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Change: don’t sell it, live it and lead it

CHANGE; It’s one of the those subjects, everyone has an opinion on it, you are unlikely to meet someone who hasn’t experienced it and, of course, no one has a good word to say about it. Wether we are 18 or 80, stuck in our ways or a self titled ‘free thinker’ we just don’t do change; its irritating and unnecessary.

“the most effective way to manage change is to create it”

Peter Drucker


How often have you heard comments such as these:

“another bright idea from the ivory tower”

“someone’s trying to catch the boss’s eye”

“new graduates in town?!”

“have they visited this planet lately?!”

For the record, the change that we object to can take any form…the obvious ones are the new IT system at work (and all that accompanies it), the change to working practices and filing systems, staff reorganisations and so on…the list is endless. It doesn’t just reside in the work place. There is of course much more beyond this, what you could refer to as personal or domestic change, it’s more subtle and usually quickly forgotten once you leave the house…my 14 year old daughter spends her entire life changing (mainly her emotional state), making it very difficult for my wife and I to keep up…now that’s irritating!

It’s the inherent irritation and discomfort associated with change that makes us dislike it as much as we do. When things change, we have to do something about it – inevitably our work load increases. Back to my previous example, a new IT system. We all know what happens next…the announcement of a new IT system is followed by a change programme, the appointment of change managers (and teams) and extra hours talking about what we’re going to do. Of course this is then followed by talking about what we did and didn’t do and what we would do next time…and so the irritation continues.

I was asked recently if I could address an organisation on the subject of change management. Specifically the client wanted me to speak to an audience of regional managers who were about to be on the receiving end of a wave of change; they were going to be asked to do things very differently and they would be required to act as agents for the change the organisation required. The person asking me to do the speech not only wanted me to give my thoughts on the subject, she also wanted me to “put a spring in their step; to make them feel motivated as they left the building”. As Leadership is my thing, I am more than comfortable with motivating people and organisations, but against a backdrop of impending doom, in the shape of change, well that was an usually challenging conundrum.

So, thinking cap on…

Spoiler alert…

It didn’t take much thought for me to realise that, as with so many things in life, advocating change is all about leadership. Those people who talk about leading change are absolutely spot on. To really move things forward, to be an agent for change in an environment where people find it irritating, a waste of time, just another bright idea etc etc, you have got to embody what you are trying to achieve; you’ve got to live it and lead it.

Now that you know the punchline, I hope you’re thinking… ‘yep, get that, being and agent for change is all about leadership, but how do I get to a point where people follow me and the concept?’

Great question; read on…

For you to lead change successfully, you’ve got to take control of it. Even if you are not the instigator, you can take control of it and deliver it on your terms. Your start point is understanding that you can, and should, control the process. Your influence over the process will be dictated by your ability to control it, which comes as a direct result of your ability to plan and make sense of what will be inherently complex.


You can see my detailed thoughts on planning here (insert link to ambiguity article), however, I will dwell on it briefly. For you to be confident in what you want to do, you will need to spend time planning, ordering your thoughts and deciding a course of action. It is thorough planning (and creating a plan) that gives the inner belief that anything is achievable. Knowing that we have thought of everything and out-thought the opposition, puts a spring in the step like little else. In an an environment where you are delivering change you must establish what is possible and what isn’t (the latter is usually more significant). Often the major hurdle to delivering change is time; in most cases there is too little of it. The start point is establishing how much you have, how much you need and how much you can give to the people beneath you. Time, like all resources, is finite. If you dwell too long on the problem without reaching (and making) a decision, those beneath you, who also need a little time, will have nothing to work with. So think about it. I would advise that you assess how much time is available and take a third of it, thus leaving two thirds for those who follow you and so on.


There are 2 parts to this:

understanding what its happening.
understanding what you have to do.

Take the time to understand what is happening in your world. Ask the big question ‘why?’. It is the answer to this question that sets the context in which the change is taking place. If you understand why and for what purpose (i.e. cause and planned effect), then you will be able to communicate it to those that you seek to lead through the change.

You should also spend time getting under the skin of what you have been asked to do and once again ask ‘why’ you have been asked to do it.

The (potentially) tough bit

Once you’ve answered those questions you will be able to establish what is possible and what isn’t. Armed with this knowledge you are now in a position to let your boss know what you can do in the time and with the resources you have available. Now, depending on your relationship with your boss, the ease with which this part of the process will be executed will vary, but you must do it. This is often referred to as ‘speaking truth to power’. In other words giving the boss the good news! Any organisation that encourages freedom of thought and genuine creativity will welcome it. Of course only you will know how your boss will react. Tell your boss what is achievable. If you need more resources, ask for them; if you have too much of something, give it back, someone else might need it.

Now that your boss knows what you can do, pull in the team and build the plan and ensure that it contains:

your vision (without this no one will understand where they are going).
your narrative (people like stories tell them one before it happens it will make it easier to follow).
your main focus (when the chips down and you are unavailable, the team should know where to put their energy).
what the world will look like when the task is complete (back to spoiler alerts…don’t let the conclusion comes as a surprise (to you or your team), tell them what it will be before they get there…it will ensure that you get to the conclusion you want).

The easy bit

With the thinking and planning done and after the ‘grown-up’ conversation with the boss, making it happen is very straight forward. As with executing any plan they key bit is communication. Ensure that those on the receiving of your intentions are aware of what you want them to do (and why) and what resources they have available. In order that you don’t have to sell it to to anyone and to allow yourself in a position where you can to live it and lead it, take the opportunity to communicate the plan directly, face to face on your hind legs – yep, stand up and talk. Even if you your organisation is large and disparate make the effort to look people in the eye; visit their ‘planet’! This approach will pay dividends and allow you to embody the process. You will put a human face on what the organisation is being asked to do.

And the key ingredient

It’s our old friend trust (insert link to trust me I’m a leader). Trust is the ‘glue’ that holds the organisation together. It is trust that ensures those on the receiving end of the upheaval and the irritation of change engage in the process in a positive and beneficial manner. If the organisation trusts your motives and purpose, the change you are seeking to bring about will happen; you will be followed willingly.


Your mindset will influence the change process and:

choose your words carefully. You will only alienate your audience if you use expressions such as “we need to change mind set here”, or “department X are mentally and emotionally in the wrong place; we need to change that”.
(if you’re going to have a negative moment) choose your audience carefully. If you need a sounding board take the time to find someone you trust, outside the organisation if possible. Can you imagine the impact of George Osborne bemoaning his own austerity measures? Think on…
alongside trust, maintain your loyalty to the team, the organisation and ultimately the mission.
believe in yourself. be proud of your plan and execute it.

And remember…

It’s all about leadership.

“The pessimist complains about the wind.
The optimist expects it to change.
The leader adjusts the sails”

John Maxwell




change, leadership, management

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