ran the gambit in terms of their scope so it made sense that we would diverge.

For me personally, when I explored the leadership values that I think are important as they relate to leading in a digital environment, I realized that what I think is important is similar, regardless of the environment. Essentially, for me, a good leader is a person who can ‘suspend’ their ego-needs in favour of leading and supporting others to perform in their roles successfully. To that end, a good leader is open to conversations that are authentic and allow all parties to communicate. From my perspective, that’s the foundation of a leadership style that empowers others by removing barriers to success (when needful, and possible) and then enabling people to…simply, do their job.

In reading the articles for unit 1, I found myself wondering what the literature would present from a corporate learning perspective, rather than the K12/higher education one. As a result, I have not quoted or referenced the readings because nothing really stands out as noteworthy at this point, to be honest. This thought is not meant to be a criticism, rather an observation in a reflective post. That said, I know from past courses, that future readings will expand into other areas to add a deeper context to the initial articles, which I look forward to.

Ultimately, my final thoughts closing out on unit 1 are embodied in the image I chose for this post. It’s a picture I took earlier on my phone (not a very good one, I’m afraid) of the full moon in Leo making its day two debut. It struck me that it could be a full moon rising, OR the sun, setting. Regardless it sheds light by which one can see where they are going. And from my perspective, that is the epitome of what a good leader should strive to do.