Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson

By Graham Wilson

Jack Welsh is famous for saying, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” He is so true and in today’s world where competition, challenges and opportunities are coming from all directions it makes sense to create an organisation that is change ready and agile. We need to develop ‘Secret Agents of Change’ everywhere in our organisations!

A few years ago I was working with a retail organisation that needed to change its customer proposition to achieve its vision. This required them to reformat all of their 358 stores. When they first started doing this it was taking over 12 weeks per store and cost between £2m to £6M per store. When you do the maths it was potentially a really expensive exercise, particularly when you add in the disruption to sales. It was a situation that needed to be changed and quickly. Thankfully with plenty of open minds, a thirst to do things better and by implementing one formula to guide thinking, we managed to get this down to less than 6 weeks and circa £500k per store. The main factor in this was how they engaged employees and gained buy in when implementing change. In this article I’d like to share with you that formula for success.

In Leadership Laid Bare! The naked truth of great leadership, I talk about the role of leadership is to create a high performance environment where success is inevitable and that the purpose of leadership is to awaken possibility in people to deliver extraordinary results. The question is how do we do this as leaders when it is so ‘foggy’ and uncertain?

One of the challenges we have to overcome is the mindset that we develop from our early schooling. We are taught that teamwork is cheating and kills collaboration. The fact that subjects were taught in different classrooms by different teachers promotes a mentality of silos. The fact that the teacher was always right generating a whole host of leaders who think they only have the answers… and the list goes on!

To overcome this one of the best ways to promote agility and change capability in our organisations is to educate in order to change mind-sets. For me leadership and particularly leading people through change is all about energy. We need to increase energy to enable people to change. Let me explain.

Have you ever been lying in bed in the morning and the alarm clock goes off and you are having that near death experience and need 10 more minutes in bed? 10 minutes comes and you say to yourself just another 10 and then all of a sudden you get enough energy to swing your legs out of bed. What changed? It wasn’t until you realised you were going to be late if you don’t get up now that gave you enough energy to move. The same goes for leading change in our organisations. If we don’t create enough dissatisfaction with current reality then there will be plenty of apathy towards the change you require.

I remember years ago seeing an amazing house for sale and saying to myself, “I must have this.” It made me feel so fantastic the thought of living there; it was absolutely perfect for my needs at the time. I worked really hard and eventually had enough money to afford it. Have you ever been drawn to something because you can imagine how fantastic it would be living or working there? Perhaps a leader who could communicate in a way that described the future in such a compelling way that the hairs on the back your neck stood up.

The art of leading change and creating energy in people to change is to ensure you plan in activities that will create dissatisfaction with current reality and a compelling vision of the future. We are hard wired to move away from danger and toward reward. As a secret agent of change we need to tap into these fundamental human drivers. But that is not enough!

Ever been in a situation when you know you need to change but you don’t know how! Not a great place to be. We also need to make sure people feel safe by building in a communication process that shares the easily recognisable steps to make the change happen. We need to make sure people know what is expected of them. They need to see the journey, or at least the first steps!

I get asked to go into many organisations that are struggling with change and when I walk around and talk to people I often get a real sense of fear, resistance and frustration. Having the awareness and desire for change and an understanding of plan is still not enough to make change happen efficiently. To really make change happen we need all these elements plus we also need to build in the capability to change. We need to ensure people have the knowledge, ability and space to change. Giving people the time to change is vital. Why would you keep people KPI’d up to the neck when going through massive change? It just doesn’t work like that. How many people do you know in business who aren’t very busy at the moment and have loads of time to make change happen? We need to build the physical and mental space for change to happen.

So what is the formula for change success?

DR x IV x ERS x CAP = Real Change


DR = Dissatisfaction with current reality (Awareness for change)

IV = Inclusive Vision (Desire to change)

ERS = Easily Recognisable Steps (The how to plan and what this means to me)

CAP = Capability (The skills, knowledge and space to change)

If any of these elements are missing I have found that change doesn’t really happen. No dissatisfaction then you get apathy, no vision and you get a fast start that fizzles out, no plan and you get chaos and with no capability you get fear, anxiety and frustration.

Drivers for Change

Drivers for Change

So is a formula enough?

I have certainly found that teaching the formula to change agents has got them thinking about all the activities they should add when creating their change plan. However, there is one more fundamental that I’d like to share with you to ensure greater succe, and that is sequencing. This is like your turbo charger for success!

The question I always ask leaders when embarking on change is, “How are you going to get the business to really want the change you are proposing before you start implementing it?” So many organisations get this wrong.

Senior leaders, consultants or a working party create a master plan for change and the first time people in the business hear about it is when they are sent on a training course to learn how to use the new processes, systems or ways of working. The problem with surprising people is that their thinking part of their brain switches off and they become far more emotional, this is called change resistance! Many organisations see change management as managing resistance. I’d like to share a different approach.

We ran a change programme with an IT organisation which started with a Sales Development Journey. As a company they sold software and had a very sales and bonus oriented culture. The challenge they had was the need to upgrade their technology to get the business to the next level. The real change issue was that sales people don’t like it when you start messing with their ability to sell and earn. We could have gone down the traditional route of just building the technology solution in isolation and then just telling them by sending them on new system training, but that would have failed. What we did is train the sales teams by setting them up as journey teams and sending them out to see what the best in the world did. They explored leadership behaviours, sales process and importantly technology. Each team then had to compare what they did and had and make recommendations to the board for change. Not surprisingly each team came back with a request to improve the technology. Now we could start to the IT project! Through education and comparing to others we had built the dissatisfaction with current reality and an inclusive and inspirational vision. They accepted the change plan with open arms and it was their plan!

If there is anything that sums up Worldclass change engagement it is that inclusion = commitment.

We need to build change plans so that you do the ‘awareness and desire’ building up front so people aren’t surprised and actually want the change. We need to change the way people think early on. That way they actually want and embrace the change.

So with your change plan what are you doing to ensure that dissatisfaction with current reality exists, that an inclusive and inspirational vision is understood by all, you develop and communicate the easily recognisable steps and that you ensure the capability is in place for change to happen?

Every success, Graham