Change & Transformation

Human first! A change approach that delivers sustained results

Research shows that 70 percent of change programs fail to achieve their goals (McKinsey). Reasons for this devastating failure rate are accredited to the lack of true commitment and a deliberate approach to the change as a discipline. This knowledge is not new, so why does this continue to happen?

To transform failure into success, we need to try a different approach. To do that, we must begin by changing ourselves. 

The feeling of being powerless as a change maker

It’s easy to feel like you are powerless when you’re in a change agency role – one person against the rest of the organisation. What does it take to make a real sustained transformation happen when the organisation is busy doing business as usual operations?

Early in my career, I landed what felt like a dream job at an international financial investment organisation as an internal change agent and organisational development manager. I was relatively inexperienced but full of determination and bright ideas with a freshly minted Masters when my new manager took a risk and hired me to join her team working with them on making a really big change happen. “Help make our investments more sustainable” they asked. “Who me?” I thought, “wow”!

My first year was excruciating

Initially, I proposed to make the change with an education led by best-in-class experts, but I completely failed to win support for the approach I suggested we should adopt. I was about to resign and add to the 70% of failed change initiatives when the Strategy Director, who had done many line roles in the past, suggested I change tack. In accepting his advice, I had to accept too that it was my way of approaching my role that was the problem, not the organisations’ ability to accept my ideas! I had to change me first. Five years later I left the organisation, my assignment over, with a modicum of success and a massive amount of learning.

From advocating a new concept to starting by building relationships

Looking back, I can see that initially I was seeking to replace the old ways of working with a better idea. But, in an organization filled with powerful, experienced specialists, my better idea did not gain traction. It didn’t matter that I’d found world class experts to advocate it.

I’d fallen into the “who’s got the best idea” trap. And to make it worse, I proposed a top-down approach to change because I was convinced that in a hierarchical organisation, where power mattered, I was sure we had to start at the top.

With a different approach and new allies, I worked in a completely different way; building relationships with the people we were seeking to change. We came alongside investment teams, looking together at current and recent deals and what the factors were that made them fly or fail from an ESG perspective. Working with these team teams, we built enough trust to bring them into a workshop process alongside their clients and other stakeholders to explore different ways of working. Instead of imposing new ways of working, we created conversations. In dialogue, they found several business-based reasons for making the client companies more sustainable. It became a win-win.

My key learnings for turning change failure into change success

What does this mean for you if you’re in a change maker role, feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of trying to make a change happen? These are the steps I recommend you focus on to make sure yours is one of the 30% that succeed:

  • Come alongside, rather than stand against. Face business challenges together and explore workable solutions together.
  • Invite those who oppose you into the team: Seek out the people whom you find the most resistant or “troublesome” and ask them if they would explain to you their thoughts and feelings about the changes being sought.
  • Move from *winning* to *working*: Notice your tendency to get into a battle of “whose idea is best” and let it go. Listen to how people feel. Reflect it. Just that, nothing else, until they tell you that you’ve heard them.
  • Get off your soap box: In situations where you get stuck. stressed or challenged, allow yourself the space to go for a walk, breathe, and ask yourself; how does the current situation make sense the way it is? How are needs getting met? Go for a walk with your client, buy them an ice cream and see what happens.
  • Try experiments that are safe enough for now: Test new options together with the people it will affect and base decisions for further action on actual experiences and feedback.
  • Adopt a learner’s mindset over the knower’s: Let the change process be a learning process guided by the final vision but with room to adjust the details.

When we make this personal shift, we show up differently in our relationship to the thing we’re trying to change. This in turn enables an evolution in our own approach to how we can change that thing.

Meet Stuart

Senior Vice President
Get inspired
Leaders & Teams Sustainable High Performance

Over the past decades we have seen how a never-ending stream of new methods and technology has been introduced to help us handle our work, be more effective and save us time. Do you remember when email was introduced? It was supposed to save us so much time now that we didn’t have to send fax messages… We all know where that has led us.

Coaching & Assessment The Importance of Delivering Effective Feedback

Whether it’s a friend, a colleague or a spouse, the giving and receiving of feedback represents an important juncture in any of our relationships. In this article we explore what relationship counsellors might say about the importance of feedback and we offer a practical ‘how to’ guide.

Project management & Agile practices Enhancing project maturity will aid the Energy Sector in its current green transition

Energy and water supply plays a significant role in Denmark’s green transition and security of supply. Therefore, the energy sector’s projects must succeed, meet time and budget constraints, and deliver the planned benefits. This requires a higher degree of project maturity than what currently characterises the sector, the report concludes.

The potential is people