Helping People Through Change


A few days ago I attended a meeting of fellow members of the International Coach Federation in Canberra and got into discussion with a colleague about challenges she was facing in supporting people through organisational change.  She was expressing surprise at how difficult it was to get people to let go and move forward to new organisational arrangements.  As she described the difficulty with some agitation she suddenly stopped and said “None of this seems to surprise you!?”.

My friend was right of course I was not at all surprised at what she was experiencing.  The conversation reminded me that although my working life involved managing significant change time and again others still are confronting the management of major change for the first time.

As a follow on to our conversation I shared some thoughts and tools that my friend could explore pending a further conversation between us.  What I suggested as preliminary reading research was, in my mind well known, but it was new to my colleague and so I thought it worthwhile sharing here, for any visitors, to this blog, who might be dealing with change for the first time.

I pointed my colleague to ‘The Eight Step Process of Successful Change’ developed by John P Kotter and articulated in his book ‘Leading Change’.  Kotter is the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership Emeritus at Harvard Business School and he is widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on leadership and change.  Kotter has articulated the eight steps of successful change as:

Firstly Set the Stage in two steps:

  • Create a Sense of Urgency
  • Pull Together the Guiding Team

The next step is to Decide What to Do

  • Develop the Change Vision and Strategy

Then Make it Happen in four steps:

  • Communicate for Understanding and Buy In
  • Empower Others to Act
  • Produce Short Term Wins
  • Don’t Let Up

Finally, Make it Stick:

  • Create a New Culture

You can explore these further by reading Kotter’s ‘Leading Change’ or in his excellent little fable ‘Our Iceberg is Melting’ (published by Harvard Business Press and MacMillan respectively).

I did suggest to my colleague that while Kotter’s framework is really valuable  (I  think the word framework has a place even though it is falling from favour), in my view and experience it doesn’t give enough emphasis to an important aspect of the change process.  What is missing, for me, is the step about how you help people to let go.  In the words of the French poet Paul Valery, “Every beginning is a consequence.  Every beginning ends something”.  When we move forward it is about helping people deal not only with fear of the unknown (what does this change mean to me), and about overcoming inertia (I am comfortable where I am in this security blanket), but also about recognising that quite often people will feel a sense of loss (I built this system/organisation/process etc I am told to relinquish) .

This latter aspect is dealt with sensitively and comprehensively in Chapter 3 of William Bridges book ‘Managing Transitions’ published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing.  Bridges deals with the need to expect overreaction to change, to accept and acknowledge the reality and importance of subjective losses and to treat the past with respect.  I didn’t have the benefit of Bridges’ book when I dealt with major change in years gone by.  I had to discover his wisdom for myself.

Another tool that is really valuable as a frame for dealing with change is the SCARF model developed by David Rock at the NeuroLeadership Institute.

For anyone grappling with change:

  • I recommend researching the above tools and references; and
  • perhaps, just perhaps, contact me to discuss.

Image:   sheelamohanachandran2010/

(If you would like to receive notification of future blog posts please send an email, at the link on the contact page, with the word ‘Subscribe’ in the message field.)