Adapted from Change Leadership: Developing a Change Adept Organisation by Martin Orridge, 2009, Gower Publishing, Farnham.

Martin Orridge’s  great little book on Change Leadership is a wonderful guide to the behavioural skills associated with changing and transforming a business. These 75 short, simple techniques for sustaining change should include plenty for you to pick and choose from for your own organisation.

1. Minimise surprises

If our managers are continually surprising us we will become increasingly uncertain and uneasy. We spend considerable time and effort involving ourselves with the latest rumour rather than being productive and continual uncertainty may lead us to seek alternative employment.

To help prepare for the unexpected, the leadership team can undertake a series of scenario planning exercises that cover a range of shock situations. In this way, there are plans in place to manage surprise. However, although planning is an important element, a robust internal communication process is critical to managing these situations successfully.

Of course, there will be times when the organisations cannot avoid shocks or surprises. By having a robust communication process coupled with positive direction from the leadership team and well-rehearsed responses, the change-sustaining organisation is able to manage these surprises and minimise the impact on staff feelings and performance.

2. Empower and encourage staff

An underlying culture of encouragement and empowerment helps us to feel valued, supported and to also have a high degree of control/discretion over our daily activities. We will have positive feelings if we understand the plan, where we fit into it, the scope and boundaries to our role and how we will be supported.

This allows frontline staff to respond to changing situations without constantly seeking advice from the centre. This enables the leadership team to concentrate on the overall strategy and not be distracted by disturbances at the fringes.

3. Respect staff professionalism

This is an extension of empowerment. We feel good about the organisation if we believe that the skill, knowledge and experience we bring to bear in our role, that is our professionalism, is respected by our managers and leaders.

The leadership team needs to convey this continually, in their words and actions to ensure that people’s skill, knowledge and experience are developed and rewarded.

4. Create openness

This too is a cultural aspect. Do people in your organisation speak their mind or are the messages they communicate coded or diluted in the hope they are more palatable to the recipient. Are we doing it for them or for ourselves? It is usually the latter. Introducing a spirit of openness starts at the top of the organisation.

How the leaders are seen to behave will have a profound influence on communication throughout the organisation. Open communication requires high levels of trust that, once established, provide powerful support to our feelings towards the organisation and its leadership.

5. Avoid creating losers

When continual change becomes the norm, then how the organisation treats those people that are unwilling/unable to change or are no longer required, will have a profound influence on those who remain. Avoid creating individuals or groups who can be perceived as an underclass, as people will fear that they may end up in that category. Fear, particularly the fear of failure, is a very powerful resistor.

6. Treat those who are leaving honourably

Every effort must be made and be seen to be made both to convince, help and support the unwilling and unable categories. If, at the end of the day, staff are required to leave, for whatever reason, they must be allowed to do so honourably.

The change-sustaining organisation will have change policies and procedures that address staff support and how people may exit the organisation with dignity

7. Check you are ready

Before any explorer embarks on an expedition they will ensure they have appropriate resources available both for the journey and for coping with the unexpected.

Develop methods/techniques to assess that the organisation is ready for change. An extension of the annual attitude survey can provide some general information, but why not take a leaf from the military and conduct some exercises to show how parts of the organisation respond. For example, we do not allow a new submarine to go off on patrol until its systems, crew and leaders have been tried and tested. Develop your own assessment methods to ensure your organisation is ready to cast off.

8. Start filling the gaps

If you are assessing your readiness then you must have in place the strategies and processes for filling any skill, knowledge and experience gaps you have identified. Do not wait until a problem is encountered, develop the process and test it.

9. Prime change with external resources

Organisational inertia can mean that change often needs a kick-start to get things moving. You may require new and additional skills or extra bodies to help spread the message and/or support some sections of the organisation to get rolling. These skills are rarely cheap and if they appear to be so, critically examine just what you are receiving for your money. A clear and tight contract is key, or it can become expensive in the longer term. A builder I knew won a great deal of profitable work by bidding the lowest price and then encouraging the client to require extras (many of which were contained in his competitors’ price) that were extremely expensive.

10. But do not become dependent

That same builder was expert at remaining at his clients’ properties for weeks or months after the original piece of work had been completed. He would constantly find other things that needed attention and offer to fix them. Soon he would be tackling jobs that the householder would normally undertake and be well paid for it.

In the organisational context, use external resources to support the change, but always see them as a temporary expedient. Avoid scope creep and ensure you have a clear contract.

11. Insist on skill and knowledge transfer

You should avoid becoming dependent on these external resources, particularly if they are providing expert knowledge. At the start of this book, it was suggested that change was the only constant and the successful organisations need to be continually changing. Having the skills for continual transformation is a necessary core competence that in the long-term should not be outsourced to a third party.

Make it a contractual condition on external resource providers that a key element of their assignment is the transfer of their skill and knowledge to your organisation. In this way, you will be learning to do it for yourself and the skills acquired may be of benefit beyond the original change project. However, this does not necessarily mean that you would use these types of resource only once. If consultants are really good at their job they will be finding new and better ways of doing things and you will wish to employ on future projects. Never pay for the same experience twice, always seek more value.

12. Develop an in-house change capability

It is futile to insist on skill and knowledge transfer, unless you have a mechanism for accepting the transfer. This in turn requires the development of an in-house change capability. Developing such a capability requires attention to both the people and process aspects. The first stage is to select a person or persons who themselves have good consultancy skills and are both inquisitive and enthusiastic about new things. You then need to give them some space and time to work out how best they can learn, capture and then retain knowledge for the organisation’s future use. Software tools may be introduced to assist with this activity, as may the rotation of staff through a change unit or some such organisational entity. The style and structure will need to be in line with what the organisation is trying to be, not what it currently is.

13. Get smarter each time you change

Getting smarter is all about doing things quicker and easier. It involves the application of the learning and knowledge that has been acquired during a change process.

When embarking on a major change programme spend some time reviewing the early phases so that the experience, knowledge and capabilities that have been acquired at the start can be deployed smartly during the later phases.

14. Learn from your customers

Make sure that whatever you offer to your customers gets better every time they use it. Achieve this by building a feedback loop into your offer so that it automatically teaches you to do things better next time. If you are continually learning from your customers then you will be continuously changing rather than playing an annual game of catch up.

15. Develop your people

People development must be a key constituent of any change strategy as simply learning during the change will be insufficient to ensure its success.

People development is the proactive leadership element of a continuous learning philosophy. Spend time exploring and understanding what the new world will be like and the necessary skills that are needed to succeed. Produce an organisation-wide learning plan that demonstrates how those affected will acquire the skills they require for the future.

16. Develop tools

Some time ago I saw a list of the relative efficiency of different species in expending energy when getting from A to B. The condor was found to be the most efficient, with humans well down the list. However, if you put a human on a bicycle, they then become twice as efficient as the condor. Developing tools to assist us achieve our goal has been a feature of human beings for approaching two million years.

When embarking on a change programme start by investigating what tools can be developed to increase the efficiency of people going through the change. It may be tools to help them with their new tasks or it may be events that will help them cope with the change.

17. Adopt a continuous learning philosophy

Adopting a continuous learning philosophy makes it easier to get smarter no matter what the organisation is doing.

Having successfully instituted some learning processes at the start of the change programme so you can become smarter; expand the concept to all aspects of organisation. The small learning steps you achieved in getting smarter will assist in selling the concept and developing the philosophy and processes throughout the organisation. Treat learning as a project within the overall change programme.

18. Prize your intellectual assets

Think of your intellectual assets as the organisation’s crown jewels and treat them in a similar way.

Using the crown jewel metaphor, the organisation must develop processes and procedures to add continually to the collection and protect them from theft and decay. Most importantly make them available for all to see and highlight their importance in the organisation’s rituals and celebrations.

19. Treat change as an opportunity

One of the quickest ways through the denial phase is to look actively for the opportunities that change has presented, rather than what is going to be lost. Develop your creative and innovative skills to explore and exploit the new situation that has been presented to you.

20. Organise and fund the business to respond quickly

Review your current structure, systems and processes and investigate how they can be reconfigured for greater flexibility and responsiveness. Start by developing analogies based on, for example, how nature or the military organises for and responds to unexpected situations. Invest in developing systems that can support change – make it part of the selection criteria.

21. Have systems and procedures to manage risks

To paraphrase Machiavelli – There is nothing so uncertain or risky as undertaking organisational change. When we embark upon a change our strategy will have been based on any number of assumptions. These must be captured, documented, assessed for impact and likelihood, and plans put in place to manage those that are likely to affect the desired outcome.

22. Make speed of management action key

Foster speed and directness of management action. Develop systems and processes to provide information to the organisation’s managers quickly and develop these managers to make incisive decisions based on imperfect information. Beware of punishing mistakes and encourage them to learn from the experience.

23. Help your customers to get smarter

Use your product/service offering to help your customers learn more about your organisation and getting the best from it. The smarter they are the easier it becomes to engage with them to change/develop the offer. This is particularly true as many products now also contain service elements. How can your smart customer help you introduce the desired change most effectively?

24. Help your suppliers to get smarter

Encourage your customers to adopt idea 23 with their customers too. You want any changes they make to be to your advantage.

25. Find partners

Undertaking major change, particularly when it is industry-wide is very risky. In the aircraft industry, European manufacturers formed a consortium, Airbus Industries, to design and build aircraft to rival the US manufacturers. It is unlikely that any of the consortium members had the financial strength to undertake such a project alone and, even if they had, their potential customers would perceive it as a high-risk undertaking and be less inclined to purchase such an aircraft, no matter how good. When there is significant environmental change check to see if there are suppliers, customers or competitors with whom you might partner. It can produce a lot more opportunities at a lot less risk to the individuals.

26. Continually remove the fences and fill ditches

The three key words when undertaking change are Preparation, Preparation and Preparation! Every organisation has (some) barriers to change. They may even be the last series of successful changes. Work continually to identify the barriers and prepare the ground in advance of launching the programme. The fences and ditches can rapidly slow progress and nothing demoralises the organisation quicker than when it becomes bogged down early on in the change.

27. Be big and small

What is the right size for your organisation? You need to be small enough to respond nimbly to change, yet big enough to behave as a global player. If you are a large corporation then you will need to disaggregate yourself into smaller work units and, if you are a small organisation, you will need to link yourself to others to demonstrate strength and depth. Being electronically connected is the key, so you can appear and behave as both big and small simultaneously.

28. Learn to adapt continually

Continual adaptation requires you be in tune with your environment. Let the external market signals determine how you should be organised rather than management dictate. Leadership, having set the course, should not keep a dead hand on the tiller, particularly if a powerful headwind has sprung up, but rather allow the organisation to track as appropriate.

29. Regularly review the strategic management process

The key management process of translating the vision to action should be one of the most stimulating and purposeful activities in which the leadership team are involved.

Regularly check your process to assess how well it serves to:

  • Build a realistic vision of the future.
  • Commit senior management to action plans to achieve the vision.
  • Identify customer and technological opportunities on a continuous basis.
  • Develop the leadership team and key support members of the organisation.
  • Provide a sense of direction and framework to evaluate product/service strategies.
  • Adapt the organisation to changes in the market.
  • Create a common sense of purpose to drive the organisation forward.
  • Develop the necessary corporate culture.

30. Be ambitious, audacious and strategic

People who make a real difference are usually driven. They will have a personal agenda be it fame, fortune or a combination of the two. But, personal ambition to succeed is not enough; you also need to be audacious and courageous in the way you lead. Books, the internet and other media provide many insights into what drove great leaders, be they politicians, religious, military or business leaders. Only appoint a change leader who sees it as an opportunity to develop and progress themselves as well as the organisation. Transformation success also requires a strong strategic focus with any transformation closely linked to a robust business strategy.

31. Articulate the vision and have a consistent message

Moses, the first recorded change leader, was not good with words. He recognised that if he were to convince the Israelites to leave Egypt then he needed to enlist the help of Aaron to manage the communications and public relations aspects of the change.

As a change leader, you may need to articulate the vision in a number of languages for the different levels and sections of the organisation. It must be a consistent message, but presented in such a way that it is meaningful to the recipient. If so-called one-size T-shirts rarely fit anybody well, why expect one change message to suit all?

32. Enlist support from the senior team

Change leaders cannot do everything themselves, or burn-out will occur before the programme is halfway complete. The senior team must actively support both the leader and the programme. And support means exactly what it says, take some of the load. If they are seen to be actively involved then it is more likely that the rest of the organisation will follow.

If senior team members feel unable to support the initiative, the leader has the three “R” options, to Resign, to Rethink or to Relieve appropriate senior team members of their duties – avoiding creating martyrs.

33. Develop a real sense of urgency and mission

Having examined the market and competitive realities, identify the crisis/opportunity and discuss it openly throughout the organisation. Give people a chance to grasp the reality of the situation and then provide a clear way forward that addresses these issues.

34. Allow people time

We need time to become accustomed to change. How long it takes will depend on the severity of the change, the activities undertaken to support staff going through it, as well as individual personal circumstances.

Introduce activities that help people to celebrate the past and look forward to the future. Always remember that senior members of the organisation probably knew about the change sometime before the rank and file, so they are likely to be in advance of them. If they feel any frustration because the organisation is lagging they should avoid showing it, but instead, find new and creative ways to help everybody else move forward.

35. But not too much time

This may appear to be a contradiction to item 34, but waiting for the rest of the organisation to get moving may be a form of creative avoidance. You need to change your thinking about time by aiming to reduce the time it takes to do something by a third each time you repeat the exercise. If your last major organisational change took 18 months to implement, plan to do it in 12 months next time and eight months the time after that. You will need to be both creative and innovative in your approach and probably employ a fair amount of technology to provide both support and flexibility. But, given that today’s organisation has to constantly change within three years, you’ll be able to introduce a major change within three months.

36. Select tough but achievable goals

Easy goals will not bring about sustainable change, as they will not be perceived by the organisation as likely to make a difference and people will not bother. Impossible goals (or those that are perceived as impossible) will result in people not trying or rapidly becoming demoralised and giving up. A smart leader will set a series of goals that get tougher along the way. In this way, their people will be stretched and developed in exactly the same way that athletes might develop themselves when they set out to break a record.

Athletics provides some wonderful metaphors around change. Spend a few moments thinking about the similarities and differences between developing an athlete and changing an organisation.

37. Establish a fully inclusive communications programme

Use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies. Include all levels in the organisation and provide them with the opportunity to feed back their thoughts and ideas. Introduce processes and procedures that will facilitate an ongoing change dialogue with the whole organisation.

38. Clearly establish project sponsor and management roles

There are likely to be a number of discrete projects that make up a change programme. Each project should have a sponsor and project manager, the former will be a senior executive who initiates it and is accountable for its outcome, with the latter being responsible for achieving the project’s objectives and leading the project team. Time should be taken to ensure there is clarity of both purpose and responsibilities.

39. Create a change programme champion

Change champions must come from the highest levels of the organisation. The champion should head a coalition of senior executives, encouraging them to work together as a team and providing a clear figurehead for the rest of the organisation to rally round.

40. Continually demonstrate the leadership’s commitment

It often does not take long for a change initiative’s momentum to slow. One metaphor I like to use is that the change leadership team has to operate like jugglers who have to keep a large number of plates spinning on the tops of bamboo canes. Demonstrating their continual commitment is the equivalent of the juggler giving the canes a twist. Failure to do so will result in projects, like the metaphorical plates, coming crashing down.

41. Ensure the leaders are regularly out in the organisation

See and be seen is the watchword. Leaders who are regularly out in the organisation soon get a sense for what is really happening. They have a feel for things before the monthly figures hit their desk – these should just provide confirmation to the leaders’ intuition. Being seen is also reassuring for the rest of the organisation, management are not perceived as remote and leadership is interested in their everyday activities. Such an approach will also facilitate the organisation’s all important change dialogue.

42. Grow and develop leaders throughout the organisation

Successful organisations that have survived over the long-term, for example, IBM, not only work at understanding their current and future competency requirements but also trawl their staff to identify future senior managers and executives who are then developed and coached appropriately.

43. Lead your customers

Do not just tell your key customers about your change programme, get them actively involved in its realisation. Lead joint workshops/activities aimed at helping them understand your goals and how you can assist each other in the future.

44. Lead your suppliers

Do the same for your key suppliers.

45. Lead your shareholders

Not forgetting the shareholders. You do not want them to become nervous halfway through your programme. Engage them early and keep them informed every step of the way ensuring that your counter-rumour processes and procedures are always ready for action.

46. Avoid maturity

Initiate change before the “S” curve flattens. You often need extra funds to drive change, something that slow growth rates and diminishing margins are unlikely to provide.

47. Always look for new opportunities

The previous item indicates that smart organisations will tend to exit more quickly from declining markets. However, you need to know in which direction to move or it could be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire. Armed with a vision of your long-term future you can scan the emerging trends continuously to identify the business opportunities for you to exploit with early market entry. How the organisation responds to new opportunities is a good measure of how effective it is at managing change.

48. Make your requirements of everybody explicit

Anything that is not explicit will be more open to misinterpretation. The greater the degree of interpretation the less likelihood of achieving a sustainable change programme.

49. Communicate with the organisation continuously

Appoint a senior member of the leadership team to be accountable for successful communications. Use all media to conduct your continuing dialogue. Even when there is nothing new, reassure everybody there is nothing new to report. Actively listen to observations and comments from both within and without the organisation.

50. Consider how to employ emerging technologies

Invest in time to research new technologies from both a tactical and strategic standpoint across all dimensions of the business: examples of this include distribution technology, learning technology, promotion technology and so on, not forgetting information technology. Develop a technology audit framework so you can identify where you lead or lag, together with the associated outcomes.

51. Ensure change is seen as essential

Chapter 1 of this book indicated how humans deny or ignore that change is needed or is occurring.

To get the organisation to move along your chosen path, you must clearly demonstrate the advantages of the end-state. But in some instances …

52. A little pain can help

You may remember the Bible story of how both the Egyptians and Israelites needed to experience a number of plagues before either would act. Some chief executives have been known to engineer a crisis to bring the need for change into sharp focus.

53. Use your best people

Using your best people demonstrates to the rest of the organisation that this project is very important. This one act can create a change positive environment and encourage others to be up for it.

54. Reward all staff for embracing change

Reward staff as they adopt the changes. The reward need not be financial – although it can help; it may be a visit from the president, chairman or CEO, a mention in the company newsletter or a coffee mug and desktop trivia that celebrates the new.

55. Be especially sure to reward the trailblazers

Trailblazing and being an early adopter of a change can be very risky for those individuals concerned as they risk the alienation of their peers. Providing some reward for their behaviour can work as both a thank you to those who have progressed and an encouragement for those yet to make the transition.

56. Divide a major change into manageable steps

Question: “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One slice at a time.” The act of slicing up your complex change project will help people to understand how do-able it is. The unskilled change leader will describe complexity in terms of barriers to success. The skilled change leader will simplify complexity, emphasising how manageable the change is.

57. Assess the benefits before starting

The vision must be grounded in quantifiable benefits before the journey commences. In this way, cost/benefit milestones may be set to enable good management every step of the way. Throughout the change “What gets measured, gets done” must be the key maxim, and understanding and quantifying the benefits will help ensure appropriate metrics are in place.

58. Identify allies

Identifying allies for implementing the critical early phases of the programme will often be crucial to overall success. Not only will they help ensure the initial projects succeed, but they will also be advocates for moving the programme onto its subsequent phases.

59. Test to find the most promising propositions

The environment within which you are running your change programme will also be in a state of flux and the original plan can very quickly become sub-optimal. Throughout the life of the programme, it will be necessary to conduct ongoing research, so you can modify the implementation to enable you continually to select the lowest risk and highest return options.

60. Clearly define roles and responsibilities

Be RACI when planning. For each programme or project activity define:

  • Who is Responsible for undertaking the work;
  • Who is Accountable for its outcome;
  • Who needs to be Consulted or provide support; and
  • Who should be kept Informed.

61. Start with a small step

Do not be over ambitious when launching the programme. Start with a manageable step and learn as much as you can from it before taking the next one. Each subsequent step should increasingly stretch the organisation, with success becoming the natural order of things.

62. Load early projects for success

Take a leaf from the military tactician’s book. Ensure you have massively superior resources at your command when you initiate the break-out from the current situation.

If necessary, supplement your resources with external support – subject to the usual caveat of learning from them. To ensure there is sufficient leverage you may have to reduce resources elsewhere within the organisation to a minimum. Only after you have established a bridgehead and achieved a good momentum behind the programme can these additional resources be redeployed.

63. Use the early adopters

Wherever possible use the early adopters as ambassadors for change. Living examples of success are worth a thousand reports of success.

64. Slay sacred cows

Sacred cows make great steaks. All plans should include the identification and culling of these beasts! No business process should be sacrosanct.

65. Plan to learn from mistakes

It is extremely rare for a complex change programme to go according to plan. You need to acknowledge that mistakes will be made and design for appropriate allowances in your plans. However, it is unacceptable for the same mistake to be made continually. Create a register to capture errors/issues and introduce a process so they are reviewed and the learning both captured and appropriately disseminated to minimise the likelihood of a further occurrence.

66. Check benefits were achieved

At the end of the programme, review what benefits have been achieved and how they compare to the ones stated at the programme launch, investigating and learning from the variances. But do not wait until the end of the programme. Set and review regular milestones to track the likelihood of benefit achievement.

67. Check goal validity with key stakeholders

The key stakeholders for every phase/project of the programme will have been identified during the preliminary planning stage. Check the goals before commencing detailed planning and again at the start of each implementation project. Keep them informed during their project’s life and review achievement following its completion. Their involvement can ensure you have useful allies during a project and powerful advocates in support of subsequent phases of the programme.

68. Always involve the affected group

Provide some latitude for modification in the implementation, so that the affected group can contribute to its final design and make it their plan rather than your plan. At the end of the change you want them to say, “We did this” not “This was done to us”.

69. Use a cross-functional approach

Creating a cross-function project team will have a number of significant benefits, with the increased likelihood of:

  • A wider set of skills.
  • Different experiences and approaches.
  • Challenging current perceived best practice.
  • Learning from each other.
  • A positive approach, if one or more of the team are from areas that have already had a successful implementation.

 70. Seconding key people

The action of seconding key people to projects clearly demonstrates that you believe this programme is important. They are also likely to inspire their team and the affected group.

71. Involve the support functions

Involve the organisation’s support functions such as Human Resources and Information Technology right from the start. They may bring a different perspective to the proposed transition and are certainly needed for their knowledge of personnel law, training and competence development nor would you wish your transition to founder on the rocks of inappropriate or incompatible technologies.

72. Establish change teams to drive the project activities

Establish change teams that report into the leadership team. These teams, typically led by the transition programme director (a senior leadership team member) will be empowered to deliver the programme through their individual projects. Empowerment requires them to be provided with their project goals and boundaries allowing them the scope to plan and implement in the most appropriate manner.

73. Have a rapid and consistent mechanism for cascading goals

Ensure there is a process, such as Balanced Scorecard, in place that helps you to convert corporate goals to division goals and so on down to individual goals. When people understand what is in it for them and how they fit in, then you have a higher probability that everybody will start pulling in the same direction.

74. And include a feedback mechanism

Cascade provides a powerful metaphor for rapid unidirectional process – like a succession of waterfalls. Whilst cascade velocity is important it is also necessary to rapidly feed back any issues and concerns about the goals. Often this is due to a lack of goal clarity and misunderstanding, but it can be that some goals have become mutually inconsistent during the process and these will require rapid resolution.

75. Devolve as much as possible

It is all too easy for change leaders to take everything upon themselves, this might work in the short-term, but in the longer term the leader and their programme are likely to run out of steam. Leaders should devolve as much of the implementation as possible. In this way, they are able to concentrate on the overall transition strategy, provide highly visible leadership and focus all of their energy on resolving critical issues that may kill the transition. Devolving also requires the involvement of others and the more people who have actively involved in the transformation process the greater the chance of its success.

You can read the complete text of Martin Orridge’s Change Leadership: Developing a Change Adept Organisation as well as sharing your own techniques, advice and experience around business transformation at www.gpmfirst.com.