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One-Man Band, Conductor, and Musician – The Role of the Change Manager

The role of the change manager isn’t always as clear cut as we might like.  In smaller initiatives or organizations, we’re a one-man band.  In larger initiatives and organizations, we’re a conductor – or a member of a jazz ensemble.  Here’s how to navigate those waters.

[Disclaimer: I abhor that the English language uses the male noun to mean refer to both men and women with an inference towards male only.  Often, I will intentionally switch pronouns between male and female.  However, I rarely switch from, for example, fireman to fireperson, because it’s awkward for the reader.  In cases where is an alternative is available, such as policeman to police officer, I will use those.  There is no suitable replacement for “one-man band.”  I ask that my readers accept that I’m not intending to minimize the powerful women who fill this role.]

The One-Man Band

One of the impressive things about the change managers is their ability to adapt and reach into related areas of expertise to fill essential gaps.  In smaller organizations, change managers must provide communications expertise and training support.

Instead of working with a dedicated communications team, the change manager is required to develop communications plans and sketch, if not write, the communications themselves.  While this is a skill set that every change manager should possess, it’s equally a skill for which there are dedicated professionals.

There are entire professions around learning and development.  However, when they don’t exist in your organization or they’re too busy with other initiatives, it becomes incumbent on the change management professional to step up and design training and productivity aids that support the successful changes the organization desires.

Of course, project management is a key skill that keeps the project aspects of the change running smoothly as well.  Effective change managers often adapt into providing project management services for small-scale projects where a dedicated project manager isn’t available.

Changes need certain elements to be successful.  If they don’t exist, the adaptable change manager may find that they have to create them.  The opposite end of the spectrum comes when there’s a larger organization and a larger, better-funded project.

The Conductor

When there is an internal communications team, training and development team, and project management team, the role of the change manager changes from one-man band to that of conductor.  A conductor doesn’t play all the instruments in the symphony.  Nor is the conductor the best player of any one instrument in the symphony.  Their power comes from their ability to help the symphony members coordinate and work together effectively.

Instead of being tasked with the developing the communications plan or the individual communications, an effective change manger facilitates these into the larger set of activities happening in the change.  Project managers are able to manage the day-to-day tracking of progress, freeing the change manager to look for how stakeholders aren’t being supported sufficiently with the planned activities and artifacts.

In the role of the conductor, the change manager may occasionally step in to help out in an area.  But they will most frequently look for the gaps that may cause the change to fail, much like a jazz musician looks for ways to keep improvisational jazz going.

Jazz Musician

In a jazz ensemble, there’s no one leader.  The music is led dynamically as different musicians add their performance to the piece, and it constantly evolves.  In organizations with well-managed disciplines for internal communication, training and development, and project management, the role may feel more like that of a jazz musician dynamically finding ways to add to the process in the service of the overall performance.

Change managers shouldn’t be afraid to do what they need to do as a one-man band, to lead like a conductor, or to perform as a part of the ensemble in the overall flow of creating success for the change.

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