Change Leadership


Change Leadership - strategically shaping change in the company
Implement change leadership - with the right process

Why Change Leadership?

Change Leadership is the planned and controlled adaptation of companies to meet the ever faster changing challenges of customers and markets in the 21st century. Change Leadership is based on not simply accompanying the necessary internal change of a company (change management in a broad sense), but actively promoting this change and steering it to success through targeted management mechanisms.

In order to become and remain successful as a company, the internal organization and processes must change again and again - against the system-immanent inertia forces that can arise from career considerations, departmental selfishness or even the proud defense of what has been achieved so far.

In this context, the American Harvard professor and leadership expert Joseph P. Kotter has rendered outstanding services in researching the reasons for the high failure rate in corporate change programs. In his book "Leading Change", which has received broad global attention, he identified in an 8-point program the key factors that must be actively led and promoted by management as a change leadership program in order to make an entrepreneurial change process successful.

We at Thought Leader Systems build on Kotter's concept of Change Leadership when accompanying change processes in companies and can confirm from practical experience that the implementation of all 8 factors of Change Leadership is critical to success in order to make change processes successful and sustainable.

Here are the eight points of Change Leadership to get to know in a quick run-through:

  1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency: Make the urgency of the impending change clear to every team member - regardless of hierarchical level - in the company.
  2. Creating the Guiding Coalition: Identify the key leaders in the organization. Win over this group of people for the change process and make them a permanent driving force and a real team in the company, which can also eliminate potential blockers in management.
  3. Developing a Vision and Strategy: Create a motivating, emotionally touching target image for the upcoming change process and visualize a concrete path towards this goal.
  4. Communicating the Change Vision: Make the target image emotionally tangible throughout the company and communicate it in a credible and motivating way.
  5. Empowering Employees for Broad-Based Action: Provide all employees in the company with the framework conditions for implementing the desired change process in day-to-day business, so that contradictory incentives, hiring processes or promotions do not destroy the chosen path or make it untrustworthy in front of their own team.
  6. Generating Short-Term Wins: Define in advance the visible and easily achievable first quick wins of the change program. These successes should be visible, tangible and effective for everyone in the company. Only in this way will your Change Leadership Program survive the headwind that naturally sets in after the first change phase. Never allow the internal opponents of your Change Leadership to prematurely terminate your Change Program under the pretext of the first visible successes.
  7. Consolidating and Producing More Change: Make sure you continue with the Change-Leadership Initiative. Do not view Change Leadership as a project, but as a long-term program. With process standards, as well as with appropriate personnel selection for hiring and promotion, ensure that the changed processes are adhered to and further optimized and adapted to the goal.
  8. Anchoring: Establish change as a core value of your company and keep it going. Anchor it in your corporate culture. Hire and promote people accordingly.

It makes sense to work out strategic goals, to include and critically question past developments. But how exactly can companies align the thoughts and actions of their employees in such a way that the necessary change not only takes place within the company, but even accelerates the development of the company through the right leadership?

Change Leadership deals with all systemic, organizational and process-related influencing factors of change processes in companies - especially with the possibilities for activating and involving people in key positions as change leaders of the company.

The goal of Change Leadership is to create a suitable environment for change and to involve the entire team in the company in order to enable, facilitate and influence change in the company in a targeted and long-term manner in the desired direction.

Change Leaders are the personnel, steering and driving force behind the change in the company and the change management process used. Convincing and inspiring change leaders, flanked by a targeted change leadership program, achieve more than just change in the company - they visibly and sustainably advance the success of many companies.

Change Leadership vs. Change Management


Change Management views the intended change in companies as a purely process-related process - i.e. as a project for change with planned process steps. Change processes are observed and kept under control with regard to their costs and effects on corporate efficiency.


Change Leadership considers change in the company in terms of processes, personnel and above all emotionally. Change Leadership wants to actively shape change by inviting and motivating all parties involved to make their own contribution to the change. The focus of change is less on control and more on the commitment of the team and its leaders as change leaders.

Change Leadership


The Change Leadership process

Change leadership must be well thought out and carried out with care and attention to detail at every stage. In order to maintain an overview and optimally coordinate the planned measures, a process-related view of the Change Leadership approach is required. It is important to note: If you try to end a phase prematurely or even skip it, this will have a negative impact on the entire course of the change and the success of your Change Leadership Program.

To ensure that the whole company goes through the change and to achieve sustainable success, it is recommended to follow the Change Leadership approach step by step.

The Change Leadership process in detail


Step 1: Establishing a Sense of Urgency

At the beginning of a Change Leadership process there is the need to solve an important cultural or organizational problem of the company.

This ranges from simple changes in departments or divisions to the fundamental reorientation of entire companies in the event of a merger, the sale of parts of the company or a change program to reorganize, reduce costs or increase sales.

The entire company - and above all the decision-makers with personnel responsibility - must actively shape a change process so that the company is strengthened rather than weakened.

The process of change leadership begins with the status analysis. Use data from all internal and external stakeholders (e.g. finance, HR, works council, associations, analysts) and look at the entire ecosystem of your company to discover the greatest weaknesses in the company's development and initiate a corresponding change process. An independent and experienced external partner such as Thought Leader Systems can be helpful in this analysis process.


Step 2: Creating the Guiding Coalition

Before starting your Change Leadership Initiative in your company, identify the key people whose influence, expertise and credibility can significantly advance the change process.

Then build trust among the Change Leader Team, which you have put together with the decision-makers, through group activities. The team must stand firmly for a common goal, bring its full support and be able to work together without conflict, i.e. without departmental egoisms or the profiling addiction of individual team members.

Management competence and leadership qualities are particularly important in this team so that the Change Leadership Program can be implemented with tight and prudent leadership. The Change Leaders team may initially consist of a handful of people, but in large companies it can quickly grow to 20 to 50 people.


Step 3: Developing a Vision and Strategy

Develop a precise picture of the future with the core team and make this target picture plausible and desirable. The vision promotes a common understanding of the change approaches of all those involved and enables all activities to be aligned with this goal.

Concrete strategies, plans for implementation and also the necessary budgets for your Change Leadership Program are derived from it.

In this way, the change project is also turned into a financially calculable project and provided with operationalized, measurable goals.


Step 4: Communicating the Change Vision

The great challenge of change leadership is not only to inform the entire company about the vision, but also to let each individual actively participate in the realization of the goal. You communicate your target image in written and graphic form - using a wide variety of media such as brochures, blog posts, articles in the company magazine, speeches in meetings and assemblies and last but not least videos with the necessary corporate messaging.

Design the implementation of the change vision in text, images and graphics in such a way that the information needs, interests and experience horizon of the internal target groups are precisely met. Among the most important design elements in the implementation are

  • Language - choosing a clear, simple language
  • Images - Use metaphors or analogies to illustrate your vision
  • Multi-channel approach - communicate through different channels (meetings, newspapers, private conversations)
  • Repetition - Address the vision over a long period
  • Behavioral consistency - Live the ideal image
  • Openness - Explain unclear points
  • Proximity - Respond to feedback and reactions.

Step 5: Empowering Employees for Broad-Based Action

Obstacles that arise during the implementation of the change vision usually have the following origins:

  • Structure - the structure of the company and the networking of the departments have an inhibiting effect
  • Skills - Employees are not (have not been) sufficiently empowered to implement the desired change effectively and efficiently
  • Systems - rewarding and reinforcing behaviour (through incentives) are not in line with the change vision
  • Supervisor - Supervisors act contrary to the vision and stop any efforts of the team.

Step 6: Generating Short-Term Wins

Change leadership processes can be long. The path to change leadership requires foresight and perseverance. Daily business must not suffer from the change process or the capacities of internal change leaders reserved for it. Performance targets must be met and business objectives must continue to be met or exceeded on a monthly and quarterly basis.

Set goals for your change leadership and change management process that make your progress visible and unmistakable. Change Leaders benefit from such goals. Goals allow you to fine-tune the change vision and change measures.


Step 7: Producing more Change

Use the momentum you have built up to look ahead in the change management process once you have reached the first intermediate goals. On the way to fulfilling your Change Leadership Vision, the members of your team will notice many more things that should be optimized and contribute to the success of the overall project.

The senior management of the Change Leaders helps to keep track of the performance of the ongoing change measures. The jointly addressed change processes are coordinated and implemented in sub-teams. Change becomes a natural part of everyday life with the increasing professionalization of your Change Leadership.


Step 8: Anchoring

In order to maintain a sustainable change in the company, the last step of the Change Leadership Process is to change the corporate culture accordingly.

A corporate culture manifests itself in the recruiting of new employees, in the induction of new team members and in daily interaction in all areas of the company. Even after several years of Change Leadership programs, laboriously fought for behavioral changes of a corporate culture can lose their effect within a very short time.

In order to consolidate the achieved change as part of the further developed corporate culture, old structures must be acknowledged, but presented as outdated and therefore inappropriate. In this phase, contradiction and reactance can arise in the ranks of long-standing employees.

In order to be prepared for the future, key positions must be filled throughout by employees who have helped shape the change that has been achieved, who now defend it and who remain open to further change processes.

Change Leadership - mastering the challenges

Change Leadership lives from the continuous focus on the necessary change in the company. Change leadership can never be thought of from processes but must be thought of by people. In the change process, new information, obstacles, and surprises literally emerge every day. Remember: the truth is that with Change Leadership you will not change a company, but the people who work in it.

At Thought Leader Systems we have learned that in the course of a Change Leadership process it is crucial to uncover interpersonal disagreements between people so that conflicts or delays in the Change Leadership process are resolved as quickly as possible.

This results in four major management challenges in day-to-day business in particular: addressing underlying conflicts within the company, demanding personal responsibility, the willingness to invest in new personal and organizational skills and - last but not least - the continuous and lifelong learning of individuals and teams within the company.

1. Recognize underlying tensions and paradoxes

Take up subliminal conflicts in the company as soon as you recognize them. These conflicts can be factual or can manifest themselves on the personal level of the people involved. Check whether the resulting problems jeopardise the basic work of your Change Leadership Initiative or jeopardise the achievement of the absolutely necessary quick wins.

  • Take decisive action with your Change Leader Team in important and unsolvable cases.
  • Clarify conflicts that arise by looking at the underlying motivations of the people involved.
  • Check whether the team members are actually pursuing the goals of your change process, try to convince them, and in any case exchange key persons who are not willing to cooperate.
  • Stay firm in the matter and in staffing without making concessions to your Change Leadership Program. This is often an important signal to the entire organization, maintains the credibility and determination of your Change Leadership Plan, and ensures that you achieve the goals and milestones of your Cange Leadership Program.

2. Ensure that everyone bears responsibility

  • Change leadership requires a joint effort, which is why responsibility for transformation is shared throughout the organization.
  • C-Suite members, as change leaders and decision-makers in enterprise-wide development, are responsible for aligning each action with the basic direction.
  • Senior management breaks down strategic plans into intermediate goals and thus spreads the core of the change.
  • Line managers are close to the pulse of the employees and are thus able not only to perceive the mood in the company but also to change it.

3. Invest in new organisational skills

  • Equip the organization with the necessary resources to survive in the new environment.
  • Possibilities to achieve this are: through capital increase, process improvement or targeted talent management.

4. Promote continuous learning

Consider change as a necessary measure to adapt to a new level of knowledge and remain competitive. See yourself as a personal role model and encourage others in the company to constantly develop personally, professionally and process-wise.

Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there. - John P. Kotter

Change Leadership - with external support 

Thought Leader Systems supports companies in decisive transformation phases in building up internal change leadership. we consider it our task and our claim to provide a company with the best possible support and objective recommendations for action in all phases of the change leadership process.

Our external support of change leadership programs is divided into 5 ideal-typical process steps: from situation analysis and planning to implementation and continuous anchoring in the corporate culture and in all functional areas of the company.

step 1: analysis of status quo and change intentions 

step 2: define the change vision and roadmap

step 3: work out detailed action plans and execution of communication instruments 

step 4: provide support during the entire implementation process

step 5: provide long-term support and monitor progress