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


What is change? It is certainly a much-used, possibly overused, word in business. And yet we all know that it is happening all the time – we are immersed in change. The current change may be a huge project, a total overhaul of the manufacturing process, a new IT system, a departmental reorganisation, a shift in organisational culture or, in reality, anything which people perceive as change. In this sense, an increase in demand can cause a perceived change in the way things are around here, even when nothing else has changed.

This topic aims to give you an overview and practical guidance in a complex and dynamic subject. A number of key points which underpin successful change are explained in some detail. They are relevant for all kinds of change as they relate to managing both large- and small-scale changes.


Managing change is the process of getting from where you are to the outcomes you want.

Seeing this process of getting to the outcomes you want as a journey is a powerful metaphor. Often, your change journey will have much in common with the ventures of early explorers, who had only a very general sense of where they were going, but enormous motivation. They had to overcome unexpected crises and be prepared to alter their plans.

For convenience, we have covered the different aspects of change under four main headings which are sequential. In reality, of course, the various elements continually overlap: the process of winning and maintaining engagement should be on-going, for example, and you will need to keep re-visiting the question as to what the drivers are behind the change.

Four elements of change

1. Change — the starting point

  • What sort of change is envisaged?
  • What outcomes do you want and what do you hope to achieve?
  • What is the business case for the change?
  • Why is this change important? To your customers? To you? To others?
  • What environment will surround this change?

2. Leading and engaging

Quite simply, success will depend on the engagement of all affected by the change itself, or with the fundamental purpose and process of change.

  • Change happens when people do things differently.
  • For that to happen they need to be engaged.
  • Involvement is a key part of getting engaged.
  • Engagement is the consequence of good leadership.

Engagement can come through participation in some activity or through listening to a powerful address from a skilled leader, but however you achieve it, engagement is the vital ingredient.

3. Delivering change — doing it!

You have worked out the what and why of your proposed change, and you have taken steps to get engagement – now you have to get on with delivering it:

  • What is the best way to start?
  • How do we plan?
  • How do we deal with the unexpected?

Change takes time and effort. You need to both lead and manage change. There has to be sufficient time and space to allow for emergent thinking and to create appropriate responses in the moment. You cannot plan everything in advance and expect things to run smoothly: change, like life in general, just doesn’t happen like that!

4. And it is not working!

Inevitably, things do not always go according to plan; in other words, not everything can be foreseen. A positive response – one that allows for the unexpected and for unwanted consequences – will actually promote change. Be aware of the signs that change is not working: listen, and don’t pretend it’s working when it’s not. If you give the matter some thought, you will be able to sustain people though the messiness and get back on track.

Above all else, when change is not working, give yourself the time to stand back and find out what is going on. The more you rush in, the more likely you are to make the problem worse.

Planning is never enough

The four main headings in this topic have a logical order, but change is rarely this smooth. So be aware that you will need to consider all of the components most of the time, even when focusing on one particular aspect.

And there are no magic bullets or pills that will deliver change successfully every time. It requires a lot of common sense plus a willingness to continually engage with those involved. This means giving them as much information as you can and delegating a large measure of control about how they achieve agreed outcomes. You should also recognise that you cannot plan everything, so you need processes and measures in place to help you deal with the unexpected and whatever emerges as you go along.

The key to this material being useful is to talk about it: encouraging everyone involved to get into the subject, answering the questions and talking about it with each other.

Change is often messy and successfully delivering a change requires all of the ‘players’ to contribute. A useful metaphor for this is a group of musicians playing jazz.

  • They need to understand the direction they are going in (the type of jazz they are playing and the basic piece of music).
  • They need to have the competence to play their role in the music-making (competence is a component of trust).
  • They need to listen to the other players so that they can combine effectively together (being aware of what others are doing).
  • They need to trust one another when an individual is doing ‘their own thing’.
  • They need to be able to build on what has gone before (emergence).