The PDCA Cycle for a Change Leader

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John W. Moran

Change is critical to the survival of organizations, says contributor John W. Moran. Unfortunately all organizations have "antibodies" that resist change. Here’s how PDCA can help you if you're leading change.

"Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change." - Confucius

Whenever an organization embarks on a change in the way it currently does things, resistance immediately arises by those who feel they may be impacted. Why do we need to change is often the common question?

There are two aspects of making an organizational change.The first is leadership of the change. This consists of creating the vision of the future, the passion for the change, modeling the required type of new behavior, and a description of the driving forces that are making the organization change necessary. The more the driving changes are grounded in solid data and reasoning the more compelling the case will be to those who must change. Change leadership focuses on the behavioral side of the change. Change leadership is the ongoing constant energizing force that keeps up pressure and the motivation for the needed change. The goal of change leadership is to accelerate the pace of the desired change in an organization.

The second aspect is the development of the change management process which is the structure in which the organization will facilitate the change. This structure consists of tools, trainings, and techniques to keep the change effort on track. Training is the what and how of change is necessary so the employees develop the willingness and ability to make the needed change.

A definition of a change leader is best summed up by Lao-Tsu (604 B.C) when he stated – "As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate. When the best leader’s work is done the people say, We did it ourselves!"

What is a Change Leader?

James Belasco and Ralph Stayer in the Flight of the Buffalo (1994) summed up the Change Leaders constant obstacle they must overcome when they stated "Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have — and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up."

How does a Change Leader overcome this conundrum of overestimating and underestimating by employees? Change leaders do this by constantly communicating a consistent and compelling vision for the need for the change within the organization that generates excitement, enthusiasm, and commitment to the change process. Change leaders provide the resources to implement change initiatives and work to make others feel ownership in the change.

A change leader must be a consensus builder by pulling together key stakeholders, individuals, and resistance groups to enlist their support in the change initiative. In building this consensus the change leader must clearly communicate a compelling reason to those enlisted to change their direction, habits, and daily work activities. In addition, the change leader must be realistic and describe the challenges and consequences that will come forth if they do not do make the change.

At all times the change leader must consistently be a personal role model of the change desired that results in continuous improvement in organizational performance. To do this a change leader must have a relentless passion for the change they envision and the ability to nurture others to that end state. To do this they must be willing to display the new behaviors on a regular basis, have keen instincts as to when to be adaptable as they move forward, and the willingness and ability to learn new skills. They must have a constancy of purpose that is unwavering and regularly articulate what the new culture must be, how we will behave in this new culture, and what our habits and daily activities will look like.

Change Leader PDCA Model:

Dwight Eisenhower stated: Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him." A change leader knows that they cannot wait and hope for a change but must be visible, passionate, and lead it. Change is not a spectator sport and those desiring the change must constantly lead it. The PDCA Model for Change Leaders is shown in figure 1. This model gives a change leader a process to follow to help implement the change in the organization they desire. The model is to think before we speak, speak before we act, and after we act to provide care to make sure the change takes hold.

Figure 1: The PDCA Model for Change Leaders

This Change Leader PDCA model requires a leader to Plan what they are going to say before they speak, Do deliver a consistent message at all times to the organization about the change, Check to see if what they are saying is inspiring the action required to make the change, and then Act to provide nurturing and care to areas in the organization not moving forward as quickly as desired and to ensure that the gains achieved are held.


Most organizations do not change in response to what they see on the horizon. Organizations change because they are forced into it kicking and screaming by the aggressiveness of their competitors, by the influence of political or fiscal changes, or by their customers’ changing demands.Change is critical to the survival and sustainability of organizations. Unfortunately all organizations have "antibodies" that resist change and challenges to their legacy. These antibodies drive out new ideas and people that are considered either odd or at odds with the organization’s current existence. These antibodies want to maintain the status quo at all costs. A change leader needs to understand that there will be resistance to any proposed change and that following the Change Leader PDCA cycle will provide light and not heat to the change initiative.

Change leaders must be constantly reinventing themselves, continually making many minor changes so that they are always positioned to lead the next wave of change their organization will require. If a Change Leader is always positioned for the next wave of change then the workforce perceives it as routine because it is always happening. Then it becomes normal to change if one is always doing it. If change leaders are always reinventing themselves and follow the Change Leader PDCA cycle they will achieve what Lao-Tsu (604 B.C) described as the best leader - the people do not notice their existence.