Change management: dancing through resilient transition

By Lyndal Hughes

September 22, 2014

Let’s take a fresh look at making change effective. Most change management methods and texts give focus to the leaders and sponsors of change. In addition, there is reference to communication and involvement plans, but little focus is given to leveraging the significant influence of key followers of change. People are seen as targets rather than followers. There is a crucial difference. The latter has influence and a special connection with the leader.

The importance of this connection between a leader and their team is never more pronounced than during times of major organisational change. Think about what is expected from the team; they are expected to:

  • Let go of what is comfortable and predictable;
  • Learn and apply new skills/knowledge/approaches;
  • Make themselves vulnerable;
  • Deal with ambiguity;
  • Continue to deliver results; and
  • Trust that all will be ok and that they will still have a job at the end.

In other words, change requires all employees to take risk. So leaders need to help their team understand and embrace the idea that the risk of the unknown, or the new, is less than the risk of continuing with the status quo.

Typically, “good” change managers first think about information and communication plans. Yet, without a leader connecting to their team, all of the information in the world will be of no help in taking the team in a new direction.

Leadership connection is more than having a good working relationship. It requires a shared identity.


Leadership, especially in times of change, needs to be more than top-down. Leaders must try to position themselves within the group rather than above it. This is not blindly taking the identity of the team, but seeking to shape it from within the bounds of shared beliefs and purpose.

The “dancing guy” YouTube video illustrates this idea beautifully. Think of dancing guy as a business leader and look at what happens with his followers. His success as leader is only possible with the first few of the group who follow him. Notice how he first leads the group, but he also becomes part of the group with the first few who join him, copying some of their moves — creating a shared sense of identity.

The resilience of change is in the fact that it not only sticks, but that the bulk of people adopt the new, desired behaviours. Your role as a manager or leader is paramount in instilling this resiliency.

This not only builds trust but also a sense of shared identify with the leader, both of which are critical foundations for speed and maintenance of desired change.

Once you have a clearly articulated outcome for the organisational or cultural change that you would like from your team, consider:

  • How do you best connect with your team?
  • What is the shared identity that you have with your team?
  • How can you use this influence to shape the new actions/behaviours you seek?, and most important;
  • How will you recognise and reinforce the “first” followers who adopt the changes?
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