Principle 1: Define your ‘why’


Think of the last important item that you bought and why.

For me it was a spiral cutter (I quite like cooking…). When I bought it I searched for a product that would match my needs (to cut vegetables into various forms of spiral, to be easy to clean, to be small enough to hide in a cupboard away from embarrassing comments…) and when I found it, which for those who are interested I did at one of my wife’s favourite shops, Lakeland, I bought it.

My life with vegetables in the kitchen changed (yes I know its sad). I now have healthy spaghetti, courgettes that don’t come in discs and sweet potato has become a versatile accompaniment. My eating habits have altered.

I did this without big Powerpoints, over attentive management, great scorecards or coercive job descriptions. The change flowed from an underlying desire to find healthier, tastier ways of eating …all of which seem to involve vegetables. The move to spiral shaped vegetables was a means to fulfilling better the rationale for what I eat.

This is an illustration of first principle for winning hearts and minds in change: Do not start with the change at all but  revisit your purpose for being there. Just as this underlies sustainable changes in our personal life it is similarly valuable in an organisational change.

Re-stoking the fires of intentionaility is a vital precursor to change, especially as we have such a tendency to lose our sense of ‘why’ we are here.

Why is a great place to start

Simon Sinek’s book and TED talk ‘Start with Why’ is a great exposition of the power of this principle in helping people to commit to change.  His ‘Golden Circle’ has at its heart the question ‘why?’. He illustrates this with his explanation of the way that Apple approaches business and a (fictional) marketing motivation that runs…

“With everything we do, we aim to challenge the status quo. We aim to think differently. Our products are user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. We just happen to make …. Want to buy one?”

He contrasts this with the typical rationale for buying a product given by companies which focuses on the what: “We make great … They’re user friendly, beautifully designed, and easy to use. Want to buy one?”

Many companies, especially those with limited points of difference from competitors use this latter approach when talking to customers. As leaders, we too often do the same. We launch into changes with a focus on its features, challenges and benefits. We defend the change with a rationale for why it is good. We anticipate objections and look for wins and losses and in the process we fall straight into the trap of transacting with people and competing with their motivations, rather than leveraging the organisational reasons for being there to help them make the best decision.

It is a mistake.

The change buying cycle

Leading for hearts and minds is quite different. Change is really a buying cycle* (or even a buy-in cycle) and the starting point is the value that people seek in the context in which change is introduced.

It is easy to misinterpret Sinek’s insight and to think that to tackle ‘why’ is to focus on ‘why’ to make the change – but that is not the ‘why’. The ‘why’ is in the intentions and purposes which people bring into the situation from their context and position. It is much more strategic – much more about underlying organisational goals and purposes.

This has profound implications for organisations of all forms that want to develop a more adaptive culture and help staff to commit wholeheartedly to changes. It also generates three vital, foundational and powerful leadership tasks:

1. Develop intentionality

Organisations need to cultivate a clear ‘reason for being’ – an intentionality about why they exist.

‘Ah! A mission statement,’ you may say. But then maybe you have not read many of these anodyne paragraphs. Too often their relevance is to be taken from the fact that someone has to go and find it to be able to remember it. That is not what I have in mind. Intentionality is not the same as a strategy, nor is it fulfilled by any statement about shareholder value.

It is a clear sense of what the organisation adds to society and why it needs to be there.

To be real this must be well thought through and engaging. It must be real. It must become the touchstone for prioritisation in the organisation; a motivating factor in the branding of the business; a key factor in recruiting people; and a thread that runs through what gets done. It must live.

At the same time it will become the essential base against which any change must be shaped. In doing so the change becomes something that helps fulfil this purpose – just as a product is chosen because it fulfils the needs of the buyer.

2. Focus on the purpose of a role

The ‘reason for being’ must embrace the organisation (and the relevant part of it that the change is taking place in) and be big enough for everyone.  Additionally each individual needs a motivating purpose in their role or area. Why does it exist? What is so important about it? The purpose must be clear and important. The reasons become the rationale that drives performance and commitment to achievement in the role. It is the intrinsic reason why we do what we do. Promoting real reflection on this is a powerful engine for commitment. In the context of a clear organisational ‘why’, this helps produce something specific for each person.

3. Encourage the ‘best me’

The first two steps then set up an opportunity for leaders to encourage their teams to always reach for the best version of their roles. It sets a standard to worked towards that can be very helpful both for individuals and the organisation.

The rationale becomes the anchor to the definition of the ‘best me’ I can be, expressed in character and outcomes rather than features. It enables reflection on the best ways to realise often stretching or conflicting goals and it enables everyone to engage in positive questioning of their part in the organisation fulfilling its purpose in any and every area.

How might this look?

How might you actually work on this locally…

  • Encourage staff to watch the Simon Sinek TED video and discuss what they see as the organisation’s reason for being
  • Discuss what staff think of the ‘why’ of the organisation, emerging ideas, convictions and invite challenge (what do you think? what’s your view? How does your role fit in this?)
  • Orchestrate a process of challenge for activities, products or policies that do not live up to the purpose
  • Revisit mission and vision statements in the Leadership Team and bring them to life
  • Revise any staff review process to refocus on organisation and role purpose
  • Town hall style ‘jams’ for purpose and its implications on priorities

It is not that odd

Such activities are not really that odd. Variations of this happen in many organisations – sometimes in leadership away days, strategy sessions or planning events – often in the conversations that people have up and down the enterprise. They happen in large and small organisations.

Nor are such activities that new and they deliver real value. In September 1982, someone laced the brand leading US analgesic, Tylenol, with cyanide. This killed 7 people in Chicago. The manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, acted quickly and very publicly, recalling all retail stock of the brand (against the initial advice of the authorities). This was no small action for a product that was estimated to contribute 15-20% of its profit and to be growing rapidly in a $1bn+ market.

Its approach, an exemplar of effective crisis management, was driven by its corporate philosophy – ‘Our Credo” which the chairman, Jim Burke, has spent months rejuvenating in ‘Credo Challenge’ discussions up and down the corporation in the years before the incident. The speed and thoroughness of the response from withdrawal to subsequent triumphant reintroduction was orchestrated by the commitment to this purpose, their organisational ‘why’.

“It was our credo that prompted the decisions that enabled us to make the right early decisions that eventually led to the comeback phase,” said David R. Clare, the president of Johnson & Johnson at the time.


So before change, start reflecting on your organisation’s ‘why’.


*My favourite is Neil Rackham’s if you would like a good example


The keys to hearts and minds


This article follows on from my last one,  focusing especially on addressing the third challenge I mentioned: how to engage hearts and minds in change.

I spent a long time last year writing a book on how to handle change in church better. Clearly a specialist topic you may say! But, during the summer, I sat back to consider what all the research and energy that had been put into the book had to say for other organisations.



The uniqueness of organisations that are communities…

How special is the local church setting?

One of the most significant attributes of a local church is that it is a community of people who come together voluntarily. It is without the normal structures and incentives of a commercial or public organisation. In this sense it is like many other community groups – from golf clubs or some social enterprises to the National Trust (in its most inclusive sense) or political parties:

  • It comprises people who choose to involve themselves in a group for specific personal reasons
  • Personally chosen values and goals play a vital part in shaping involvement in the community
  • Structures are somewhat fluid, opaque and negotiable and not necessarily as important
  • Governance is by consent, because participation is voluntarily given
  • The tools of coercion are weak (no pay, no career route, limited sanctions and no dismissal!)

I like writing, and writing a book is a fascinating endeavour – part creative, part tedious. At its core it is a great challenge to hone concepts, thoughts and ideas to a sharp point. Writing has a precision that speaking can avoid and this demand fuels a creative edge.

I sat in front of a cappuccino in my local coffee shop considering the wider application of the content that I had been wrestling onto paper. Here, in this creative space,I realised what it was. I was grappling with the challenge of generating wholehearted commitment to change.

In church, as in many of these sort of community organisations, it is often impossible to realise the desired outcome of a change without the real commitment of everyone who is expected to participate.

This is especially true where we talking about ‘cultural’ attributes like:

  • the quality of the welcome (how are the cliques at your local golf club?),
  • the commitment to progressing the aims of the organisation (do you sometimes wonder why people have volunteered for your local group?), or
  • the difficulty in getting unattractive but essential tasks carried out (I notice that there were fewer party posters on lampposts in the last election).

Without wholeheartedness few of the most potentially desirable goals in these organisations will be reached, whatever the leaders’ rhetoric.

I realised that in many respects, I was summarising in the book how to lead change and carry people with you: how to build wholehearted commitment to a change.

…yet all organisations are really communities

However, after further reflection on the ‘unique’ qualities above, I realised that the list of points could just as readily be applied to commercial or public entities… or at least any that aspired to be high performing and innovative. Ideally people choose them because they resonate with their own values, talents and goals. Structures frequently change, and often do not operate as they seem. Governance is by consent: those organisations that focus on command and control do not move fast enough or effectively enough to compete well and grow. Tools for coercion are much weaker than some leaders think – especially if you want the whole person and not just their body to turn up for work!

Sadly many leaders and organisations simply don’t get this.

How do I know? Partly personal experience and partly data. In terms of data there is lots of evidence of the lack of employee engagement around the world. Performance is highly dependent upon engagement and in most organisations around the world engagement is a scare commodity.

In 2013 Gallup measured levels of engagement  in workplaces around the world and found that as few as 1 in every 8 workers could be described as engaged. In the UK it was 1 in 6. Most (over 6 in 10) were not engaged, and a quarter were actively disengaged. Other sources put the figures higher but most call out the same issue – hearts and minds are in the minority in the workplace.

Most people are coming into work without any drive to think about better ways of moving the organisation forward or new ways to tackle the most pressing obstacles they face. They are not experiencing the enjoyment of ‘flow’ in their work nor the satisfaction of feeling that they are serving higher goals in their lives.

When change comes along leaders whose mindset is more task focused, control focused and ‘my agenda’ focused, lead in such a way that it simply reinforces employee disengagement and cynicism. The very steps that they follow and their own interaction with staff disempower and disengage.

In a commercial and public world that is experiencing endemic, rapid and diverse types of change the failure to win hearts and minds is a big, big loss. Furthermore in such a situation, really effective leadership is intimately linked to the leadership of change. Effective change leadership is the order of the day, week and year.

In this respect the work that I had been concentrating on for the year was of a much wider significance than I had appreciated when I had started. I was looking at change in an environment where all the participants hearts needed to be engaged.

The big question…

This led me to a big question:

If you had to advise a leader how to lead change in a way that maximised the probability of generating real commitment, what would you say?

Some aspects of this question are captured in change management and adaptive change approaches especially speak into this space. Yet in all my research I had not seen it summarised succinctly anywhere. I knew parts of the answer, but I had never tried to distil it down.

With that in mind I tried to produce an answer on a single sheet of paper (or screen!). A set of principles that I might be able to remember and call to mind to shape actions in change programmes or in communication to leaders.

I started with five but after consultation with some colleagues the list grew to six. Still enough to sit comfortably on one side of A4. Are these a definitive list? I don’t know. I doubt it. But after a lot of thought I think that they, at the very least, provide a strong starting list… and one that it is possible to keep top of mind.

These will be the topics for my next 6 posts. In the meantime, try and answer the question for yourself…


Challenges for change management?

change mgmtDespite having been a supporter, follower and practitioner of the art that is ‘change management’ for many years, I only recently reflected on why it is worth doing.


I first picked it up as a formal discipline in the early 1990’s, and simply used the insights and lessons that it provided because it made sense to me. They seemed to fit well with much I had  learned about what really helps creativity and innovation, where the learning and adoption of new products, processes and structures clearly depended on both finding great new ideas and persuading others that they were worth pursuing.

As a consultant who became heavily involved in the ‘re-engineering’ of business processes, it became obvious to me that merely ‘having the right answer’ even with an ironclad business case, may not get you very far. Change management seemed to offer ideas, approaches and frameworks that helped with this sort of difficult change in organisations.

Helped meant ‘helped made things work’. As such the ‘why’ for change management has always been for me – because it helps make other change work. Not paying attention to it makes it more likely that changes will fail.

Perhaps that was enough for me.

Yet with the increasing pace of technological advance, the convergence of markets, and the impact of globalisation, change has become an endemic feature of most organisations now. Every year in organisations large and small there are multiple changes that need to be landed successfully and often these are big changes!

If this is the case then change management becomes virtually the same as good everyday management. Certainly it challenges the boundary between business as usual and change.

Good leadership demands an approach that presumes that changes will need to be implemented. Indeed leadership is often measured by its ability to realise these changes at speed, with depth and breadth, successfully.  New Executives come in with not just a mandate for change but a demand for change from those who appoint them. Timeframes are short. The focus is very much on results (and not normally on sophisticated measures of them either).

So, is change management still just about success? Clearly it must be effective to stay on the management agenda; so this doesn’t go away.

However I think it is being increasingly asked to work more specifically on some of the determining factors that create sustainable success.

So where should it concentrate attention and develop its focus?

The creation of agility

As the pace of change has accelerated and change has become the norm, many voices have challenged the value of models of human behaviour that suggest three ‘states’ in change (before, transition and after) based on the reshaping of people’s expectations and their acceptance of the new situation.

Is it helpful to think in terms of steady states and their transition? How much does it help to think about change management in terms of projects within a static framework? Shouldn’t it really start to pay more attention to the framework itself? If change is constant then shouldn’t we focus on the context.

Hence, why creating organisational agility is an appropriate aim.

How does change management help leaders rethink the structures and processes of an organisation so that it is more nimble and able to handle a rapidly changing context?

Many of the traditional perspectives and tools are not as helpful in doing this as they might be (as a new book by Paul Gibbons, The Science of Successful Organizational Change, identifies). What is needed is something that focuses on the context itself and how this can be designed to help people identify and adopt changes faster. Here the ideas of the learning organisation, the application of behavioural economics and insights into cultural change could become valuable avenues for more effectively incorporating into change management.

Greater specificity in frameworks

I have worked with and observed tens of change management initiatives in my working life. The typical structure is something welded onto a business or systems initiative that has specific aims. As a result the change management elements often get focused down and have very limited goals – to get the real change in smoothly, quickly, effectively…etc. They quickly lose any nuance and default to simple core methods. Wider aims that might have value are dropped for reasons of resource, time or because the business benefit is not well articulated.

The narrowed focus contrasts with ever widening risk management practices that have become more resource intensive over the last decade, not just in response to the growth of the regulatory  environment but as much in response to the perceptions of increasing complexity and risk, and a desire to enable more pre-emptive management.

If change management is about success, it is about risk and yet it has not managed to embed itself as effectively as it might in this area when the default is a risk register and a project mentality. Yet thinking through the human risks and issues is a powerful way of identifying, calibrating and addressing risk and could help ensure ‘success’ at a corporate level.

To realise this though there will need to be more development and use of detailed frameworks (such as the one developed by Burke-Litwin),or categorisations and taxonomies of change capability to help build a comprehensive view comparable to the enterprise risk management frameworks that have appeared.

A more detailed, and perhaps more generally used, taxonomy for change capability would help increase its ability to address both specific topics and organisational agility.

Building real commitment

The final area of challenge is ironically where much of change management concentrated its original attention – with the people who are the target audience for change.

Change management often concentrates on people’s behaviour: how to ensure that salespeople use their new systems in the way intended, how to ensure that staff really adopt new roles, or how to ensure leaders start to generate and action the details of a new strategy.  All this leads to an enormous focus on communications, skill development, knowledge transfer, sequencing of change, incentives etc etc.

These are important and all relevant. Anyone who has come across ‘nudge’ would underwrite the importance of getting the context for change right and making it easy for people to make the best decisions as a change comes in.

Yet there remains a deeper challenge in our individual-choice driven society: the challenge of winning hearts and minds. Gaining real commitment for something new requires people to choose it for themselves. Focusing only near term behaviour misses the need for sustainability. Forming a team needs more than simply a gathering of individuals; it needs a unit with synergy.

As organisations find coercion less effective, where volunteers and stakeholders are critical participants in successful change, and where individuals are experienced self-choosers, change management has to think about how do you really go about winning hearts and minds for change.

This is an area that needs more attention.


Success remains the bedrock for the sustainability and relevance of change management but it needs to develop its focus beyond the project orientation and look to the context of the organisation, the granularity of its thinking and the hearts of its participants. These are increasingly important for effective leadership in our organisations.



CPAS Lead On reviews ‘Better change in church’

better_change_in_churchThis month’s edition of the CPAS  bulletin for leaders, Lead On,  featured a very positive review for our new book on handling change in church, which was great to read:

“Mark Twain said that the only person that likes change is a wet baby. Yet, as this book argues, change is both practically and theologically at the heart of effective Christian community and the gospel. While there are many books on ‘change’, the focus of this book, as its title infers, is very much on change in the context of the Church and this is a real strength. The authors bring to bear their own extensive experience of change leadership to provide a wealth of practical ideas and wisdom, which ensures the material is highly relevant and the issues explored are very recognisable to any church leader.

The book is both well researched and very comprehensive. Change and its role in the development and enabling of vision, communicating well, addressing conflict constructively and creating and sustaining momentum are just some of the issues explored. I found the chapters on the human dynamics of change, together with the specific role of the leader in preparing for, initiating and guiding change, particularly incisive and helpful. Tougher issues are also addressed such as barriers to growth and change and the reasons many change initiatives fail.

Although the authors rightly shun a formulaic approach to change, at the close of the book is a framework which bring the key points and principles of the book together to facilitate their practical application. Each chapter also concludes with a helpful summary.

This is an outstanding book and will be of immense help to anyone involved in Church leadership, whether embarking on change or currently on a journey of transition. I highly commend it.

Better Change in Church can be purchased from Amazon”


Energy to change? Six hurdles to jump

shutterstock_80196145The UK energy market has been coming in for a lot of criticism in the last few weeks because although wholesale gas prices have fallen a third since their peak at the end of 2013, the best big six price reduction has been 5% (British Gas and npower).

The press and MP’s have criticised the market, suppliers and the regulator. The Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee published a withering report on the regulator and their attitude to value for money, and there was no evident sympathy for Centrica with its 35% profit fall when they published their results last month.

Yet it is not true to say that people do not have a choice.

Whilst there has been this barrage of criticism across all news media, Martin Lewis, of Money Saving Expert fame, has been just as vocal in challenging energy consumers to take ‘just 10 minutes to save £250’ by using comparison sites and the internet to find the better deals that are on offer from smaller suppliers. Similarly, the Competition and Markets Authority has calculated that 95% of duel-fuel customers could have saved £150-250 simply by switching tariff from the big six.

So the question that intrigues me is this: Why is it that half of the homes in Britain don’t care enough about switching and are not interested in earning £200 for 10 minutes work to secure their share of £2.7bn?

These are not ‘rich’ households and given that real household incomes have fallen, why wouldn’t people make such a small effort for such a large benefit? It is not exceptional … your probability of divorcing is greater than that of changing your bank account (if you are married of course!).

There has been no proper study on this, but identifying the possible reasons could help to answer the question of whether politicians should be that bothered and how to make progress.

Equally it might provide insights into other change situations.

I think there are several, overlapping reasons that keep so many people with their current provider and which help explain why people often even resist a positive change. Here are 6 reasons why and what the government could do about it. All are good lessons for other changes:

1.   Instant pain versus an invisible prize

We know that people remember an experience based on its peak and last levels of pain (or so we are told about mothers and childbirth). Changing energy suppliers takes only 10-15 minutes but it is a task that demands detail and concentration. It has no immediate emotional reward. It is cognitively painful for most of us.

Against this we have a prize that, although worth a lot of money, is something that people will never really experience. Yes they will pay a little less for their energy for the next twelve months but there will be no large cash sum in their hands. No clear prize that they can experience. Only slightly lower bills each month.

The experience is not clear enough. Maybe if the cheaper supplier paid you (upfront?) a large cheque our senses would see it differently…and if it really is that clear then suppliers could.

2.   Scary ‘reference points’

We all know about someone’s aunt or friend who tried to change and the process screwed up.

These disaster experiences get related by people whenever the subject of a change is mentioned and succeed in scaring off a few more people. The ‘reference point’ will explain how everything became more expensive rather than cheaper and created a load of hassle.

There is a rational risk aversion that this feeds and in these cases it needs addressing. Some quantification of the real numbers who experience issues and a more transparent and effective regime for rectifying issues would help unlock confidence to change.

3.   Fear of the unknown

For people who have never made a change in their supplier (and there must be quite a few given the stability of the British Gas market share) then there must be a real fear of the unknown.
These people are being asked to take a completely new and unfamiliar step.

This is compounded by the fact that the switch is primarily conducted on what is a very recent and poorly understood medium for many, especially older buyers – the internet. Some will not want to give out card details (fraud risks) or email addresses (phishing and junk mail) and many will not be confident that they can fill in the forms easily and without human support.

Such fear could be overcome with either telephone help, co-browsing support or even local workshops… which could even be charged for. (At £25 a change that could still earn ~£100 an hour). Transition support is vital for some people.

4.   The stress of decision making

Experts in psychology and decision making have established that making choices, especially where there are many options, uses a lot of energy and creates stress. This leads not only to fatigue but also to people seeking to avoid making decisions. The best example is that if a store stocks too many jams it will sell fewer jars than if it limits the range on offer (and therefore the choice that it asks people to make).

The nature of an unfamiliar decision where there are uncertain outcomes, a legal commitment, many variants (providers and tariffs), and the potential to get details wrong and create problems puts people off the change and they avoid it – because it is their choice and they can.

The government has tried to cut in on this issue by working on the tariff complexity (but this is compromising cost for some groups of consumers) and by improving information by insisting on documents that at least stand a chance of explaining how much gas and electricity a household uses. These are good starts. It is not an easy obstacle to address but not enough has yet been done here and the judgement over what constitutes simple to understand information seems not yet to be simple enough.

Maybe it is time to insist that companies use a third party reporting mechanism – and build in comparisons for good measure automatically, where the top 3 or 5 competing offers are listed.

5.   Belief in the value of a relationship

Some consumers I am sure stay where they are in the belief that there is some value in the stability and longevity of the relationship that they have with a supplier.

They probably believe that this will prevent problems occurring in continuity of supply or in the resolution of administrative issues – a belief that longevity confers loyalty, whereas a new supplier would not have any sense of commitment. I empathise with this as a bit of me thinks like this – even when it is not true!

Only counter experiences (their own or trusted friends) will really change this belief and even then I suspect that it might erode but not eliminate this (maybe because I sense that if there is an issue it would be one of the first arguments we would all use … and as such it would also count for a bit on the other end of the call!)

Good regulation on service standards that are faster to press the likes of Scottish Power and npower to address poor service would help – especially if the regulator made their own performance more metrically driven, easy to access and transparent.

6.   Inconvenience

Lets be honest – having to keep a checking on your energy is a real pain and there are many other things that it is much more enjoyable to do not just after a long day of work but even after a relaxing sit in the sun.

Words like tedious, boring, fussy and fiddly are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind. It really is inconvenient to ensure that you always have best value. This is a real opportunity for automation to increase convenience – a factor that really helps to make change motor more quickly.

It’s why third party sites like can be so useful. Membership of their energy club does the monitoring for you for free and emails you prompts, unless you have already fallen out of love with the Big Six in which case like me it doesn’t work because my local cheap supplier is not covered.

Six hurdles that, if jumped, could energise the consumer.

Six factors to consider when considering any voluntary change.


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