Moments of Truth

The reactions of the British public, the markets and the European Union Leadership to Brexit are typical of those moments of truth that Change Managers must anticipate and plan to mitigate. Little such planning has been evident in this particular case study (if only it was just a case study).

The British public, of which I am part, is stunned whichever way it voted. It seems that the consequences of the decision were not fully appreciated by many. The markets have over-reacted as they mostly do. The leadership of the European Union is angry, suddenly threatened and prone to hardline statements.

Moment of truth reactions must be heavily discounted and allowed to play out. The dawning realisation that more is the same than changing will lead to calmer and more constructive reactions. At this point, the Change Manager must be ready with appropriate and timely interventions.

For the thoughts that follow, I am inspired by the speech of a good friend on his retirement from the European Commission this week. Some might say he is one of those faceless bureaucrats from which we Brits must be liberated. He argues that a clear and compelling vision is required to drive and sustain change. The calls for “healing” repeated in the UK over the last few days are meaningless. We need the vision and a plan to make Brexit work. Healing will follow as an outcome of competent Change Management. Without vision, the wounds will fester.

Moments of truth are inevitable in any change programme; like rogue waves that can only be ridden out. Visioning the future beyond the horizon is critical to success.

I still believe that change is good.




The ugly, synthesised word that has, today, come to signify the British peoples’ decision to leave the European Union is now assured of a long life. I am on the losing side and shocked. My readers will not be surprised to learn that I am looking for Change Management lessons even while I think about whether there is anything I can do to protect my selfish interests (I do not think there is).

The received wisdom for binary decisions such as offered to the UK voters is that the status quo will have an inherent advantage. Human nature tends to be risk averse. The case for change has to be rather robust to overcome that instinct. The knowledge that a change will likely involve the roller coaster that is our Change Curve and include a period in the wilderness weighs heavily.

So what happened here in the UK? I should mention at this point that it was mostly the English rather than the British that have forced this pending Brexit.

The Brexit arguments, even when I did not agree with them, were positive and sometimes appealed to another basic instinct; jingoism. The arguments for staying in the EU were often framed as if threatening a naughty child with a loss of privileges.

In this case it seems the good folk of England (ok, and Wales) decided to test the boundaries. As is occasionally observed at international soccer tournaments, we English do have a naughty streak.

So now the challenge is to sell the advantages of Brexit to me and the 16 million Brits who voted and lost. Right now I am frightened, angry and not at all hopeful. The wilderness looms on the near horizon.

But heh, change is good. Right?

Quick Wins, Long Haul

Strategy Planners often look for low hanging fruit and quick wins to inject credibility and momentum to their Change Management efforts. My business start up has benefited from a quick win; some consulting work for my former employer that required little of the hard sell that other potential opportunites will demand. This early success brings some risks; the temptation is to assume that the early momentum will translate into sustainable change. The Change Manager has to focus on the long haul and ensure his/her plans include energetic action to reinforce and cement early progress. Communication must use multiple channels and key messages be repeated often to reach the target audiences.

Surely the defining quality of the successful Change Manager is the determination to tackle the long haul. Early in a project, the need for structured change management focused on people and processes is often discounted in the pursuit of an IT solution or a reconfiguration of the boxes on an organisation chart. The Change Manager may have to take a back seat; quietly executing communication plans and developing training while the, apparently sexier, implementation progresses.

So enjoy the quick wins and focus on the long haul.

Change is Good.


My blog this week comes from Cape Town where I am consulting for the first time since setting up my fledgling business.

Southern Africa is the home of Ubuntu; a concept that can be translated loosely as “I am what I am because of who we all are”. This community centred view of life contrasts with the egocentric view that often prevails in the corporate world.

I am visualising a design for Ubuntu spectacles. These spectacles will be worn by a Change Manager when thinking about the impacts of change on a team or organisation. Individuals react to change in different ways and at a range of speeds. Nevertheless, it is the way the team as a whole reacts that will determine the success and sustainability of the change. Making the case for change will be easier when it is done in such a way that the individual identifies with the benefits for the team. The growth opportunities for the team member will stem mostly from the improvement in team performance or effectiveness.

So wearing my conceptual spectacles is maybe a way to develop better Change Management plans and produce results that also enhance the individual’s view of who he or she is.

Change is good; if we all think so.


What Stays the Same?

An important element of any Change Management plan is the consideration of what stays the same. Teams confronting the challenge of a significant organisation change or new technology introduction, can be reassured to discover that actually much of what they have become familiar with is not going to change after all.

It is the same for me as I carve out a new professional life for myself. I find that the familiar morning routines are unchanged; I drop my daughter at the station, go to the gym, breakfast in a, perhaps, slightly more leisurely fashion before settling into the same home office around 0930. Sorry if that sounds indolent but I am the boss.

All this makes the changes I am facing seem less profound and provides a framework for taking my productivity back to and beyond normal levels. The secure backdrop provides the platform for a motivation boost and ensures that the exciting opportunities presenting themselves are not clouded by unnecessary worry.

Critical to successful Change Communication is articulating what stays the same.

Change is good.


Start Up Blues

No longer protected by the corporate cocoon that I have existed in for the last 3 decades, I am in the midst of setting up my business here in the UK. There is plenty to be excited about; the prospect of starting my first independent work in a couple of weeks time, the networking, the absence of somebody else’s boundaries. There is also the less exciting stuff; the administration and compliance work that even a small business cannot ignore.

The UK is reputed to be a relatively easy place to start up a business. Nevertheless, an online foray through the UK Government Gateway to register for corporation tax and meet other regulatory requirements had me wondering how many potential entrepreneurs are deterred by the complexity of it all. I tried methodically reading through the guidance but found myself in a kind of web page “do loop” . I found it easier to dive into action, breaking all the rules about preparation and planning. The website crashed a couple of times which, judging by the “try later” user message that popped up, is not unusual. See if that works if you are a budget airline.

Never mind, this is just a momentary attack of the start up blues; there is surely more excitement and fewer obstacles ahead on the change curve. That is the plan.

Change is good.

The Beast

A brief, challenging episode in my professional life was spent working with a team of people based in Fort McMurray. So it seems inevitable that my blog reflects on the frightening wildfire still burning around the city.

Fort McMurray is not the kind of place that expects to be the subject of world news headlines. Certainly, it is accustomed to being at the centre of the contentious debate about the exploitation of the Canadian Oil Sands but the city is not usually mentioned, outside of Alberta and Canada, except in passing. The mood of the city is mostly influenced by the seasons, the hockey and the price of crude oil.

All this changed overnight in the last week when the seasonal wildfires turned on the city and its inhabitants. Even now we know very little about the 90000 people that were forced to evacuate. A colleague posted pictures of an evacuation flight with as many dogs as people. The citizens of Fort McMurray are a resourceful lot. The climate and the industry they support make sure of that. Over the last 4 decades, the city and its oil-sands jobs have attracted people from many places and heritages; the First Nations, Eastern Canada, Newfoundland, from the Indian subcontinent, Eastern Europe and almost anywhere else you care to imagine. The multi-cultural mix that is modern Canada is amplified here.

So now the evacuees of the Fort McMurray have, without any warning or consultation, been forced onto a steep change curve.  Bewilderment and disbelief were the immediate reactions.

For now, I am guessing the citizens of Fort McMurray and the surrounding communities are yet to experience the bottom of the change curve. A period of frustration and anger is probably setting in. The media will soon lose interest. The challenge for the government and community leaders is to find ways of accelerating the rebuilding effort, involving all those impacted and communicating relentlessly.

Change is Good

After 31 years of working with a large corporation with all the stimulation, security, stresses and strains that brings, I am experiencing my first week as an independent consultant. The weather, here in the UK, is tentatively spring-like so it is hard to be anything other than uplifted.

People ask me about my feelings; mostly expecting me to say that I am happy to be free of the yoke of routine work. In fact, my feelings are a complex mix of excitement and trepidation. First of all, of course, I am not retiring, as suggested by the announcement that accompanied my departure. Age 60 and in mercifully good health, I cannot envisage turning the rest of my life into a vacation. So the idea of starting up my own business is compelling and fraught with risk of humiliation. Maybe the skills I have honed over the last 3 decades will not be so remarkable after all.

My response to all this is to immerse myself in the comfort of the Change Management principles I have learnt and then repeatedly relearnt. So today I am building out my start up plan and performing a stakeholder assessment. Tomorrow I will be developing the communication plan for the launch of my business.

Change is good.