4E's and Change

Change is central to Leadership. Without a need for change, the concept of Leadership is meaningless. Leadership is not an abstract concept - it is a practical activity, with a specific goal in mind.

Mick Yates

There is a real difference between Managers and Leaders (Peter Drucker, 1954; John Kotter, 1996). Leaders need to be great Managers, but Managers are not always great Leaders. Managers are essentially a 20th century concept, as complex, non-military work organizations grew. 

Managers run organizations, and Managers have a responsibility to perpetuate their Enterprise. However, whilst Managers can often institutionalize the "status quo", Leaders are focused on change.

Managing was once defined as:

Knowing exactly what you want men to do, and then seeing that they do it in the best and cheapest way”.  (Frederick Taylor, 1903)

Kotter, in his book on “Leading Change” (1996), uses the lens of change to drive a very clear distinction between Management and Leadership. He says:

Management is a set of processes that can keep a complicated system of people and technology running smoothly. The most important aspects of management include planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving.

Leadership is a set of processes that creates organizations in the first place or adapts them to significantly changing circumstances. Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles”.

Change is thus central to Leadership. Without a need for change, the concept of Leadership is meaningless. Leadership is not an abstract concept - it is a practical activity, with a specific goal in mind. And it depends on the environment and situation at the time. For example, the need for change in India pre-independence demanded that someone (Gandhi) arose to lead and organize the cause.

In this sense, Leadership varies by situation as a good Leader in one circumstance may not be successful in another (changed) circumstance. A classic example is Winston Churchill, who succeeded as a wartime Leader and then failed in peacetime by loosing a General Election. He was unable to reflect the change in people’s post-war needs and attitudes. By contrast, Charles De Gaulle was a strong wartime Leader, who seemingly was always able to reflect the changing needs of the populace from wartime to peacetime. He still held consistent views on the future role of France – but by reflecting the popular mood change he succeeded in both situations.

Kotter suggested that there is a sequence in any change activity.

  • establish a sense of urgency
  • create a guiding coalition
  • develop a clear vision
  • share the vision
  • empower people to overcome obstacles
  • secure short term wins
  • consolidate and keep moving
  • anchor the change

In my view, “vision” should be transposed with Kotter’s “sense of urgency” - hurrying to shoot before deciding what to shoot is not a good strategic choice.  Change efforts often fail because the real end state of the change is insufficiently thought through. Second, our learning suggests that the detailed execution of a change is usually where it succeeds or fails, and this must be added to Kotter’s list.

Research was also conducted by Keith Grint at Oxford University on the common characteristics of successful change processes (2003/4).  Mick Yates and the Change Leaders group worked on the ideas, leading to a suggested Best Practice framework. Our work shows that the sequence of change activities fits well within the 4E’s Leadership Framework. This framework(discussed in detail in another paper in this series, and referencing Envision – Enable – Empower – Energize)is focused on “actions in use” rather than “espoused” competencies or behaviours.

The first three Es are the collective “what” and “how”, whilst the last E is the individual “why”, for the Leader and the team.

  • Envision         Values-driven setting of goals and strategies
  • Enable            Identifying tools, technologies, organization structures & people
  • Empower       Creating trust & interdependence between Leader & Follower
  • Energize        The personal Leadership motor to drive the entire system

We suggest an eleven point Change Framework.


  1. an accepted need for change
  2. a viable vision of an alternative state


  1. change agents in place – with a guiding coalition
  2. sponsorship from above
  3. realistic scale & pace of change – with sense of urgency
  4. an integrated transition programme


  1. organization shape to show how tasks and people fit
  2. a symbolic end to the status quo
  3. a plan for likely resistance


  1. constant advocacy – maintain momentum of change
  2. a locally owned benefits plan

To explain each point in more detail:

1. An accepted need for change

There must be a “need” creation process – the Leader usually understands the reason and the need for the change first, but not always.  Sometimes the need is there, well identified, yet no one knows how to deal with it.  It is at this point that the Leader steps in. Importantly he or she must then help create the acceptance of the need for change amongst all members of the organization.  And a principal early activity of the Leaders is to help start a trust building process around this need for change.

To do this, Leaders must embody the values of the Enterprise if the change is to be “authentic”.

2. A viable vision of an alternative state

Without a viable and vivid picture of where the organization is going, there can be no change. The Leader’s role is to help convince the key people in the organization of the viability of the new vision with a clear “end state” picture. This which will be:

  • practical – based on real technology, effective organization, available finance etc.
  • worth doing – for the key people in the organization
  • able to grow / develop – everyone can contribute to the change over time
  • able to survive the environmental context outside of the creator’s mind
  • consistent with the Enterprise’s values

A helpful tool is an OGSTM, which formally separates the objectives, goals, strategies, tactics, and measures.  If used properly, it is a “living” document which gets everyone concerned “onto the same page” and “connects the dots” between strategy and action planning.

3. Change agents in place – with a guiding coalition

This is one of Kotter’s more telling points.  There must be deliberate activity in place to simultaneously build a coalition of willing stakeholders and also create a network of trusted sponsors.  It could be either an emergent coalition (that “pops up” when the need for change arises) or it could be a deliberately “designed” coalition.  The Leader and the sponsors must have a good knowledge of their people and their roles.  And they must ensure both top down and bottom up communication so that course corrections can be made.

The group of change agents must then own the change, and not just the initiator.

4. Sponsorship from above

This is, of course, necessary ….

5. Realistic scale and pace of change – but with a clear sense of urgency

A change Leader must understand the environmental context and as many hard facts as possible to help build realistic goals (and avoid unrealistic ones). Yet how the Leaders of any change process gauge realism is a rather “artistic” activity, requiring skill, good judgement, people sense and intuition. It can help to get some early wins on the way to the big goal, to maintain tempo, and to keep people on board. 

Using “rolling forecasts” rather than goals set in concrete can help this. And sorting priorities by clear time sequencing of activities can help create realistic expectations and concrete action plans.

6. An integrated transition program

It is essential to nurture existing “business activities” whilst also building capacity for the new end state.  Suggestions to help this include:

  • create interdependence between both states to help each other
  • balance the expectations for forecastable results with breakthrough activities
  • pace the transition from one state to the other
  • include all parts of the organization in building change capacity
  • set up feedback loops to course correct and adapt as things move forward
  • continually consider the psychological transition for people as the change occurs

7. Organization shape to show how tasks and people fit

It is often helpful to provide a “straw man” example of what the organization must look like to get the tasks completed to deliver the vision.  The start point is to define the skills needed – and the consequent gaps in capability.  It is important to not start planning with the current positions and employee names in the boxes – the key is to build from the future purpose of the Enterprise not from its history.

The Leader will then need to enrol the guiding coalition in the detailed organization design.

Eventually, the sponsors can define the specific roles and responsibilities within the new organization. But if you can’t make all the roles and reporting lines clear, say so.  It is critical to provide clarity even if you can’t provide certainty

8. A symbolic end to the status quo

Having a clear and visible end to the “old” whilst also dealing with the mourning for this prior state can be very powerful. We need to be creative about such rituals, and try to build a symbolic (and possibly dramatic) start to the “new” state

9. A plan for likely resistance

Leaders of change must anticipate “pockets of resistance” and develop a specific plan for overcoming their objections.  They need to deal with both the organizational and technological aspects as well as the human issues.  If appropriate, change Leaders must consider “surgical removal” of obstacles.

10. Constant advocacy – maintain momentum of the change

This requires the full energy of the Leader and the Leadership team. In an effort to create meaning for everyone in the organization, an intensive process of both top down and bottom up flow of communication is necessary.  The change Leader needs to bring the program alive for every individual in the organization – and then consistently and constantly communicate the right message –“tell them, tell them, and tell them again”.

11. A locally owned benefits plan

The benefits of the change must be expressed and measured in a concrete and tangible way for both individual employees and for the organization as a whole. This also implies that there is shared accountability within the organization for the results achieved, with the benefits linked to an effective and on-going performance management system.

Of course, a specific change program will tend to focus on a few of these points as being the most critical, but research suggests that all should be born in mind in planning the change.

“Leadership is the energetic process of getting other people fully and willingly committed to a new and sustainable course of action, to meet commonly agreed objectives whilst having commonly held values”