theories of change

Demystifying Change: The Emperor Has No Clothes.

The quest for innovation and profit will continue to lead to change, its pace greater in the evolving environments we inhabit. But what is change? And how do you deliver it?

In business, change [1] is a one-stop-shop word to describe the impact to business processes, people and target operating models deriving from new strategic directions, new technology, new contexts. Change describes the transition to the new stage and the management practices to land it there. It comes in different shapes and sizes, according to impact and reach. From the pioneering creation of global business services, to the addition of radically different operating models, to the systematic search for holy-grail products, we continually witness how business changes, adopts, adapts and… starts all over again.

The blog post comes from a talk I gave at the Deltra Group networking evening on 03-May-2017, invite courtesy of Ramona O'Dwyer-Stock, with the video footage evidencing the lively discussions.

Theories of change

Delivering change is difficult and brings to vast failures. In trying to understand the root causes of the difficulties, I looked at seminal theories of change. Kurt Lewin’s 3 stages, Luecke’s Seven Steps, Kotter’s 8 stages, Kanter’s Ten Commandments… there’s no shortage of a theory or ten. The organisational change theories have their roots in grief studies, which is why people have been put at the forefront of change practices. And when the big consulting firms adopted the work of these organisational change theorists, they legitimised a whole industry as they branded their reengineering services as change management, in the 1980s[2]. 

What do I think?

Whilst historical definitions of change are valuable as models for the design of interventions to see people through transition, the consultancy industry continues to keep change isolated from the main business of delivery, this seemingly narrow focus hindering the conflict-less landing and the long-term adoption of change. It is my view that change management practices must be ‘plugged’ into the heart of the delivery, the change work-stream its pivotal focus. It is here that project and business teams meet and it is from here that they must drive together towards delivery. Further, the practitioner leading the work-stream must have credibility, ‘pegged’ onto wider functional, technical or delivery-specific understanding[3], and authority. Otherwise the project remains in the hands of mostly technically-focused work-streams, the ‘split’ project and business perpetuated and landing the change and its adoption a vast failure.

What do I do?

In the end, change is both more and less difficult than theories we read and practices we witness lead us to believe: the management of change cannot be an afterthought, often restricted to communications and training practices led by people and culture practitioners but, if plugged into the heart of the delivery, it ends up… delivering itself.

The practices I take to organisations are about demystifying change. The emperor has no clothes. They are the practices that will see you deliver change and make it stick. What I talk to companies about are real-life examples of my interventions with organisations undertaking critical change. I describe the nature of the interventions, their outcome and give tools and tips that have worked well with me, time and again. 


[1] I use the term interchangeably with ‘transformation’.

[2] Robert J Marshak (2005) ‘Contemporary Challenges to the Philosophy and Practice of Organization Development’.

[3] But it’s about contextual understanding and an ability to drop down into issues and solutions, not deep specialism, otherwise it still won’t work.