Leadership or Change Management?

Which is the more valuable skill in driving tangible improvements in CSR performance?

I had the opportunity to speak to a group of professionals at a new course offered by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship last week. The course was delivered at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Getting from LAX to the hotel and back is worth a blog post on its own.

The attendees were from all corners of the corporate citizenship discipline and came from companies such as State Farm, Pfizer, Disney, Nordstrom, PG&E and TIAA-CREF among others. This was a sharp group and some were current practitioners and others were looking to break through.

The course was led by Julie Engel Manga and covered the progression of leadership and change management strategies applicable to the CSR agenda today. I was invited to speak about my own story and some of the strategies I’ve built over the years at Intel. It was a nice change of pace from the daily demand of climate/green agendas.

The question on the table though was…what works and what doesn’t? How do you, as an individual, go from a cog in the engine to driving change and leading your company’s strategy in CSR or even the broader CSR agenda. Clearly it’s not easy – nor is it something that can be put in a cookbook for everyone to follow.

There are some strategies, tactics and tools that can help, but most success comes from understanding corporate cultures and knowing how to communicate – to a countless array of stakeholders – from heads of state – to local elementary school students.

We spent a lot of time on the topics of Leadership vs. Change Management. I have my own opinion, of course. However I’m interested to know what you believe to be the most useful characteristic for today’s CSR practitioners. I also know that the professionals that attended that course would be interested in that dialog.

What’s needed more today – Change Management or Leadership?

4 Responses to Leadership or Change Management?

  1. Kazi says:

    I found the subject matter interesting in this blog, hence thought to voice my own opinion here. Corporate culture and communication is an art in its own arena. From what is most commonly observed, and from experience, it has been the knowledge of cultures and communication that is most effective for todays CSR practitioners. Being able to relate to ones experience to others, and then using known facts to address ones corporate purpose is not easy. Today, Change Management is on top of the agenda, and the need to adapt quickly is of prime importance. So its usually a good leader who can lead the Change…or another strategy is mass awareness by different groups…so it becomes something as a part of daily life, people come across that message and start changing. To initiate such a move, again, couple of good leaders with experience, knowledge and communication skills will be necessary to drive such a program forward.

  2. Marcy says:

    This is a great question and an important one to think about – both for the practitioner and for the company seeking to bring someone into the fold to advance this agenda. I actually think leadership is the (more) key need. It’s leadership that is going to build enthusiasm and support within the company culture for the CSR (or other) agenda and without that enthusiasm, it doesn’t matter if you have the best change management plan on the planet. I would argue that leadership is necessary to facilitate effective change management.
    The last comment I’ll make on this is that the CSR “team” in any company is a good place to pilot cultural change. And if the CSR folks are “being the change they’d like to see in the world” – and they are respected for their leadership – they will, in fact, enable or catalyze the change they’d like to see in their company.

  3. Sounds like an interesting discussion Dave. In my opinion, the most essential skill within large organizations is the ability to influence others (which I believe to be a component of leadership). Even where commitment is present, a typical CSR initiative requires overcoming one or more hurdles: timing, budget, staffing, preferences for alternative approaches, cynicism, doubt about the business value, etc. Based upon what I hear from colleagues at other companies, this is a universal phenomenon and is simply attributable to the fact that we are first and foremost running a business.

  4. I would argue that organizations are dynamic networks of conversations, through which people continuously make sense of emerging issues and events, and decide how they are going to act. These conversations take place, and outcomes emerge (for ‘better’ or ‘worse’), with or without formal leaders’ active involvement. Informal coalitions form and re-form in response to this ongoing conversational process, as people seek to initiate, support, modify or frustrate specific changes. This is a complex process of social interaction. That is, it is self-organizing; and its outcomes emerge from the dynamic interplay of the diverse, ‘local’ (i.e. one-to-one and small group) conversations that comprise everyday organizational life. Organizational outcomes are therefore co-created by all those involved; they cannot be imposed by managers, in the way that change-management orthodoxy implies. Nor can they be imposed by anyone else for that matter. From this viewpoint the very phrase “change management” is a contradiction in terms.
    It is true that formally produced statements and organizational ‘designs’ (structures, systems, processes, procedures, visions, values statements and so on) provide an input into this local sense-making activity (and sometimes a very powerful one); but how people act ‘on the ground’ will always depend on how they perceive, interpret and evaluate these in the context of their local interactions and immediate situation. This sensemaking will also be impacted upon by the tendency for people to think and act in certain ways as a result of the general patterns of taken-for-granted assumptions that have arisen as the result of previous sensemaking. If the themes that are organizing everyday conversations run counter to those being advocated formally, or if these focus primarily on perceived barriers and constraints, then the desired changes are unlikely to materialize in the ways intended. This is the case whether the focus is on the organization’s CSR agenda or its broader business objectives.
    Given this, the main task for those in formal leadership positions – throughout an organization – is to engage purposefully with this ongoing sensemaking and action-taking process, to help build active coalitions of support for organizationally beneficial changes. They can do this directly of course. Also though, they can seek to ‘work through’ those people who are particularly influential with their peers; those who are particularly adept at connecting otherwise disparate groups of people to each other; those who are naturally good communicators; and others who always seem to ‘have their finger on the pulse’ and know what’s going on. Their own behaviours (what they pay attention to, how they act, whom they reward, and so on), as perceived and interpreted by others, will also provide a powerful input into people’s day-to-day sensemaking activity and resultant behaviours. As the patterns and content of everyday conversations change, so do the actions that flow from them and so does the organization. My book, Informal Coalitions, and related blog (www.informalcoalitions.typepad.com) discuss these dynamics of organizational change in more detail. I hope this helps!