The Start of Something Big!


Transitioning People Through Constant Change

I have been doing considerable work recently examining what I think are the changes needed within organisations in which change is constant. I am looking at these from an organisational change management perspective – the people side of change.

Organisational change management as an approach needs to undergo radical transformation if it is to be of any value when constant change is the new black! Organisational change management practitioners will have to fundamentally change their thinking and approach to be relevant.


We are hearing a lot about digital disruption and digital transformation.

Digital transformation is nothing new. The first computers were introduced in the 1930s but we have been finding faster and more automated ways of doing things long before that. The dishwasher was invented in 1886 and the first electric vacuum cleaner introduced in 1901.

I don't think it so much about digital transformation but more so the disruption we are feeling today, as change gets faster and faster and less predictable and manageable.

Organisations that will survive and thrive amidst the disruption are the ones that truly accept that change is now constant.

This is an organisation in which the volatility, uncertainly, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) of change that is ever increasing in velocity and shifting in direction, is embraced.

These organisations don't have a change program in which change is dictated from the top and cascaded down through the hierarchy.

In these organisations, change is a platform on which everyone can initiate and execute change.

Over the coming months I will explore how organisations and the people within them need to transform to become the organisation that says ‘We’re always ready – bring it on!’

The key areas that I believe we need to focus on I have called:

·       People transitions

·       Kill the hierarchy

·       Evolve

·       Give it up!

·       Adaptive leadership

·       Speed

The following is an overview of each of those areas.

People Transitions

As William Bridges famously said, “It’s not the changes that do you in, it's the transitions”.

This has never been more relevant than it is today.

We have to recognise that transitioning people through change is now continual and multi-faceted. We must have an agile, iterative approach to organisational change whilst remaining cognisant of people’s needs and individual journeys.

When you look at the ‘traditional’ organisational change management approaches widely used today there are a myriad of roles to be played. Sponsors, executive sponsors, supporting sponsors, stakeholders, change agents, change champions, change targets, change consultants, change analyst and so on.

In our ‘brave new world’ we don't have time to ensure all these roles are in place, ready for the next change and that people have the right skills and capabilities to fulfil their role. We have to keep things simple so that they are ‘agile’.

In the same light, we do not have time to create comprehensive change plans covering sponsorship, coaching, communication, training, resistance management and reinforcement. Those days are gone!

I believe there are only three roles required if we have a change platform - managers, coaches and players.

I am using a soccer analogy because I am from Liverpool in the UK and a staunch Reds supporter. But you can align those three roles to most field sports.

In a nutshell these roles are:

Soccer Roles.jpg

·       Managers who determine the strategy that is going to be played out and direct the gameplay. They provide instruction and motivation.

·       Coaches ensure that Players are game fit.  They develop the skills and capabilities of the Players. They communicate the strategy and game plan that Players are being asked to fulfil. They are change sponsors supporting and reinforcing the change.

·       Players are ultimately the people that will win or lose the game. It is the Players that actually make things happen. They use the gameplay and capabilities with which they have been equipped to win.

I will expand on these roles in later posts.

Kill The Hierarchy

Whilst acknowledging that leadership is important, we need a collaborative workplace in which transparency and creative freedom reign over hierarchical boundaries. In order to respond to constant change we need to be innovative, agile, enable rapid decision-making, and ensure employee engagement.

The organisation needs to move from hierarchical ‘control’ to a flatter structure.

It’s not about having no structure but using the job of hierarchy to get rid of the bad bureaucracy.

Flat organisations are not flat – they are just flatter than tall organisations. Instead of “shifting the responsibility” up the management ladder, flat structures empower employees to take charge, help make decisions and feel responsible for the company’s success.

A flatter structure facilitates a greater level of communication between employees and management. These organisations tend to be more democratic and offer a greater level of innovation. Communication is usually faster, more reliable and more effective than in tall structures. Direct staff input leads to more support for decisions and fewer behind-the-scenes power struggles and disagreements.

These organisations can respond to constant change.


Organisations need to constantly evolve if they are going to survive in a world of constant change. They will have to evolve to remain relevant.

The old approach of episodic change (discontinuous and intermittent), driven from the top is broken!

Today, everyone in the organisation needs the capability and permission to be self-organising so that change is constant, evolving and cumulative.

The competitive advantage lies in the capacity to constantly change, which comes from employees being equipped with the capability and permission to identify, initiate and drive change. It is only through constant evolution that the organisation will survive and thrive.

Energy and ideas come from the whole of the organisation and are the catalyst for change. Transformation requires permission and participation at all levels. The organisation will only evolve by working through others. It is power with, not power over.

Give It Up!

If the organisation is going to flatten the structure, evolve and empower employees, one of the biggest challenges will be overcoming the reluctant leaders, who believe that delegation and empowerment of employees means loss of control.

In our turbulent world of constant change, leaders have to move from a command and control approach to a delegate and trust approach.

The command-and-control approach is fine for improving operational efficiency in a well-defined environment.

However, in today’s fast moving, complex world, we need to relinquish control in order to gain control. We need to “give it up!”

Many leaders fear they will lose control if they relinquish control to others. In times of stress, the tendency is to revert to command and control whilst still wanting employees to be creative and innovative and able to rapidly respond to change.

The issue is that employees will not be creative, innovative and responsive and are likely to leave the organisation if they don’t feel trusted and respected.

In future posts, I will share examples of organisations that have been successful in team effort. Top teams must be more than responding to constant change through distributed authority.

Adaptive Leadership

Not only do leaders need to give up control, they need to become adaptive leaders.

Acknowledging that we are living in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, how can leaders chart a course when they cannot predict the outcome of their choices?

Today, every organisation is an information business. Leaders need to be able to read the right signals and act upon them.

Adaptive leaders learn through experimentation, and manage the context, not the instruction set. They cultivate diversity of view to generate multiplicity of options. They lead with empathy, reward accomplishment with autonomy and seek winning solutions for all stakeholders.

Adaptive leaders know what to do when they don't know what to do.

Successful organisations also need adaptive leadership teams. Leadership at the top is now a team effort. Top teams must be more than just high performing. They need to adapt and thrive, regardless of the turbulence they face.

A BCG Strategy Institute study titled “The Value of Adaptive Advantage” (2010) shows that more-adaptive companies generate powerful economic and financial gains. These companies consistently outperform their industry peers during periods of volatility, and they sustain superior performance over time, whether it’s 5 years or 30 years. The results also show a strong correlation between a company’s adaptability index score and total shareholder return.

In future posts I will also explore what I believe are the key traits of adaptive leaders and adaptive leadership teams.


And last but certainly not least is the need for speed.

Agile is here and you had better be ready to manage the people side of rapid change. It is time to release your waterfall ways!

The only way to be truly responsive to constant change is to become more agile. (Note: I use agile with a small ‘a’).

Business demand means agile transformations and iterative implementations and organizations are now challenged with managing the people side of such fast-paced change.

It’s not enough to rely on communications and training alone. Many existing change management models follow waterfall rather than agile practices.

The waterfall approach to change won’t work on an agile project because agile won’t know the end state until close to the release.

Organisational change management has to adapt to an agile world!

Organisational change management needs to align with agile practices in order to manage change during iterative development cycles. Challenges for organisational change are time, information and planning. None of which are as available as they used to be! Therefore it is important to build change along the way and keep pace with the sprint development schedule and evolving cadence.

Organisational change has to match the rhythm so that agile and organisation change become one.


This has been as sneak preview into the six areas I have been working on and in future posts I will provide the meat on the bones of what I have introduced here.

I know that organisations are currently talking about disruption, transformation, agility, innovation, delegation, permission and so on. I hear these words all the time. I also know that most organisations are struggling to determine where to start.

I have services underpinning all of these areas that can help, including workshops, training, coaching and mentoring. Just contact me for more information.


More posts on their way over the coming weeks and months exploring how we need to take a fresh and radical look at organisational change management, and the changes we need to make if we are to thrive.

In the meantime, please subscribe to my posts so you have no fear of missing out!

Also remember that older posts from me are available via the Resources section.


Karen Ferris