5 Ways Executive Leadership can Promote Change Management Success

David Francklow

In a recent post, Strong-Bridge Envision’s Ken Simpson and Brian Hartnett outlined the Top 10 Reasons Project Fail. They stressed the importance of executive leadership and communications working together as a critical component of a successful change management approach. They’re right. Executive leadership for a project goes much farther than merely appointing the right resources to perform the job.

Executives must be fully visible in an ongoing capacity — espousing the value of the project, the benefits it will bring, and the major changes that will occur. With executive validation of a project, employees can better appreciate both the importance and ramifications. Executive communication plays an important role in project success and the adoption/acceptance of people, process, and technology changes.

That said, executive messaging of objectives and impacts should be carefully coordinated as part of a people change management plan. This highly visible and ongoing executive level endorsement of the project should outline how project outreach will take place, and set the stage to allow a fluid, cascaded, and focused effort to take place that prepares the organization for project adoption.


On larger scale projects, there are five key areas which require executive involvement as part of the change management thread.

  1. ACCOUNTABILITY: Executive leadership and their direct reports should be personally accountable by including the project’s success as part of their goal statements.
  2. LEADERSHIP BRIEFING KITS: Leadership briefing kits for the executive leader to use in meetings with their direct reports. This package needs to be planned to cover not only the key points for the project but also key milestones that enable an executive to hold their reports accountable.
  3. PROJECT AMBASSADORS: Executives should work with the change management team to identify and appoint a team of project ambassadors, known as a change network. A change network is a cross-functional, multi-level team carefully selected for their influence in their respective stakeholder communities. These change champions work as leaders in conjunction with the executive and their direct reports to drive buy-in and co-creation.
  4. EXECUTIVE ENGAGEMENT: Determine a cadence of executive engagement with the broader internal community about the project — how frequent, deep, and wide these executive or leadership team updates should occur. Provide packages of materials on a regular basis, which project ambassadors can use for frequent updates to their groups and departments — in tandem with regular meetings to direct their use within the organization.
  5. FEEDBACK LOOPS: The executive, their direct reports, and project ambassadors should foster and create a way for the organization to channel feedback and ask questions. These questions should also be visible and answered in a rhythm to ensure the organization feels their voice is heard.

Packages of information, along with associated communications, should address, at minimum:

  • Strategic & cultural alignment
  • Leadership & employee engagement plan
  • Project benefits
  • Key changes that will be experienced and by which groups
  • Project milestones
  • How people will get trained/prepared
  • How personnel can raise questions and how the project will respond to those questions

While nothing discussed here is exactly rocket science, it all deserves reiteration, as it can be all too easy to concentrate inwardly on the project’s planning, tasks, and milestones, and assume people are bought-in and adopting change.

According to Kaplan and Norton, 90% of organizations fail to successfully implement their strategies. The Katzenbach Center’s survey of Global Senior Culture and Change Management Executives showed just 54% of change initiatives fail. That’s powerful reason to adjust the executive approach.

Successful project adoption requires serious commitment in regards to resource and structure. On small projects, this can be the responsibility of the project management team and business sponsors. However, on larger or more strategic initiatives, it requires a dedicated and focused executive plan and a team that aligns the company’s strategies, culture, engagement, and communication in an effective way to carry out full adoption of strategic transformation initiatives.


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