by Ian Saunders, Antony Aitken, Ray Charlton and David Flatman

Where to start

Having come to some conclusions about the drivers for change (What are the change drivers?) and the context and culture (Context and culture – the environment) within which the change is to occur, what next?

Somewhere near the beginning of the change process, you need to collate all this information and draw some conclusions that will help you decide how to take the change forward and deliver it successfully.

You need to have a feel for the degree of uncertainty, hassle and vulnerability you, and everyone involved, are likely to experience. You will have views about

  • The content/substance of the change
  • The organisational context – in other words, the stability of goals and priorities, the complexity of organisational interdependencies, the clarity of responsibilities, and the attitudes of senior management to the change
  • The organisation ethos – whether it prefers to work in a controlled and hierarchical way, or whether it prefers a more flexible and challenging process.

The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.

Alfred North Whitehead

You can then decide what to do next.

There are three interrelated aspects that are your essential concerns as change agent:

  1. Underlying approaches: project management, ownership and legitimacy
  2. Your performance: performing and back staging.
  3. Agendas: content, control and process.

1. Underlying approaches

Any change programme has to have an approach to deal with and achieve an effective balance between project management, ownership and legitimacy.

Project management

Emphasises the need for planning, to define goals, identify solutions, establish monitoring and control systems, and to implement. Project management may rely on an assumption that planned change unfolds in a logically sequenced manner. It may also rely on an assumption that the outcome can and should be known in advance and that we can therefore know the time and resources required.


Most would argue that effective involvement of those affected by change is important. The question is how important. The project management approach may see participation as but one important step in the overall process, almost like a ‘tool’ or ‘technique’. This can smack of manipulation – ‘keeping them on board’. Others might argue that it is much more centrally important, that the participants must actually own the solution and that the only way for that to be the case is for them to be deeply involved in design and implementation. This view poses difficult questions of time, resource and control for project managers.


All changes are political – some more than others. Very often there are disagreements about the nature of the problem the change is dealing with, including the priorities, issues about power bases and so on. This requires the change agent to be sensitive to the different positions and interests. At its most effective, change management will encourage these differences out into the open – where they can be discussed.

Your Leadership is the key to navigating your way between the three elements. Let your guard drop and you will have unhelpful tension. Stay on top of events; remain connected to events; continually foster a supportive climate, and you will achieve a good balance.

2. Your performance

Here we are using the word performance to mean what you are doing and how you are acting, rather than the outcomes that will result from what you are doing.

When we look honestly at how things really happen in organisations, we see that they usually happen via a combination of the formal and planned with the informal and unplanned. Also, much of what needs to be said never gets said publicly. This has been called the ‘shadow side’ or ‘inner dialogue’ of the organisation.

Obviously, the degree to which things are discussable publicly will depend on the ethos of the organisation and the nature of the change issues.

Inevitably, you will need to respect the current ethos to some degree – even if you intend to change it! So you will have to take a view on what can be part of your public performance and what you will need to do backstage.

Every change project will have a version of a project management approach. This is a rational process, but a good project manager knows that this is not enough. There has to be ‘backstage’ activity in the maintenance of support for the project and in dealing with resistance.

Many organisations feel more comfortable with the rational project management agenda and don’t really acknowledge the more fuzzy agendas that run alongside. In these circumstances, the change agent’s public performance has to follow the ‘script’ of the rational-linear model of project management – because this is what is publicly seen as legitimate.

Back staging needs strong interpersonal skills – for mobilising support, bringing stakeholders in, building commitment, unblocking resistance, and dealing with conflict constructively.


Are you doing enough to foster good relationships and influence people behind the scenes? (for more, see Political Intelligence and Influencing)

3. Agendas

There are three agendas you need to consider

  1. The content agenda: the substance of the change, such as strategic thinking, leadership skills, IT applications or culture change.
  • Who has the expertise?
  • Is there enough?
  • How can we increase it?
  1. The control agenda: dealing with the planning, budgeting, resourcing, measuring and monitoring, setting deadlines and targets, and handling interdependencies and joining things up. Even if the change is not planned as a project, it is still necessary to be well organised and pay attention to detail.
  • Do you have the tools and techniques to manage the change effectively as a project?
  • If not, how can you acquire/develop them?
  • Has anyone else in the organisation got good project management skills?
  • How could they help you?
  1. The process agenda: how to involve and communicate with the stakeholders, managing expectations, influencing, team building and so on – and especially the informal aspect.

Clearly all three agendas are essential to any change process. However, the degree of attention and focus that each will require may vary, depending on the nature of the change and of the organisation.

Projects that are diagnosed as being low hassle and low vulnerability are likely to require focus on content and control. Projects that are seen as having high hassle and high vulnerability will require more focus on control and process.

Some thoughts

Connect with others – especially those supporting the change. Talk about it often – in an open-minded way.

Do not expect the change journey to be linear or sequential.

With a strong sense of direction, expect to go sideways and backwards sometimes.

We are going to win and the industrial West is going to lose out; there’s not much you can do about it because the reasons for your failure are within yourselves. Your firms are built on the Taylor model. Even worse, so are your heads. With your bosses doing the thinking while the workers wield the screwdrivers, you’re convinced deep down that this is the right way to run a business. For you the essence of management is getting the ideas out of the heads of the bosses and into the hands of labour.

We are beyond your mindset. Business, we know, is now so complex and difficult, the survival of firms so hazardous in an environment increasingly unpredictable, competitive and fraught with danger, that their continued existence depends on the day-to-day mobilisation of every ounce of intelligence.

Konosuke Matsushita in Pascale (1990) Managing on the Edge