The APQC Blog

5 Ways To Get Leaders to Buy Into Change Management

The most memorable words of advice I’ve heard for people leading change is to play out your hunches; roll with the punches; and make the best of what comes your way. It’s catchy and easy to say, but much more difficult to figure out the science and art of “hunches and punches.”  How do KM leaders get leaders at all levels in the organization ready for changes that inevitably come from building a program focused on helping knowledge flow? 

Thankfully, APQC’s research, Transformational Change – Making it Last, provides best practices that we can use to help institute and sustain our KM programs. The basic principle is one of the enduring truths in KM: all levels of leaders have to be engaged in the change in order to transform. My takeaway from the research is that engagement boils down to 2 things:  1) accountability for the change and 2) actively participating in the change (if you want to transform, that is.) I think it’s worth our time to think deeply about these 2 practices and what it means at various levels of leadership.


The first thing to figure out is what accountability and active participation means. For a CEO, think about good communications that paint the ideal future result for achieving the vision for transformation like creating a culture that fosters seamless collaboration. For a middle-level manager, think getting people to change their routines to share knowledge as part of their jobs.    I’ve observed that while most leaders want to do what it takes; and often they don’t have all of the information they need to be successful. 

You, as a change agent, will need to guide your leaders. Become their coach and provide simple, actionable steps. Here were my top 4 takeaways on learning how to coach leaders.

  1. External awareness (aka what are others doing?) helps shift a leader’s thinking. At APQC, we would suggest using benchmarking activities as a way to describe and validate how other organizations have successfully achieved their vision. The primary job of executive leaders is to create the need for change. The “burning platform”—a succinct statement explaining how stakeholders will benefit from the change—is a tool to get both leadership and the organization at large on board. It should emphasize not only the need for change but also the severe negative consequences of not changing. Establishing a sense of urgency by conveying how failure to change will inhibit the success of the organization will inspire others to believe in and follow the change.
  2. Personalize the “change requirements” at all levels. Leaders who build phased roll-outs into the change plan will allow time for people to absorb the extent of the change. Phased roll-outs allow time to adapt and capture learnings and successes. Each phase can then build on the success of the previous one.  
  3. Proactive communications promote transparency and enthusiasm for change as well as help maintain momentum. Teach leaders how to listen and respond to the concerns and issues of employees.
  4. Finally, relentlessly follow up to ensure leaders “get it” and “walk the proverbial talk.” Remember that as constant as change and transition are, they are also constants that leaders and employees need (or deserve) help with it – and this is just as important.

What advice do you have for me on helping leaders learn how to lead transformational change?

You can follow Cindy on Twitter @CHubert_apqc