Blog · Mar 2, 2017

Mastering Significant Change

Top tips for dealing with change head-on

I made the rather worrying calculation the other day that I have been working since 1988 – yes, that’s right, 1988! – in the world of leadership development and employee engagement. The fresh-faced Tom Barry that left a management role in the emerging electronics industry went onto two different consultancies, joined my largest client and then, in 2012, met Ben to found Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?

My work in those 28 years has been challenging, demanding and stimulating in equal measure. But if there’s one consistent thread in what I’ve done in that time, it has been a focus on the impact (good, bad or ugly) of a changing external environment on individuals, teams and organisations. I’ve not quite “seen more recessions than you’ve had hot dinners”, but I can look back on profound economic, technological and social forces that have left us scratching our heads at the speed and breadth of the change they bring.

So what do I conclude from my 28 years spent helping people come to terms with change? I recently summarised my observations to the Board of one of our clients and gave them simple pointers to do. They are a hugely successful business, wrestling with changes to their global organisation to better mirror the demands of their multi-national clients. But I observed that they were too close to the minutiae of change to see the broader perspective of why they were changing and what they needed to do.

I’m convinced that the value ‘outsiders’ like us can bring is to ‘tell it as we see it’, so my intent was to help them put their challenges in perspective and to make their boat go faster. I’m delighted to report – some weeks later – it’s rowing very fast towards its Gold medal!

Tom’s Top Five – my observations and what to do’s:

1) You don’t manage change. It drives you. The concept of ‘change management’ is naïve. The changes in your marketplace, with clients, with technologies, with people and their aspirations all gallop away at a faster pace than many can comprehend. As a result, people lose their sense of being able to ‘control’ events and find themselves making decisions that they would consider sub-optimal in ‘normal’ times.

For you: You are confronted with a series of conflicting and imperfect decisions about your competitive position, reporting lines and job worth. You can never research all the risk out of these decisions and you have to accept that the decisions you will make will not be 100% perfect. Please recognise this, make the best decision you can – and move on and implement it.

2) Change is difficult. All of you personally, and in your business, are being required to do things that you might not have elected to do, want to do or have 100% of the skills to do. This excites and daunts people in different ways.

For you: Acknowledge and accept that this is a difficult set of decisions you are making. That won’t in itself make them easier, but it will help you recognise that these are decisions that require you all to be at your peak performance, both individually and when working together.

3) Change is emotional not rational. People don’t respond rationally when asked to change, they respond emotionally. In addition, they often think, speak and make decisions based from a perspective of personal loss rather than organisational gain.

For you: The decisions on the table for you seem to be emotional as much as logical. Ask ‘what is the emotional reason for your perspective? Or simply ask ‘why?’, a number of times, when you hear a proposal you don’t agree with.

4) At times of tension, people predict certainties and conflate multiple issues. You do not know for certain what will happen if you take decision X or Y. You only know what might happen and you will work hard to minimise the risks in any decision. Additionally, be careful to separate the issues involved – product innovation and Big Data are not the same things and need separate treatment.

For you: Do not make statements that this ‘will happen’ or that ‘won’t happen’. You don’t know if John reports to Joan, Armageddon will take place. State openly and clearly what your concerns are, and work to find solutions to those concerns.

5) It is the job of leaders to lead. This might state the bleeding obvious but in most businesses, everyone is looking at the leadership team to lead. That involves considering, deciding and acting on your decisions with clarity and determination.

For you: Minimise the period of flux and be bold and decisive in your leadership, notwithstanding the difficult decisions and conversations involved. You job is to make these challenging final decisions, imperfect as they may be, and give them every chance of success by your determined support in the months ahead. Set the course, press forward and give others courage and confidence by doing so.


I’d love to hear if your top five nudged mine into the relegation zone or pushed mine up the table? Please share with me what your experience tells you, or if you would like to hear how we help clients continue to improve performance during change please get in touch:

T: 020 3542 8016

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