Transformation in practice

Effecting successful change

Author: Henry Hornyold-Strickland

At some stage most organisations find they need to work in a different way. Managing people’s behaviour is the key to successful change, and a great deal can be done to carry this out effectively, says Henry Hornyold-Strickland, a specialist in large-scale organisational change

When defining organisational change, we mean a change in the way people within the organisation actually behave on a day-to-day basis – the way they interact with each other and the way they interact with the world outside their organisation. Changing the structure or processes within an organisation may be part of the necessary change, but these things are secondary. The key is to change everybody’s normal day-to-day attitudes and behaviour so as to achieve a desired outcome or set of outcomes from the organisation as a whole. It must not be seen as something serving a personal or political agenda, but rooted in the reasons for the organisation’s existence. In essence, we are trying to facilitate their way of thinking and acting collectively. It is generally perceived that:

  • Changing an organisation is difficult, because people dislike change – it forces them out of their comfort zone and requires them to think for themselves, rather than following routine unthinkingly;
  • If it can be done, it will take a long time to work through an organisation (anything up to five years);
  • It will be a process that is messy and disruptive;
  • It will cost at least five times what was budgeted originally;
  • In five years’ time it will have to be done all again, because the world will have changed (and the speed of change is increasing all the time);
  • If the organisation attempts periodic bouts of change, therefore, it is
    likely to be perpetually chasing a goal that it can never attain (the goal being, of course, an organisation that is absolutely fit for purpose
    at any moment in time);
  • So if change won’t do what is needed, why bother to try?


Well, change can be successful, and remain so, provided it is addressed
in the right way. Any effective change must come from within the
organisation – it cannot be imposed from the outside, or there will be a strong tendency to reject it. Effective change is only possible if all staff members understand that their organisation is no longer fit for purpose and buy in personally to the need for the change, so that they are fully committed to it. 
If they do not, the change will not be sustained. Change must be for a clearly defined purpose, ie it must:

  • Be undertaken for a good reason;
  • Have a clear direction and, if possible, a visionary end point; and
  • Be capable of eliciting an emotional attachment in employees 

    This creates a pull in the direction of the desired change. Also, the leadership of the organisation must be fully committed to change themselves, which means that:

  • They must articulate clearly the changes under way, underlining the reasons why they are necessary, and the desired outcome that will
    make the organisation fit for purpose;
  • They must provide and maintain clarity and constancy of purpose;
  • They must personally live the change at all times, meaning that everything they do must be consistent with the required outcomes;
  • They must recognise that their behaviour is highly visible to their subordinates, and that any off-message behaviour on their part will
    be seized upon as evidence that they do not themselves really
    believe the message that they are espousing – ie that they are not serious about the change initiative.


Particularly if the change is urgent, it helps greatly if the current situation is recognised by all to be untenable (ie it would be uncomfortable/impossible
for all to continue as we are).

This creates an impetus to move away from the status quo (push) – but it is essentially directionless, which is why it must be combined with the
visionary leadership to provide an attractive direction in which to move.
It is not necessary, nor indeed is it desirable, for the leadership to spell out
in detail how the change should take place (ie what specifically should
each individual do differently). They must, however spell out where the organisation needs to move to, and why. For the change to be accepted
and internalised by the organisation, all staff members must be involved
in working out the how together.