How to Improve your Chances of Change Success

Most transformational change in non-crises situations fails. Change born of real crises tends to write its own agenda, the issues here are now to do with tactics and timing rather than the three big questions of change; why, where to, and what; because these have usually been answered for you by external forces. The real test of an organisations change leadership capabilities is not, when we have to, but when we ought to.
When the obvious mandate for change is weak, other forces need to be brought to bear to create that strong mandate. Without it, the rhetoric for change stays as just that, rhetoric; peoples behaviours remain the same and the change targets set begin to slip.

The creation of a mandate for change comes down to leadership. Leaders (at all levels) recognising (before its obvious) that the current ways of working are either sustainable or scaleable. This can be hard to do both conceptually and practically when the current business metrics look solid.

One of the things not often not understood about the timing of change it that performance is usually a lagging indicator of a change/leadership vacuum. The argument made not to change ‘because of the strength of the current numbers’ dangerously misses the point. Waiting until the numbers nosedive before changing will create a performance gap, because any reactive changes will take a while to kick in.

This connects to the second problem. Changing when things have already gone wrong means working from a reduced set of options. Suddenly, change has to be fast(er), and cheap(er), anything else will not resolve the immediate performance gap.

From our own work, the third most common problem why change is postponed is the mysterious disease of ‘change fatigue’. This seems to affect many people, and organisations, although interestingly the more successful the organisation the less it seems susceptible to the symptoms (cynicism, negativity, workload issues, etc.). It’s not change that causes the fatigue, but initiative overload, done superficially and reactively.

When change is clearly connected to strategic objectives, underpinned by extensive supporting/reinforcing mechanisms, owned by the people is affects, aligned with values of the organisation, and implemented before it’s needed, people don’t suffer change fatigue but change excitement.


An organisation’s change capacity is not a function of purely how much change, but mainly a function of the quality of change. When the change processes meets the above criteria the organisations ’capacity’ for chance increases. Change starts to be driven as much bottom up as top down. It becomes the natural order of things like a family with young children. The ‘young child family’ is an interesting analogy. Because children’s changes are inevitable, they can be planned for and coping strategies developed, before they occur. What every (effective) parent has done is cross the threshold of conviction. They believe the changes will happen, so have the motivation develop the appropriate responses. By definition, part of bad parenting is not dealing effectively with the growing up (changing) of their children. The crossing of the threshold of conviction for people in an organisational change context is critical. For that move across the change needs to answer three major questions for each individual affected:

  • Why and why now?
  • Where to, over what time period?
  • What’s in it for me?

It’s obvious when people have crossed this threshold, they don’t need to debate why, or why me, only what next? When they understand the where to, all the focus can move to the how? And when they get what’s in it for me, their emotional investment commits to making it work.

Why Work Life Balance Is Nonsense

The term work life balance has become a proxy for any discussion about getting balance between the amount of time spent at work and on your life. The implication being that if you spend too much time at/on work you don’t have a life. We believe this to be a false dichotomy.

Firstly, for the people it applies to (those in work), to suggest that life happens only outside work is fundamentally wrong. The search for meaning in our work, feeling valued by the people we daily engage with, and making contributions that increases our self-esteem; all are huge factors that affect the quality of our life. It’s work that makes a huge contribution to our identity and place in society, which is why people can be so unhappy in the ‘wrong’ job or no job, and so thrilled with their lot when in the ‘right’ job. It follows that there is no ‘correct amount’ of time, effort or thinking that a job deserves, to be in balance with your life, because any amount is too much in the wrong job and vice-versa.

A functioning, well adjusted, happy and fulfilled human being will never talk about work/life balance issues, because they won’t recognise that fracture separating the two things.
We would suggest from our own work in this area that there is an interesting clue that often points to unhappiness at work, where people are tying to get this ‘better work life balance’ . Such individuals will vigorously, even obsessively, compartmentalise their different worlds. Clock watching, never being available for out of hours work events, not socialising with work colleagues, and never taking work or thinking home, are all techniques to keep work at bay. Notice also how they are time centred as well.

But we’ve seen no evidence that these ‘coping strategies’ makes people happier or more fulfilled in their work, indeed its often such people who dread Sunday evenings, Monday mornings, and the weekly (weakly?) return to the grindstone.

We are not suggesting that work should be the dominating force in people’s lives, or that every job or every employer is fabulous. For too many people earning a living and no more, is all they can focus on. But the answer is not better (separated) work life balance, but a greater awareness of the importance of the effective integration of the different dimensions of our lives. Including; work, family, friends, broader social networks, communities, hobbies and interests.

Charles Handy has written very compellingly about the misunderstandings of work life balance.

Stop Training Your Managers, Start Developing Your Leaders

First things, first, lets define leadership. Leadership is where an organisation motivates its key stakeholders to move to new places. Places that are sometimes exciting, scary, uncomfortable, challenging and different. What all these new places have in common however, is that they require Leadership to make the case, to create the mandate for change and show how the journey can be accomplished.


We have some very straightforward views of Leadership:

  • Leadership is not about seniority. All roles should have leadership expectations embedded within them
  • Leadership can be developed by making the behaviours required to be a leader relevant and correctly scaled for the role being modelled
  • Leadership is about ownership, when people own issues that face them or the organisation, they begin the process of taking part in finding solutions or designing action plans
  • Widespread leadership behaviour reduces management time needed for checking, controlling, expediting, telling and generally coping
  • People love being leaders, although many hated the idea when first put to them.

So where does the 21st century manager fit in?

The traditional preserve of managers is being eaten away far quicker than many organisations and individuals can respond. Where managers used to be employed to control the flow of information both up and down the organisation, the speed and volume of information transfer provided by the internet, your intranet and internal MI systems has obliterated that role.
What about the impact Generation X’ers and Nexters are having? For Generation X’ers the big idea is about personal stuff, work life balance in their favour. Their prime motivation is about self fulfilment. Nexters see their big idea as being about the planet with work being seen as part of an holistic system of connections and integrated behaviours. Their prime motivation is about big themes connecting to work/personal experiences.

Both these sets of people are changing the traditional view and ways of management. They have no appetite to automatically defer to the assumed wisdom and experience of their ‘elders’. Respect needs to be hard earned every single day. Many managers often find themselves bemused, managing people who earn more than them and whose jobs they struggle to understand let alone fulfil. When a person finds themselves in a position like that the instinct is to survive, not create.

The choices are simple, get out of the way or act as an enabler, not the fat controller. What people look for from ‘managers’ now is Leadership in the face of ambiguity, direction and the real ability to create a culture of coaching and innovation. Sadly that’s not what the majority of ‘management training’ offerings bring to the party.

How can we develop the 21st Century Manager?

The response from training and development departments to this question is often to offer a solid management development programme covering the ‘essentials’ of motivation theory, time management, negotiation and delegation, supported by a day on leadership skills. It’s worked before, and it’s easy to specify and buy.

However, too many managers have been through the management training treadmill just one time too many – happy to partake in ‘the cave rescue exercise’ again, safe in the knowledge that there will be a mid morning break where they can catch up on some ‘real work’ before rejoining each session a little late. Worse still they may simply be focussed on finding time to enjoy a little golf or the spa at the training venue. That doesn’t deliver value to their organisations, it doesn’t inspire or motivate them and it is all quickly forgotten back in the workplace when the reality of relentlessness bites.

Standard management development courses may give managers time away to reflect, but leave the organisation with little more than the invoices and ‘happy sheets’. Nothing changes because nothing was expected to change and nobody really minds anyway.

We can help you to get more out of your people through developing a real leadership cadre, which may take less out of your management training budget than you might think! The method by which we unlock this leadership potential is through 4SLeadership™.

By utilising 4SLeadership you can help develop the leadership potential within your business.


From This:

  • We have some who are great people managers, some who really deliver results, but few who do both
  • Our people are great in the day to day but don’t seem capable of communicating and contributing to our vision
  • Our management development consists simply of a suite of training programmes
  • Our organisation lacks creativity
  • We’re great at finding solutions to problems but not so great at minimising the risk before it occurs

To This:

  • Recognising the real leadership potential within your organisation and being able to build on it
  • Creating a vocabulary of leadership
  • Recognising and nurturing the leadership behaviours which your organisation needs now and in the future
  • Creating a level of ownership and commitment across all levels of your business
  • Reducing the demand on managers to be continually checking, controlling, expediting, telling and generally coping.

To look at what you need from your leadership population in the future, and to design your development a different way talk to us .

Time Management – Not That Old Chestnut!

If all the training requests that come in to learning and development departments following appraisal rounds were voting slips then it’s pretty easy to guess where the landslide would fall – Time Management.
People in organisations across the UK struggle to manage their time, and they feel that their employers should do more to help them address the need. Many even view a Time Management course as a good way to pick up a nice new diary system on the company budget. Yet when a series of courses are laid on to meet the expressed need the drop out rate is huge.

It’s an unfortunate truism that people who most need to learn more about time management cancel time management courses at short notice because they just don’t have the time to attend.

A customer joked with us recently that he’d love to run an assertiveness programme for many of his employees, but the people who needed the input just weren’t assertive enough to put their names forward for the course. Other employees in other organisations are using aggressive and bullying behaviour to get what they want. Meanwhile their HR teams are dealing with increasing stress related absences, harassment and constructive dismissal claims from employees who have suffered as a result of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. These employees wouldn’t dream of attending an assertiveness skills workshop as they see such programmes as being for ‘wimps’, and may even find that their managers reinforce that view. However, their learning need is just as great.

Blushing Learners Do Better With E

Senior or expert employees are often reluctant to publicly admit their need for skills input in areas where they feel they ‘should’ know everything already. Having reached a responsible management position on merit, it can be tough for high-ranking employees to admit that they don’t have the basic management knowledge and skills that a recent Management Studies graduate working in an entry-level position takes for granted.
Often organisations lose out as their senior team don’t coach employees, or have difficulty delegating or managing effective appraisal interviews. The assumption is often that senior managers don’t want to carry out these management tasks as they see them as a distraction or waste of time. Managers are also accused of not wanting to develop their teams in order to protect their own position.

The immediate response of the managers tends to be that they don’t have time. Admitting to not having time is acceptable, even approved in the workplace, like being rubbish at maths, but people will rarely admit that that they simply don’t know how to manage people.Those that do recognise their own development needs often do not want to attend workshops with more junior colleagues for fear of appearing weak or foolish. Training & Learning Managers know this and often the acceptable option is to sign up a senior employee for a Masters or Executive Development programme at a top business school.

Whilst this can provide useful contacts, networking opportunities and cutting edge theory it doesn’t address the input of fundamental people management skills. This can further erode a manager’s confidence as s/he assumes that the problem lies with their inherent and unfixable lack of people management skills rather than an easily addressed skills development need. E-learning allows all mangers at all hierarchical and experience levels to experiment with new knowledge and skills, discreetly discovering the fundamental management knowledge they lack without being placed in an embarrassing position. The material is pitched to address the development needs of all managers.
Interestingly we have found that whilst senior managers initially expect to be able to whiz through e-learning material skim reading and missing out sections, they tend to fare less well than others when it comes to assessment. Quickly, however, we see learning times increasing along with test results.

Who’s Coaching Who?

Coaching remains high on many training departments’ agendas, but it’s not always seen as such a priority by individuals in the workplace. Too often employees complain of finding themselves too busy to spend time reviewing and developing their progress, while others struggle to find people within the organisation who have the skill and the will to work with them in a coaching relationship.


Yet many of the most successful people within organisations are not only benefiting by coaching direct reports and peers but are also accelerating their own careers and improving their personal effectiveness by working with coaches of their own.

Who needs a coach?

The successful 21st Century manager doesn’t simply view coaching as a task they need to perform with their employees, but as a way of life within the team, and as a valuable resource for themselves, offering a chance to discuss key issues and work on specific areas of development.

In some organisations, where personal power is valued above learning and improved performance, coaching may still be viewed as a remedial measure, not suitable for employees who are currently performing well, yet that image is changing fast as the correlation between coach utilisation and sustained high performance balanced with career satisfaction is recognised.

However if:

  • your line manager doesn’t subscribe to a coaching style of management
  • your manager is based in another location and difficult to connect with
  • the buck stops with you and you have no manager
  • there’s simply no one within your organisation that can fulfil a coaching role for you

then it’s not only tough for you to build your performance, but also difficult for you to improve your capability as a coach.


Who’s coaching who?

Increasingly organisations are recognising the performance, satisfaction, development and retention benefits that can be gained by offering access to external coaching resource to key employees and those identified as high potential employees of the future.

Coaches from outside the organisation can provide employees with a fresh perspective, and new insights based on their experiences elsewhere. This can be invaluable for individuals who have ‘grown up’ within the business, and are now in a very different role from their starting point, as they can focus on current development rather than past record and received wisdom about the individual’s strengths and weaknesses. External coaches can also work with individuals on a more open basis, allowing discussion and resolution of issues which may be politically difficult to address within a line relationship.

Who’s right for who?

Different people need different types of coach, one person may find they connect well with a coach and recommend them to a colleague, only to find that the colleague gains nothing from a meeting. A coach that works well with an individual on early career issues may not be the right match later on when the individual is at a senior executive level.

There’s no magic cookie cutter that will create the perfect coach for all ‘coachees’. Clear agreement about the objectives for a coaching relationship, the timeframes, and the individual’s learning style makes for a good start in selecting the right coach.