Change Management summary report

change management summaryHere we introduce you to our fourth Business Perspectives summary report in the series, which concludes the change management quarter with a rich collateral of global perspectives of managing change.

We invite you to download and share the report and send us any comments. If you would like to contribute your perspective towards future themes, please contact our Business Perspectives Editor at

Click here to download the report.

Change Management Masterclass – Al Shah’s Key learnings

Guest blogger:

Al Shah, Alumni Advisory Board member and MBA alum, attended the recent change management masterclass and shares the key learnings stimulated by speakers of the day.

  • Change management cannot be formulaic
  • We focus on changing the non-discretionary
  • We communicate the change from our perspective only which can convey badly
  • Even the pace of change was challenged by the brilliant speakers of the day

The interview with Cisco’s UK & Ireland CEO, Phil Smith, focused on the constant change affecting a company that acquires others so frequently.  Phil endorsed David Wilson’s notion of Discretionary behaviours (i.e. those not directly or explicitly recognised by the formal reward system) in the change process and how implementation affected staff morale following change.  Throughout their major change initiatives, morale rose but not in year one! The key learning being that long term strategies are required and therefore the organisation, and individual managers must allow sufficient time for change in behaviours, an early conclusion that change has not been effective can lead to ‘fish tailing’ and more initiatives kicking off.

Phil said that the change process cannot be formulaic, at any one time they have 5-6 change initiatives on the go and differ significantly enough that following a formula proves impossible.

Change programmes may have additional, unforeseen benefits, for example in Cisco’s example, video conferencing implemented to save travel costs (saving $1/2 bn and 80k ton carbon) led to greater engagement and agility as Cisco replaced quarterly 2 day on-site conferences with monthly one hour sessions.

Later the panel of speakers was asked to predict the future: what will change management look like in 20 years?  They explained the same human issues will exist but present in a different way. The shorter attention span and speed of expectancy will demand a greater focus on the essence of the change and not the detail.

This was in tune with the learning from Professor Brian Smith, whose research showed most change is non-discretionary and this needed to change to discretionary to stop failing strategy. The implementation of strategy required a commitment to the Organisation over a Group – displacing team spirit with affective commitment to the Organisation, favour projects over matrix structure moving away from consensus and towards consultation and decision and focus on Discretionary change SMART goals.  The message was to keep a clear and connected, holistic view with a guiding principle of focusing on the essence of change and not the detail.

Ben Hardy gave an insightful (and irreverent!) session on communicating change, that emphasised how our own bias is applied to what we read and write; we have to communicate to avoid employees/colleagues filling the blanks and that we are built to focus on negative information thus making it 3x more impactful than positive information.

In conclusion, the day provided multiple perspectives on change management, highlighting that implementation truly is the acid test of strategy.

Three ways to communicate change

Guest blogger:

Sarah_PlattsSarah Platts, Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, Change Consultant at FreshNetworks 

This is the final post in my little three-part series looking at change management (see part one and part two), and it uses the extremely interesting material covered by Dr Ben Hardy at the recent Open University Business School event.

changes-coming1. Make your message as good and clear as possible

Here are some easy ways to work on the messages you’re conveying in order to maximise their impact and appropriateness, and minimise the extent to which they can be interpreted in different ways:

  • Create an open culture – listen and engage with employees, and ask them how they want to be communicated with. Then build that into your communications plan.
  • Define things, if possible – e.g. create a concise, precise, and memorable definition of your company strategy, thereby reducing the potential for wildly differing interpretations.
  • Data is not information – data are raw facts, whereas information is data processed and made meaningful. So don’t try to distract or bamboozle employees with data, but convey useful information and context around the change taking place.
  • According to the language philosopher Paul Grice, effective communication should be of appropriate:
    • Quantity – not too much
    • Quality – no lies
    • Relation – be relevant
    • Manner – not ambiguous, obscure, or overly wordy (as Dr Hardy says, “eschew prolixity”!)

So at a minimum hygiene level, it’s wise to observe these “Gricean maxims”.

2. Be aware of how and why people may interpret your message in different ways

It’s obviously helpful to think carefully about your message and how to deliver it, to stand you in good stead. However, the next important thing is to then forget what your message actually says, and focus instead on how it’s received. Although you may have minimised the range of different interpretations somewhat, there will still be plenty for you to deal with. Just some ways in which people’s interpretations will be shaped include:

  • Word / sentence structure – remember that your exact choice of words, and how you combine them in a sentence, really matters and can significantly impact meaning.
  • Cognitive defaults – ways in which the brain works by default, and is naturally wired for each individual.
  • Social and cultural assumptions and defaults – e.g. each person’s own background, personal experiences, demographics, etc.
  • If there’s no communication, this means bad news – negative information has approximately 3 times the impact of positive communication, so if nothing’s communicated then people fear the worst. Apparently this is derived from our age-old human survival mechanism, and the fact that something negative (like a predator) would often kill us, whereas positive things didn’t tend to have the same effect (!).
  • Me, me, me! We tend to see things from our own perspective, so it’s important to try and see them from other people’s point of view. A handy and simple exercise to counter this is to jot down two columns, one for making notes in relation to “my perspective”, and the other for “their perspective”.
  • Confirmation bias – people tend to find information which confirms their beliefs, and discount information which doesn’t.
  • Fundamental attribution error – in a bad situation, we tend to overestimate character traits in others (e.g. the company failed because she was a terrible megalomaniac CEO), and situational pressures in relation to ourselves (e.g. the company failed because the economic situation was extremely difficult). Whereas, the truth probably lies somewhere in between character and situation.

3. Embrace and work with the (inevitable) different interpretations

So how can we deal with all these different influences, and resultant interpretations? How can we reduce the communication gap between our own perceptions, assumptions, confirmation biases, and fundamental attribution errors, and those of others?

  1. Accept that not communicating is not an option – you have to say something, so make it as effective as possible, as outlined in section one, and communicate openly and regularly (but don’t just “throw sludge at people”, as Dr Hardy warns).
  2. Accept that once your communication is out, it’s out of your control – people will be starting to interpret it, so talk to them and try and understand how it’s been received (section 2). This will enable you to:
  3. Offset some of their interpretations, and build their trust – which will help counter the fundamental attribution error issue (i.e. people will be less likely to call you a terrible megalomaniac CEO if they know from personal experience that you aren’t, or trust that it’s not in your nature).
  4. Admit fallibility and mistakes – rather than making you seem weak, it shows bravery and the ability to reflect and take on board feedback.

communicate change So those are the 3 great ways to communicate change – and arguably to  communicate in general!

 This article was originally published on FreshNetworks on 26 July.

 Photo credit: and Ecbud.

Three ways to ensure your change effort is a success

Guest blogger:

Sarah_PlattsSarah Platts, Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, Change Consultant at FreshNetworks 


As explored in my last post, and at the recent Open University Business School event on change management: focusing on the implementation of change is obviously hugely important. In addition, focusing on the following three messages will further maximise the chances of your change effort being a success:

1. Be consistent, and persistent

A common message was that change takes more time than you think, particularly if you want people to genuinely live and breathe it. Therefore:

  • Be patient, and don’t get side-tracked by short-term goals – change is about the long-term view, so maintain your focus and be prepared for results to take longer than you think to materialise (i.e. years as opposed to days, months). Key to this is also not trying to change too much, but focusing on a handful of projects (e.g. no more than 5 at any one time). It’s also important to keep reinforcing why you’re STILL working on the change, as it involves a significant process of education, as well as considering everyone involved in an interconnected and holistic way. Also ensure to prioritise all the change projects you’re working on so you know which ones are most and least important overall.
  • Focus – it’s worth reiterating this again! Just as it’s important to keep focused on the change and not get side-tracked, it’s also important to focus within each change project on the 1 – 3 core things which will really crack it and make it succeed. Robin Tucker of New World Consulting referred to this as focusing on “the essence”, and not getting bogged down by the detail or minutiae.
  • Measure the change – all the same, don’t just wait and hope! Ensure to have measures in place so the results of the change can be determined, but don’t get too fixated with deadlines. Instead, focus on the outputs expected by those deadlines, and if they were really achieved (again, no box ticking). Finally, check in on the results on a regular basis; be agile and check the change is still aligned with overall company strategy, and if not tweak and realign things as necessary. Basically, beware of “analysis without synthesis”, and ask “So What?” at least every month.

2.  Know what your company is good and bad at in relation to change

Companies have to deal with the following aspects of change:

  1. Directional decisions – i.e. does the overall direction of travel make sense?
  2. Translation & specificity – have you worked out and communicated what the change will mean for and require of each team and individual within the business? “Vision hubbing” requires translating the central vision “hub” of the company wheel through to each of the individual spokes.
  3. Change management – governance of the delivery itself , which is often under-managed (e.g. Terminal 5).
  4. Delivery & operations – how to avoid a bad landing.
  5. Leadership & communication (people) – change is often poorly led and poorly communicated.

According to Robin Tucker, companies typically suffer most in relation to 2, 3, and 5. His advice is to focus on your company’s particular weak areas, and then start optimising each one.

3.  Don’t bother with creating “Change managers” and “Change departments”

  • Successful change is brought about by boundary spanners – managers with T-shaped as opposed to I-shaped skills (i.e. generalists rather than occupational specialists).
  • No change functions! Making change into a “function” with specific “change managers” is a problem because it becomes part of a political system, and a target, rather than a boundary spanner. Change should be driven forward by programme and project managers, and be project-based. Accordingly, make change the responsibility of all organisational departments – that’s the only way to get everyone involved and aligned. Ultimately, change is a process, not a function.

This article was originally published on FreshNetworks on 25 July.

Photo credit:

Why do so many change efforts fail? Bad implementation and embedding

Guest blogger:

Sarah_PlattsSarah Platts, Open University Business School MBA Alumnus, Change Consultant at FreshNetworks    

Having previously written about innovation and leadership following Open University Business School events, I went to another one recently on the topic of change management. According to research, over half of change efforts fail (52%) – but what’s the main cause of failure?

According to Professor David Wilson, the main issue nowadays isn’t getting the change going or sustaining it so much as embedding and locking it in. So how can companies improve the change implementation process?

1.  Provide effective strategic leadership

  • Create a compelling vision – senior managers should stop over-prioritising controls and mere box-ticking, and provide a compelling company vision and strong organisational culture and processes which facilitate change.

2.  Invest in smart people

  • Create a strong knowledge base – which is full of smart people who can create the required culture, rather than trying to change organisational culture and structures first and foremost. Phil Smith, CEO of Cisco UK & Ireland, also emphasised the importance of hiring the right people; self-starters adept at using an organisation’s network and resources, connecting with people, and collaborating across boundaries.
  • Invest in young people too – Mr Smith referred to Cisco’s interesting process of “reverse mentoring”, whereby a graduate employee can “mentor” an SMT member, enabling each of them to explore things from the other’s perspective.

3.  Embed change throughout the organisation at all levels, and lead from the top down

  • View change as habit – not an occasional exercise. However, while it’s important to ensure there’s enough change, there should equally not be too much. Furthermore, be positive rather than negative about change, and never think there’s more change now than ever before (there was plenty going on during the industrial revolution, and following all the many inventions that have changed the world!).
  • The CEO, Finance, and Sales & Marketing are key roles / departments which need to lead the change – and leading from the top-down is crucial. However, everyone in the organisation and all managers also need to be involved and share “ownership” of the change (it’s a team sport according to Professor Wilson). So the right balance between controls and structure, and empowering people at every level to suggest and shape things, is key.
  • Incentives and rewards are important – the economic piece of the change puzzle needs to be tight, and align everyone with organisational objectives.

4.  Use the right management styles, methods, and structures to aid implementation

In his session, Professor Brian D Smith recommended:

  • Consult and then decide (stop being so democratic!) – don’t overly focus on gaining cross-functional team buy-in, as collaborative decision-making actually diffuses ownership.
  • Engender commitment to the organisation as opposed to commitment to individual teams, or groups within the organisation.
  • Set up interdependencies within functions / teams – to promote collaboration and working together to get things done.
  • Establish a productive mix of SMART non-discretionary activities (the hard stuff that can be measured), and discretionary activities (the softer stuff which cannot be measured). The latter often get eclipsed (in practice, and change management theory) by the former, but discretionary activities lead to greater “affective commitment” (positive emotional attachment) which trumps mere “continuance commitment” (whereby an employee needs to work for the organisation more than they would otherwise want and choose to).
  • Get rid of matrix structures – which promote conflict over collaboration, and set up project teams instead, with project team leaders who have line management responsibilities.

I’ll be writing another two posts over the next few days, looking at 3 ways to ensure your change effort is a success, and also 3 ways to communicate change.

This article was originally published on Read more at Business 2 Community website on 24 July 2013. 

Change Management Webinar 30 July 2013

Does change need talent? What are the myths of change?  Communication, is it lost in translation?  The webinar held on 30 July answered these topical questions on implementing change management and putting it to the acid test.

The session was facilitated by Peter Wainwright, Director, Askyra Limited and OU Associate Lecturer; the panellists consisted of Professor David Wilson, Professor in Organisation Studies and Associate Dean for Research and Scholarship, OUBS, and David Montgomery, MBA (OU), Director, Hand Stirling.

Included in the webinar are video clips taken from the change management workshop held on the 11 July 2013 in London.

To view the webinar click onto the podcast website.

You can also see what delegates had to say about the event by following #OU_BP on Twitter, and get the latest updates on events, offers and thought leadership pieces by following us @OUBSchool.

How to effect culture change in financial services

Guest bloggers:

jill traffordnatalie wharton

Jill Trafford (left) and Natalie Wharton (right) are consultants within Deloitte’s change practice

The financial services industry has been dealing with significant change following the banking crisis in 2008

Since then, close scrutiny and countless internal reviews and economic and regulatory reform has result in a wave of change activity across the sector.

Banks specifically have been adapting to a changing – and more challenging – market, with greater consumer awareness of financial performance and new banks competing for customers and employee talent. Those banks that haven’t yet considered their ability to adapt and change in this market will struggle to survive.

cc by EU Social

When the need for change is so significant and immediate, companies often react by looking at their internal structures and processes – in effect the tangible solutions. This has proven to be an effective short-term fix for many, but it has not been addressing the underlying issues that contributed to the financial crisis: culture.

Organisations now realise that sustainable change, which will have a real impact on a company’s long-term reputation, can only be achieved through changing the underlying culture that inspires people to think, act and make decisions.

We only need to look at the banking industry to see how culture can negatively impact a business, both in terms of profit and consumer reputation. While cultural change is a familiar concept, it is often difficult to imagine and implement real and practical steps and measures to encourage change. There is a perception that culture (and therefore cultural change) is somehow intangible and, as a result, many organisations are wary of committing the time and effort to something that they cannot see delivering definite, substantial and financial results. This often translates as something that is not worth doing, since it simply does not lead to immediate cost cutting and improvement in profitability.

Traditionally, boards have relied on internal employee satisfaction surveys to provide them with insight into how employees think and feel about their company and the culture of the business. The actions following such a survey often lack impact and ability to drive real change. This is in large down to managers viewing the activity as a ‘tick box’ exercise, the actions being deemed too difficult to manage, or outside a manager’s sphere of immediate control.

Any culture change programme must start with a clear understanding of the outcomes the organisation wants to achieve and the impact – good or bad – that the current culture is having on its performance. Organisations can define a future culture through breaking it down into specific categories and assessing or understanding where they would like to be against each one.

These categories can be across a range of areas including; appetite for innovation and transformation, the level of external focus, the style of leadership, the exposure to risk and regulation and the infrastructure or process requirements. A session to identify the culture vision would help any organisation identify the type of culture they are striving to achieve and the journey they need to take to get there.

After a new future culture has been articulated and visualised, and it’s fully endorsed by leadership teams; companies face another challenge: how do you make culture change tangible? How do you know it has worked?

Our experience on large change projects in different organisations and across industries has enabled us to develop definite ways in which companies can make culture change tangible:

  1. Developing organisational values and behaviours that are then embedded across the entire colleague lifecycle or employee value proposition including recruitment policies, development interventions and talent and performance management processes. The focus will then be on how the leadership population implements and executes the values as part of these people processes, and being ultimately held account.
  2. Analysing the business and identifying the critical moments that drive disproportionate value for the business, such as the first point of contact for a customer, or the security check for a cold caller. Then, identify the skills, knowledge and behaviour required to execute these and streamline the delivery of the business strategy to improve performance.
  3. Identifying a specific area of culture change to focus on first; responding to risk and regulation, developing innovation and transformation capability, defining clearer control mechanisms or defining how performance is managed. By focusing on one area, and using this as the catalyst for change, organisations can implement initial quick wins and employee engagement whilst developing longer term change to drive deeper change across the business

Organisations, especially those in the financial services industry, have recognised their part in the financial crisis and are engaging in the process of change to win back the trust of consumers. They must find a different way to transform their businesses to succeed in this new environment. Cultural problems have many causes and therefore there will be no single ‘silver bullet’ solution. However, changing the way they manage their people and therefore how their people behave will be the driver for success. The key change necessary for financial institutions to prosper will be cultural, and this is ultimately in the hands of business leaders.

This article was originally published under HR Magazine on 25 June 2013.

How to spot the transformative technology for your business

How to spot the technologies that might radically change your business model? In his interview with The Bottom Line, Mike Lynch, founder and chief executive of technology company Autonomy, uses an example from the legal system to answer this question.

technology change

This is an interview after a recording of the OU/BBC co-production The Bottom Line.

Learn more about The Bottom Line programme and make use of free learning materials on OpenLearn.