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How to support change leaders

Elissa Farrow
February 22, 2016

In my last post I mentioned some research I have been conducting with more than 200 leaders (senior leaders, middle managers and local team managers) through a Change Leadership program over the past two years. I outlined some case studies and the top five things leaders need while change is occurring:

  1. Visibility of the future state.
  2. Involvement in the plan and its deployment.
  3. Acknowledgement of the additional work change leaders puts on top of business as usual leadership.
  4. Information and respect for their integrity about keeping information confidential (when required).
  5. Empathy for a tough job dealing with employees who are upset, angry and a danger to themselves.

In this blog post I will unpack the first three items of practical strategies that can be considered by leaders and change managers alike to ensure that those who are key to the change (leaders) are suitably supported and focused on achieving the benefits required.


Visibility of the future state is one of the key items that senior leaders ask for in change and transition processes. Depending on where they are in the hierarchy, often the visibility of the future state, the rationale behind it and the tangible benefits aimed for are not articulated.

Visibility defined for senior leaders means: ‘I know the information I need to know at the right time to answer the questions my staff and customers will be asking of me. I also need to be able to articulate this future state into a language and context my staff and customers can understand.’

Many leaders say that they are given information packs, briefs, a presentation of the high-level vision and future state. But that when it comes to specifics this is often not provided in a timely manner and they are at times ‘as much in the dark’ as their staff are. This places additional pressure on leaders and often leaders express higher rates of stress during these periods as the voids are filled with rumour and assumption.

There is also acknowledgment that sometimes the top senior leaders do need to keep information invisible for a time as they are determining the strategy. Patience is required, however patience will run thin if there is a lack of visibility of the future state and the change story is not articulated.

So key strategies can include:

  • Create a change story and make it visible to all staff and leaders.
  • Identify the areas of key message and the area of tolerance around the future state.
  • Provide the givens and the areas of flexibility in the future state.
  • Involvement is key, or acknowledge why certain decisions are being made higher up the tier and the timing of when the details will be known.


Linking to the visibility of the future state, involvement is the key to increasing acceptance and buy-in. So senior leaders would like to have involvement in not only determining the plans but involvement in the deployment of those plans.

Experienced change managers know that if you want to increase the level of buy-in of key stakeholders, get them involved. Involvement does not necessarily mean that they are brought on to the project team full time. Involvement may mean that once the future state has been articulated (ideally with their involvement) leaders are given the power to actively contribute to what the deployment strategy would be.

One example of good practice was in one organisation I worked with where we designed a ‘principle directed’ change strategy that gave leaders a change resource to work with, a core set of principles and givens, a clear timeframe and the ability to design the approach for local conditions. Some of the principles included:

  • People support what they create.
  • People act responsibility when they care.
  • To change the conversation, change who is in the conversation.
  • Change champions work with leaders and can come from any level.

This worked well; the change managers skilled in facilitation and planning worked with leaders on what the best range of actions could be to get the best results.

So key strategies can include:

  • Have regular cascading collaboration activities as open involvement activities.
  • Involve leaders in the design phase of transformation.
  • Give them a copy of the project or deployment plan before it is finalised for any feedback to be provided.
  • Keep the information flowing, not just ‘start strong and finish strong’, but a constant bubbling of relevant information and involvement activities.
  • Arrange for senior leader/CEO lounge sessions where leaders not in the top tiers have active exposure to the CEO on a monthly basis to share issues and solutions.
  • Make local leaders responsible for local deployment plans with as much autonomy as possible, but certain ground rules in place.


Number three out of our top five relates to acknowledgement. Acknowledgement in particular that during the change processes that this is additional work on top of business-as-usual leadership. Often leaders are allocated the responsibility for change sponsorship without any negotiation of what other competing demands might be on the time of their teams and their own time.

I encourage very senior leaders to bring other layers of leadership and management into decisions around what the broader pipeline of change may be so that strategic decisions are made about which changes will bring the most value to participants. This involves looking at practicality of the change process, desirability of the change design and to move from where the organisation is currently at, balanced against the overall costs.

It is likely leaders are able to commit to taking on more responsibility and want to, due to the added benefits this might bring them in the long term, performance wise and career progression wise.

Key strategies can include:

  • Acknowledgement in the form of appreciation or public announcement of a job well done in challenging circumstances.
  • Involvement in pipeline decision making from a change impact perspective and prioritisation perspective.
  • Acknowledge the fact that long hours and sustained efforts will have a toll on the physical and mental wellbeing of leaders, so ensure there is encouragement around work/life balance and self care activities.

In my next article I will unpack the final two items in terms of practical strategies that can be considered by senior leaders and change managers alike to ensure that those who are key to the change (leaders) are suitably supported and focused on achieving the benefits required.

Elissa Farrow
Elissa is a founder and lead consultant for About Your Transition and has extensive experience in strategic organisational adaptation design, facilitation and delivery. Elissa has supported organisations to define positive futures and then successfully transform to bring lasting benefits. She has proven adaptative capacity and can successfully transfer her skills to different contexts. In 2018, Elissa commenced her doctoral studies through the University of the Sunshine Coast. Her published research is exploring organisational adaptation to the evolving field of artificial intelligence using qualitative and participatory research methodologies. Elissa is an experienced board director and considered a thought leader in her field having won a number of national and local awards for contributing to Women in Project Management and for Change Management Research.
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