Change Management Horizontals


For Change, and for strategy, horizontals exist within the organization.

Each level has a role, obviously for operations, but additionally for translation, communication and leadership in connection to change. This is often misunderstood, misrepresented and rarely tackled by change practitioners. If change management fails (which is a dubious statement considering all the things in the way) it is because horizontals are not understood and do not fulfill their potential role for change. (Read that again if your organization also has weak operational strategy).

You can look at this from the “top” and think cascade. You can look at this from the “bottom” and see the expectation chain. You can start anywhere in the middle to figure out your own roles, responsibility and possibility. We will start at the top since big change (as in transformational, truly, my favorite) must begin with the owner and disseminate through the organization (note I did not say cascade).

The Horizontals

The Chief Executive

Typically this is the CEO.

The larger the organization the more this person has an external focus. I use the term figurehead which I am told can seem derogatory. A figurehead can have charisma, be good at representation and smooth things out (nothing bad about that). In a smaller organization (or a founder based-still company) the CEO is half inside and half outside the organization.

For change this person is both the dad (or mom these days) who comes home and must dole out the discipline AND the guy (or woman) who takes you over to the school to play ball and laugh. They can be leveraged for either, play one role strongly or play both at the right time. I like to think of them as the “no” you never really use (once you start using no and doling out punishment each successive occasion gets a little weaker). They are also the holder of the compliment that is oh so rare.

They translate out to the external environment.

They communicate the connection of the change to the future of the organization (both in and out of the company). They are usually too disconnected to have leadership ability for change (this is less true in smaller organizations).

High Level Leader

This is the owner of the change.

They set the vision for the organization operationally. For change they must learn to describe end states, especially their own, in multiple ways. They are the ones who can turn that place, that spot that will exist at the end of the change, into a picture and a feeling that people can grab on to. They set the tone, they start leadership trust and they are the lever for all the other horizontals. A present and engaged owner is a godsend for change.

Translation for the high level leader is turning the idea into something that seems and feels tangible (note it is not actually tangible until we get to the other horizontals). Communication is visibility for the end state, for acknowledgement along the way and for high level leadership of the change process. Leadership has some cheerleading to it, and at times, some hard truth leading.


The Implementary Leader is the one who makes the most important translation- vision to objective.

That great idea is all well and good, but what does that mean? What will pull people to that spot? If a stakeholder were to stand at that end state and look back what will they say was the grand accomplishment? This person must be able to make that translation- the first step toward tangible change.

Their role in the change process is the translation to purpose.

They must communicate their own interpretation of the end state from a position of expertise. If they can articulate how they fit in for end states then they can make the translation for others. Communication, for them, is often connected to some division of the organizations strategy- pillars is the most used term. “They” for this horizontal may mean multiple people. Co-implementary leaders is very common. It works well if they can disconnect a bit from their operational, functional roles and lead their cohorts stakeholders as well as their own (which reciprocates back and forth and, you hope, smoothes out silos).

Program Level

Program level leads manage goals and goal setting.

They are the first level senior leadership in the organization with the role of making things happen. (Yes sometimes the role of translating orders into instant harried work). They must understand how the idea turned into a vision, what made that become objectives and what the goals will be to both make that happen and tie people to the end state and change.

Multiple streams of goals must be managed at this level. This leader may even have responsibility for multiple initiatives (which then have multi-program/multi-project components). They are the sponsors (there WILL be more than one at this horizontal). A sponsor contributes, participates and encourages others.

They make the translation to something people can put their hands, hearts and heads too.

Communication here is to make clear end states and what that might mean, in general, for expertise, work, people and organizational changes. They are the ones who show how to put the blue blocks together, the yellow in a stack and the white side by side. They help organize at a high level view- that is their leadership role and strength when done well.

Translation to Work/Time

At the project level all that vision, a few objectives and a stack of goals must become work.

The project level Facilitator gets all the ducks lined up in  a row. They make sure that the right people are ready, know who comes before them and who they hand off to and what the time on the watch says. Translation  here is to tangible. It does not get any more tangible than people working hard together on task.

They translate grand schemes into what people value- their own skill and sweat.

This person, assuming the leaders previous did a good job, can make change worth it. Communication here has a chance to compliment, to build trust, to make connections to other horizontals, to wield more power and influence than the organization officially gives them. If that is used wisely the best kind of leadership happens to support change- leading by example right next to the people you are modeling for.

Translation to Specifics

The biggest widest horizontal, the one that is less siloed than all the others and the place where the ultimate translation happens- idea to task- is here.

This horizontal is what my kids call the “worker bees”. They mean that in a complimentary way. They mean people are doing stuff that produces results you can see. A worker bee moves the leaves out of the way. A worker bee writes the code that supports the ultimate function of the software. Those bees tap keys that save the data for decisions, corrections and revenue.

The sad part is that most initiatives force all these people (stop for a second and think that this horizontal, in many ways, is actually EVERY stakeholder, at every level) to make their own translations.

Because while they are silently screaming communication out not much is coming in, or down, that helps place work/people in context with idea/end state. They often lead themselves. They can be very good at organically directing needs and ideas through and up the organization. They get really frustrated at the slowness, the silos and status quo when they can see easy solutions. (And to think, you have been calling that “resistance”).

There you have it. The six horizontals and their role as translators, communicators and leaders of change.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,