Simple process for pain-free change

Most CEOs and HR people believe they have a method for change. What is it? “We always set up a project.” Is this approach hard work? You bet!
People are generally treating change as project management not process management. Project management requires a stop-start approach where change can’t be replicated as a normal business process. The project-by project approach takes significant effort and is often plagued by resistance.
If change is treated as a process, it becomes evolutionary and occurs regularly and naturally. If the natural change process is stifled, then the only way to adjust is to create a revolution. Whenever you hear the words, “We’re going to launch...” it means, “We haven’t changed things in a long time and now we need a big song and dance about it.”
Revolution or evolution?
Is your business fast, nimble, evolving and moving with the times?
Right now, the economic conditions are driving the need for change and many businesses will be trying to innovate products over the coming years. They’re all struggling to keep up with the growing information mountain and technology’s continuously fast pace. More and more it’s the fast, nimble businesses that are succeeding, not the ones going through revolutionary project launches – making a big statement and then doing nothing for three years.
Do you run a revolutionary style business? If so, you probably find yourself constantly grabbing a project, locking it down and telling people to wait while it delivers. Every so often, you’ll have to stop everything while the big project unfolds. Once the project gives birth, it then needs a great push to launch the thing because it’s such a huge change. What’s worse is that the launch then gets in the way of business as usual because everybody is deflected by the huge churn.
Too much pain and no gain
Compare this scenario with getting fit. Evolutionary fitness means going for a short run each day. In six weeks you’ve become fit and it then takes only a short run three times a week to maintain your fitness level. Revolutionary fitness results from sitting on the couch for six months until you are completely unfit, by which time your first run is extremely painful.
Revolutionary business change is similarly painful. In contrast, evolutionary change is incremental and people hardly notice it because it is the norm. Evolutionary change helps you keep pace with the market much better than by constantly lurching after progress.
Once you launch your project, you’ll often find few people are really happy with it. When you change things using a revolutionary approach, you’ll be judged in one of four ways (see box below)


View of change...
...which means
“There’s too much change and I don’t like it.”
“It’s a good idea but you didn’t ask me.”
“Why bother?”
“Great idea!”

You only have a one in four chance to get the “Great idea!” response during revolutionary change. You’re also making the project, and its launch, a clear target for criticism – and probably the reason for all the ills of the business.
Change is a process in its own right. The process of change doesn’t tell you what the problem is. It tells you how to manage the change, not what to things to fix.
If you want to change a product and the way you market it, the change process won’t tell you which products, where to sell them or how many people you need. You’ll still need to dive into the detail behind your product portfolio first.
Simple process
A continuous process implies a number of steps, each one following the one before. A project suggests going out as a one-off to discover what’s wrong and then fixing it.
The process of change is pretty simple:
Step 1. Someone comes up with the idea. Let’s call them the entrepreneur.
Step 2. Someone else grabs the idea and says, “We can do something with this” and works out what needs to be done. Let’s call them the leader.
Step 3. Someone knows what to do with the outcome to turn it into money and how to manage the resources around it. Let’s call them the manager.
The process of change recognises that you need all three business types in an organisation to deliver results. Just leaving change up to a leader, manager or entrepreneur doesn’t actually get you right through the process.
Today, tomorrow, the future
With one of the business types missing, you have a problem because right now we are in “today”, but the new idea, or vision, lives out in “future”. The gap between “today” and “future” is “tomorrow”. It’s this gap that normally stops organisations working their way to the future vision because today’s pressures keep taking over. Unless you have a process for change, most ideas never come to fruition and only one in a million gets through the door.
What’s interesting is that each of the three business types has a time preference. The innovator lives in the future, the leader plans for tomorrow and the manager delivers today. For the evolutionary process of change you need all three.
  • Is the business not getting its ideas out to market? You need more leaders.
  • Not making money from your ideas? Too many entrepreneurs and not enough managers.
  • Revolution constantly followed by revolution? Too many managers and too few entrepreneurs.
If your only approach to change is the project approach, you’ll very likely find you’re constantly getting push-back from the organisation. The process of change is designed to get rid of the push-back, empower people to join the process and to make life easy.
Overcoming change push-back
Typical reactions to change fit into nine areas: we don’t have the time or money; it’s the wrong time; we don’t have the skills; we don’t know where we’re going; we don’t know what we’re doing; no one told me; I don’t understand the future; it doesn’t fit our culture; it conflicts with our values. We call these the nine change “drawers”. We’ve all experienced these types of push-back around change, which is where our process helps organisations manoeuvre around the difficulties.
How? By dealing with them in the right order. We’ve discovered that the drawers right next to each other are change helpers, while the ones further out will hinder change. That means wherever you start a change, you need to move outwards by step. Take the example of “resources” in drawer number three. The next areas to tackle are “foresight”, “behaviour” or “cycles”. If you start dealing with “values” or “culture” immediately, you’re bound to get push-back from your people.
9 Drawers
If you look at the nine areas, and where resistance is likely to come from for each one, you can start to see how they relate to each other. You can begin to pre-determine where the push-back on each is likely to originate. Managing that push-back helps you narrow the gap between “today” and “future”. Because you won’t be spending all “tomorrow” dealing with radical, incremental and collaborative resistance.
What most people do is launch their project “today” and use “tomorrow” to handle all the objections. By the time they have got through all that they’re already into “future” and the market has moved so. Now they have to re-launch the project.
The nine drawers in practice: don’t touch that drawer!
A CEO told me he was launching a new product line, but having difficulty getting it into the business. I pulled out the nine drawer matrix to ask where he’d started. It started with an idea, in other words the “vision” drawer. I asked where he went next – to design the strategy for getting the new line into the business, how many staff he needed to make this work and so on.
I said, “That’s in the capability drawer on the other side of the matrix. No wonder you’re having problems!” Instead, he should have worked on the drawer next to “vision” – “foresight”. This would explain how his idea (“vision”) would impact the business. He should have explored how that “vision” would impact “culture” and think about what “behaviour” response he might expect. This would reflect the behaviours around likely resistance: strategy (acceptance) or collaborative, radical or incremental (push-back). Once he had done all that, he could move out a further set of drawers. The last drawer he should have opened is “capability”.
I wasn’t telling him what products to launch or when to launch into the marketplace. He could see straight away why he’d made mistakes in the past, because he hadn’t mapped out the change process in the right order.
The nine drawers in practice: more passion
Recently I was with an entrepreneur launching a new business and used the matrix again. He had an idea – his “vision”. I explained how to create strategic map with “foresight” next and design a matching culture.He said, “Culture is the last thing I’ve thought about. I’ve been worried about how much money I need for the business.” I helped him see that by following the process and mapping the culture he wanted, he could speak more passionately about it to the bank manager. Not only would the bank manager be convinced about the idea, but the entrepreneur’s team would buy into it too.
The nine drawers in practice: work in the right order
Last week the senior management team of a large organisation said they weren’t working well together and booked me for a retreat. I asked them about the problem they had. They said, “We keep tripping over each other all the time.” In other words, not managing their “resources” well. They saw “resources” is in drawer number three – top right. But they were looking for a two-day retreat on “culture”. Where does that fit? On the other side!I suggested we discuss the drawers next to “resources” – “foresight”, “behaviour” and “cycles” so the matrix could give them a process to do things in the right order.
The nine drawers in practice: too soon for the vision
One FTSE100 company was recently struggling with a number of problems. As a result, they were laying people off and weren’t communicating with their staff effectively. They said they had a “communication” problem so I asked to see their last piece of communication. They had talked about two things:
  1. “Vision” for the new business, which is in drawer number one. But they were using it to solve a problem in drawer number eight.
  2. Business “resources”, how much more profit they would make from the changes to keep the business alive. They were using drawer number three to solve a problem in drawer number eight.
When we looked at the matrix, the senior team soon realised they needed to use the adjacent drawers – to communicate about “capability”: how the change would affect people. Secondly to communicate about “behaviour”. Again, this process didn’t tell the senior team what do, but gave them the process how to follow.
Implications for programmes of learning and development
We find many leadership programmes are confused, with added content from management and entrepreneur programmes. Leadership programmes, for example often demonstrate how to make profit – a management topic.
We believe entrepreneur, leader and manager programmes each have five core subjects, whether they run over three years of three days. And of course, some subjects overlap the business types (see table below).

Content areas
Innovation, vision, culture, values, foresight, resources
Ideas: future
Resources, cycles, capability, communication, values
Process: today
Foresight, behaviours, communication, culture, cycles
People: tomorrow

When I ask HR directors to compare the topics in their leadership programmes with our core list, they rarely have more than a 50% match. Massive chunks of leadership programmes are either management programmes built around how to make more money or they have innovation throughout.
No pain, massive gain
Matching people to the right programmes for them is an enormous benefit – not just to the individual, but also to the business. Imagine this scenario. You have a business with a “vision” for a new product line, but the senior team is struggling to develop it. Enter the entrepreneur from the entrepreneur programme to show how to extend the product. Enter the leader to draw up the plan to bridge “future” and “today”. Enter the manager to turn vision into reality.
Using the nine drawers in the right order, and teaming the process with the right people at each stage of change, will mean less push-back. Less resistance to change means faster to market, higher return on investment and less strain all round.
The commercial return on having a process for change is huge. The HR return on not having so many managers frustrated is better staff retention. Ultimately the business spend on this approach, compared with the return on investment, is enormous.
Developing people in the right way for their preferred style will help the business develop a culture of change-ability. One where change is the evolutionary norm – and one that is pain free.