CHAPTER 3: IMPLEMENTING THE CHANGE – Managing Business Transformation: A Practical Guide


  • Change teams are formed to resource the activities
  • Individuals experience the change and move through a range of emotions as they adapt to the change
  • Building an effective change team
  • Understanding how people react to change
  • Persuading and motivating people to change

Building an effective change team

The purpose of the change team is to implement the change, ensuring that the change gains maximum acceptance. The change team is formed once the change has been authorised by those senior managers responsible for the strategic direction of the organisation, so it is not responsible for deciding on the scope and validity of the change. This change team is distinct from the project team, who are responsible for the creation of deliverables used as a basis for the change.

Although everyone experiences change differently, there are advantages to bringing individuals together to work through the change as a team:

  • Wide range of skills, experience and knowledge – including team members who have experienced change in the organisation before, and those who have experienced similar changes in different organisations.
  • Wide range of enthusiasm and energy for the change –those with little appetite for the change benefit from those who are positive about the change.
  • Greater level of support for the individuals experiencing the change – not everyone hits the dip in enthusiasm or confidence at the same time, so when some team members are struggling others are there to support them.

In an ideal world, you would be able to pick a dream team; in reality, you have to adopt a more pragmatic approach and use the resources available. Within this constraint, it is important to ensure that there is a mixture of preferences for the way in which work is undertaken, including:

  • Communicator – this is the person who looks after the team, making sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing. They are the ones we turn to when we are looking for resources or finding out how something works. They are good at picking up on relationship signals; they mediate when there are conflicts between team members and encourage people when they lose their motivation or enthusiasm.
  • Public relations – this is the person who is good at internal politics. They know how the team should be portraying itself to stakeholders; how the work should be positioned in relation to other initiatives within the organisation.
  • Innovator – this person enjoys identifying new ways of approaching a problem, and is easily bored by repetition or routine. They are excited by change and actively seek it out, but they have a limited appreciation for how others may feel threatened by change.
  • Worker – this person enjoys ploughing through the work, meeting the deadlines and ensuring that progress is achieved. They will produce plans and will explain the progress of their work and the team as a whole in the context of these plans. They enjoy routine and structure and will create structure if it does not exist.
  • Fixer – this person has excellent networking skills and always knows the person to talk to, or who is connected to whom. They can help the innovator to resource their ideas and can support the work of the communicator.

I once worked on a team where we were all alike – enthusiastic, passionate about our work. We played hard and worked hard together and there was lots of after-work socialising. However, we kept missing deadlines and had a reputation for being unreliable. With age comes wisdom and I can now look back and see we were all innovators and ideas people. There wasn’t one planner amongst us!

The change manager needs to recognise their natural preference, as this will affect how they manage the team. If an innovator or a communicator is leading the team, for example, they will be looking for support from the worker in terms of plans and scheduling.

As well as the preferences that team members have, they will have differing views about the change. If the change team is to make progress, it needs to have a high proportion of people who are in favour of the change. It is naïve to think that everyone in the change team believes in the value and benefits of the change. They may be involved because of their experience in the job, or their role in the line management hierarchy, rather than as a choice. However, those who are reticent about the change can be useful as they will carefully evaluate its impact, and give plenty of feedback about their concerns. Their views can be used to identify risks and constraints, and give others in the team a chance to overcome this resistance before pushing the change out to a wider audience.


An effective team needs structure, purpose and an agreed set of processes to enable every member to contribute to the best of their ability. This effectiveness is impacted by the attitude and behaviours of the team members, and, in turn, this is influenced by the culture and values of the organisation, as shown in Figure 22.

Figure 22: Agreeing the structure

Every organisation appears to have different names and titles for those working in change, so I have summarised the key roles that ensure there is a structure and hierarchy to the change team.

Change sponsor (sometimes known as ‘strategic change manager’):

  • Senior manager who has the authority to authorise the change, agree the budget for the resources needed and who will report progress of the change to executive management.
  • Responsible for creating the vision for the change, and communicating the vision of how the organisation will work once the change has been completed.

Change manager (sometimes known as ‘business change manager’):

  • Experienced manager who reports to the change sponsor.
  • Creates the change plan.
  • Identifies the resources impacted by the change – change agents and other stakeholders.
  • Assigns activities and responsibilities for developing the change (working with those responsible for project management) and implementing the change (working with those responsible for operational management).

Change agent (sometimes known as ‘advocate’):

  • Anyone who is responsible for making change happen within their area of responsibility.
  • Will be assigned activities from the change plan by the change manager.
  • Reports progress, issues and concerns to the change manager and to their line manager.

Resources can be drawn from across the organisation, but it helps if the change manager has a detailed understanding of the organisation, especially those functions most affected by the change. Change agents need to have knowledge of areas that are least understood by the change manager and, ideally, will be drawn from all areas impacted by the change.

We recognise the importance of sponsorship of change but we also need an architect of change – someone who can look at the whole picture and apply the vision across the organisation. This person differs from a change manager in that they have responsibility for bringing the change together across all functions. In some cases, this role is performed by the change sponsor, but in organisations with a mature approach to change management, this role is often permanent, and is at a senior level, reporting to a board member or the CEO.


The team needs to be clear about the reason for its creation, what it is expected to deliver and the breadth of its responsibilities.

Internal processes

All team members must be clear about how work is done and how information and decisions are communicated. This includes low-level details about the hours of work, dress code, criteria for working from home, access to equipment and technology, etc.

When a team is formed, there will be initial politeness, followed by jostling for position and challenges over the purpose of the team. Once team members start to work together, ‘norms’ of behaviour will be established and eventually the team should operate as a coherent unit that achieves high levels of performance. The longer the team takes to move through these steps, the longer the wait for it to achieve its objectives.

A team charter is a useful tool in defining the structure, purpose and processes, propelling the team through these early stages and providing facts and specifics for the team members to challenge. Without it, this aggressive, challenging phase will still take place, but the fights will be based on inconsequential aspects of the team, rather than the meaningful ‘What are we supposed to be doing?’ aspect.

For example, a change team has been formed to implement a change in the invoicing system that the finance team uses. The change is from a manual invoicing process, producing paper copies of invoices and purchase orders mailed to customers and suppliers, to an online web-based payments system.

To develop the team charter, the team asked the following questions:

Processes – how do we operate?

  • Should we be located with the finance team?
  • What are our hours of operation?
  • Are we going to allow home working and, if so, what are the criteria for qualifying for this?

Scope – where does our work stop and that of others begin?

  • Are we responsible for the changes within the finance team only, or do we need to include support for customers and suppliers?
  • Is it our job to define the reporting requirements from the new software, or has that already been agreed with the software vendor?

Objectives – how will we know when we have been successful?

  • Are we expecting all customers and suppliers to transfer to the new system, or will there be some exceptions?
  • Are we expected to update the company procedures, or is this still the responsibility of the quality team?
  • Will we need to verify the new processes, or is the audit team responsible for this?
  • Will we carry out staff training ourselves, or will we brief the training team, so they can roll out a training programme?
  • How should we work with IT and the external software vendor?

Checklist for the team charter

  • Is the team’s purpose aligned with the strategic objectives of the organisation?
  • Has the charter been developed with the participation with all team members?
  • Has the content of the team charter been reviewed to ensure that all team members have the same understanding of the purpose of the team?
  • Have all team members confirmed that they accept the team charter?
  • Are the team’s goals specific enough to measure performance?
  • Do the team’s goals reflect the needs/expectations of customers and key stakeholders?
  • Do team members understand what tasks have to be done and who is going to do them?
  • Do team members know how and by whom decisions will be made?
  • Do the skills and experience needed to do the job exist in the team?

In some teams the idea of the team charter is taken further, creating individual ‘performance contracts’ setting out the contribution of each team member.

Don’t overlook the motivation provided by self-empowerment and being responsible for oneself within the team. If you enable people to solve their own problems, they gain confidence about tackling the next challenge. As a change manager, be ready to listen to problems; don’t jump in with the answer, but challenge the individual to find a solution. Self-empowerment is vital if the change is to be embedded; but it does require bravery by those leading change teams. The individual will need support at each step, which can up take valuable time.

Understanding how people react to change

Before we can help people to move through change, we have to understand how they might react to the change. Essentially, human beings react to change in a similar way, whatever the change is. These reactions can be seen as a journey from initial shock to acceptance and adoption of the change, with an associated change in performance as shown in Figure 23.

Figure 23: Transition curve (based on the work of Elisabeth Kübler Ross, On Death and Dying, Routledge 2008 and Adam, Hayes and Hopson, Transitions: Understanding and Managing Personal Change, Wiley Blackwell 1977)

Emotional reactions

The need for new capability can sometimes come as a shock, because up until that point, the way you approached your work was fine. The skills you used and the systems you relied upon were stable, and you had good relationships with your colleagues.

When you hear about a change, your first thought might be that there is a new requirement, but nothing really needs to change because of it. In other words, you are in denial that you need to learn anything new.

When you realise that you are going to have to do things differently and you are going to have develop a new skill set, you might feel angry and annoyed with those that have identified the change. This is because you realise how much extra effort is required at a time when you already feel busy and under pressure.

To limit the disruption to your work, you might decide to bargain with your managers and colleagues. Perhaps you will offer to keep the old system going whilst others make the changes, or you might offer to do other types of work that are not subject to change.

When you realise that bargaining is not lessening the disruption to your work, you might find yourself getting depressed. You might feel more tired at work than usual and want to reduce your workload. You may limit the number of extra tasks that you do, or you might not work past your contracted hours. This has a cumulative effect on your productivity and those around you, and you can sense this in the reduced energy you feel at work.

Cycle of competence

Part of the reason for these negative feelings is the move through what psychologists call the ‘four stages of competence’.

Figure 24: Cycle of competence

At the unconscious competence state before the change is announced, you know how to do your job without having to think through every step or consult a checklist before proceeding. This means that you are likely to be fast, efficient and confident in your ability.

The change is announced, and you instantly move into the state of conscious incompetence. The knowledge that you have built up about how to do your job is no longer relevant. You are acutely aware of what you don’t know – you understand that you are incompetent at the new tasks and the new ways of working.

The move between from here to the state of conscious competence will only come as a result of practice and willingness to make mistakes and learn from them. This takes energy and commitment, a burden that was forced upon you when the change was announced.

By practising new skills, competence in the new way of working can be achieved, but it is not automatic at first. You will think through your tasks and check your work or ask others to do so, as you lack confidence in your ability.

Continued practice will eventually lead to the state of unconscious competence. You will be back to full productivity, and because the change was designed to improve aspects of productivity, your competence will make you more productive than before.

When my team are learning a new system, what I notice most is their lack of confidence in dealing with anything out of the ordinary. Even queries that have nothing to do with the new system become a drama, and they will involve colleagues in a discussion of the options. They will often ask me to decide on the action, even though it is well within their level of authority.

Eventually there is a point when you realise that the change is happening anyway, and the best approach is to get involved and stop fighting it. This acceptance enables you to look to the future, and starts you thinking about how you might benefit from your new working environment.

This leads you to experiment with the new or changed procedures, systems, relationships and products, and in doing so, you discover benefits and new ideas that make work easier or more rewarding.

Finally, the change is no longer a change. You have developed new capability, new skills and had new experiences. This new capability has been fully integrated into the way you work.

Moving towards acceptance of the change

Overcoming shock and anger

Communication is needed is to support employees with absorbing the shock and the realisation that what they do now, who they work with, and possibly where they do it, will be different in the future.

They may feel angry that they were not involved earlier in the change, and may feel that the change is being imposed upon them. Some may feel they have been slighted by not being included in the team responsible for exploring the change, because they have special knowledge or experience that would have been vital in reaching the right decision.

Others will concentrate on how the uncertainty between this point and the point at which the change is better understood will affect them. If they are worried about employment opportunities or promotion prospects, this can have far-reaching effects on their ability to plan ahead in their personal lives.

Give lots of background information, so that employees can come up to speed and feel their knowledge is on a par with those who have already been let into the secret:

  • Explain the origin of the change including the problem or opportunity that has arisen and why it is important now.
  • State who has been involved in identifying the change (the change exploration team) and exploring the options for taking it forward.
  • Explain who has been consulted so far, why they were chosen and who else is going to be involved.
  • Explain the sources of information that have been used to devise options and take decisions. Explain why this information was selected and what, if any, information was discarded and why.
  • Explain the reasons for the decisions that have been taken so far, who took them and any that are still pending and why they cannot be taken at this time (e.g. waiting for the results of analysis or for others to define a strategy or deliver information).
  • Explain what is still not known and how this will be addressed.

The shock of organisational change can benefit from the same treatment that we give to physiological shock. We give people somewhere quiet to absorb the information, we give them a hot drink and reassurance that things will be OK, and we give them a chance to talk it through, ask questions and reflect on what has happened. Announcing that someone’s working life is about to change can have significant impact, so give consideration to the environment in which you make these early communications, as it will affect how the change is perceived. For example:

  • Don’t choose a very busy period of work when people will not have a chance to absorb what is said.
  • Ensure that either everyone is told at once or make arrangements to meet people one to one, with the request that they don’t talk to others until everyone has been notified.
  • Provide time and space for people to absorb the information. This includes talking it through or having quiet time to reflect. Whatever the preference of the individual, managers must remember that this is a time of lower productivity and should manage workloads accordingly.

When our boss’s boss called us into a meeting, we knew that the rumours about a restructuring were true. There was a presentation about how our department would merge with the marketing department. I could see straight away that I was being transferred to a new section and that my manager would be Steven, the new events manager who joined the previous month. I cannot remember anything else as I was only thinking about how well I got on with Malcolm (my current boss), that my appraisal was due soon and I was worried that Steven wouldn’t review me as positively as Malcolm would.

It is important a safe space is created for people to express their anger without fear of recrimination. Not everyone will be angered by the changes, but it is more effective to allow those who are to vent their anger as early as possible, as this gives them an opportunity to move on.

It’s better to flush it out earlier because it will surface somewhere, so you might as well address it up front.

The most effective way of dealing with anger (but the least attractive for the change team) is to hold meetings with those affected. It’s no fun being the recipient of this anger, but face to face offers an opportunity to engage with the individual. Establishing online forums can seem like a good idea, creating a community where individuals can have their say; but it can be too easy to whip up a storm and create a disproportionate level of resistance, especially by those who are most angry or most able to articulate their resentment.

Overcoming denial and bargaining

The purpose of this communication is to help employees realise that the change applies to them and that it is something that they will have to engage with. Part of adapting to change is to pretend that it affects everyone but yourself and, therefore, you are not really going to have to change.

I am the head of the department, so I don’t need to know how the new time-recording system works – one of my junior managers can input my information for me.

Explain the change so that these reasons can be negated. This means ensuring that the communications specifically address each of the reasons that the individual gives for why the change is not relevant to them. The most effective communication is based on the explanations of the employees themselves and their ability to make the link between the change and how it will help them be effective in the future.

Discuss their position, their role and their skill set in relation to the change:

  • Get them to redefine their responsibilities and their job descriptions in light of the change.
  • Give them a competence assessment to help them map where they are now and where they need to be.
  • Get them to create a training and development path to move them into this new role.

When I lost my assistant in the reshuffle, I was OK about it at first. I was pretty confident I could cope with the work, but I was a bit worried that losing my assistant meant I was no longer seen as a senior manager. It was about a week later that I realised I was stressed. I was short-tempered at work and at home I started to feel nervous about going into work the next day. I booked a meeting with my boss to discuss the situation. I wanted to negotiate a compromise and soften what I thought was a very harsh decision by offering to share Lisa by making her assistant to the team and not just to me. We had a detailed discussion about the reasons for the reshuffle and the need to cut the cost base, and although she didn’t agree to the job share idea, I did feel more informed and more involved in the decision to move Lisa on.

Moving through depression into acceptance

Allow people to make the connection between the skills and experience that they have been using and their relevance in the new environment. Reassure them over and over that they will be supported through the change, via training courses, workshops, user groups, and mentoring and coaching. Generate excitement and anticipation about the change by explaining how the new environment will remove the problems and criticisms of the old world.

Supporting integration and experimentation5

The purpose of this communication is to get people involved with the change and applying it to their work, so:

  • Give people permission to experiment – provide clear boundaries over what they can take decisions about, what they are allowed to remove or add to (e.g. reports, steps in the process, information that is retained or discarded, permission to access information).
  • Give them an environment in which they can practise using sand boxes, test systems or pilot programmes. Remove some of the deadlines and constraints of business-as-usual to enable them to do this.

Moving through the transition curve is an individual experience. You cannot predict how people will react, and there is no one-size-fits-all support that will help everyone. To be effective, the support must be tailored to individual needs.

One popular model is the ‘learning styles’ theory,6 which explains that we all have different ways of learning about new situations and coming to terms with change. It defines four categories:

  • Theorists enjoy rational, logical explanations. They review situations from an analytical and objective perspective, rather than using their emotions. We might sum them up by saying that they think with their head and not their heart.
  • Reflectors like to think things through carefully before they draw any conclusions. They enjoy observing the views and actions of others, but they will not join in until they have decided it’s a good idea. They stand on the sidelines initially.
  • Activists like to get on and do things, rather than analyse the situation. They enjoy new experiences and bring energy and enthusiasm to change, but they can dominate.
  • Pragmatists are keen to become involved, but their pragmatic approach means that the change has to be relevant to them. Before getting involved they need to see that the change will have some impact on their role.

The motivations of the individual must also be taken into account. There are those that ‘work to live’ and are motivated by family issues including work–life balance. There are those that ‘live to work’ and are motivated by career issues and how their current role fits into their overall plan for career advancement. Family-motivated employees will evaluate the change in light of their current work arrangements, including the total hours they are away from their family. For their new role, they will evaluate the length and duration of their commute, the amount of travelling they have to do, the location of their office and other important locations, including schools and homes and workplaces of family members.

Career-oriented employees are concerned with career opportunities and will be sensitive to any threats to the trajectory they have planned for themselves and the progress they have decided they should be making. They are interested in any change to their position in the hierarchy. They are typically concerned with:

  • the direct reports they will have;
  • who their bosses will be;
  • their level of authority;
  • opportunities to join fast-track management programmes for promotion and for leadership;
  • attention and praise from leaders.

The greatest resistance to change occurs when an individual believes that the change is disadvantageous to their current position and/or takes away their positive expectations of the future. Resistance means that they will remain angry, or in denial about the change, or attempt to bargain their way out of having to change.

I was considering the next step in my career when my company announced a merger with one of our largest competitors. I was doing well with regular promotions, had just finished a challenging project and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get left behind in the bigger company. I was really impressed to be offered one-to-one career counselling as part of the merger. I had to prepare a portfolio of my work and set out my personal objectives for the next two years, and then I had a two-hour interview with a career counsellor to help me develop a personal career plan, which I then shared with my manager. Two years on I have had a significant promotion and I am very glad I stayed, as there are still lots of opportunities in front of me.

When my company was restructured, we were offered a big spread of options to make the transition easier. I was surprised to see so many ‘family friendly’ options included in the package and although pay and overtime rates have been frozen for the last year I have been able to change my hours so that I can take my kids to school every morning. This means my wife has been able to return to work part time. It’s been a great help, and I don’t think I would have been confident to ask if it hadn’t been suggested by the company in the first place.

Persuading and motivating people to change

Change is only effective when those involved adopt it for themselves, changing their behaviours, attitudes and patterns of work to create a new environment, one that matches the vision of the change.

To encourage people to make a change, we can use influencing, motivating and persuading. As Figure 25 shows, these techniques have an increasingly narrow breadth of impact.

Figure 25: Encouraging change


The ability to influence is the power to affect a person or course of events without undertaking any direct action and to be a compelling force on the behaviour of others.

To influence people to become positively engaged with the change requires those leading the change to adopt an attitude of confidence and enthusiasm. The change team needs to create an environment that looks attractive and that makes individuals believe they would be missing out on the fun if they didn’t join in. Influencing is, to a large extent, setting an example that you wish others to follow. It is not a direct technique, specifically targeting others, rather it sets out to attract and inspire, so that others are encouraged to follow.

Influencing is strongly associated with leadership skills.

Leadership is the ability to establish vision and direction, to influence and align others towards a common purpose, and to empower and inspire people to achieve project success. It enables the project to proceed in an environment of change and uncertainty.

(Project Management Body of Knowledge, Association for Project Management, 2006)

The ability to influence others is directly related to the charisma and personality of those leading the change. Whilst some leaders appear to have star quality, where people are naturally drawn to them, there are techniques for increasing an individual’s power to influence:

Be self-aware:

  • Understand your own motivation and what attracts you to involvement in the change. Appreciate that this is only one viewpoint and identify other reasons for feeling positive about it.
  • Be clear about your strengths and abilities so that you can communicate the complementary skills that you are seeking from others.

Be socially aware:

  • Take an active interest in the concerns of others and engage with them, incorporating their solutions into your approach to the change.
  • Show appreciation for positive statements and enthusiasm, and incorporate them into your change communications.
  • Take time to assess the power relationships before addressing groups and empathise with the emotions expressed by individuals.

The power of influencing can increase through cyclical repetition:

Figure 26: Influencing through the cycle of repetition

Influencing is too hands off to have a direct impact, so it is unrealistic to suggest that you can influence someone from a strongly held negative view to a strongly held positive view. Many models of influencing indicate that its power is to move the views of an individual one position at a time along the spectrum of agreement (see Figure 27). Although the individual you are trying to influence thinks you have the credibility to lead the change, this does not affect their fundamental disagreement with the change.

Figure 27: Spectrum of agreement


Motivation is the general desire or willingness to do something. Motivating others is more specific than influencing. It can generate positive feelings and enough excitement and energy to make the change.

Motivation is linked to control – being motivated to complete a task means that the individual is engaged with that task, keen to plan how to do it and get on with the work. In this way, they are taking control of the task, and are more able to drive themselves through the transition curve.

There are two types of motivation:

  • Intrinsic motivation is when we are able to motivate ourselves without an external push – we are doing it to satisfy ourselves.
  • Extrinsic motivation is when we do something because of an external force, which might be to avoid a threat (e.g. threat of job loss) or to gain a reward.

Motivation is often a product of both intrinsic and extrinsic forces working together.

Common motivating factors

Common motivating factors are:

  • achievement
  • recognition
  • enjoyment of the work
  • responsibility
  • career advancement
  • personal growth.

If you know in general terms what motivates a person, you can respond to them in particular ways:

  • An achievement-oriented person: Discuss the change in terms of what they personally will achieve by becoming involved, and also what the team, department or organisation will achieve as a result of their contribution.
  • A recognition-oriented person: Point out who in the organisation and the market place will be tracking the progress of the change (senior managers, potential future employers, respected industry experts) and how individuals involved in the change will naturally come to their attention.
  • A person concerned with enjoyment of their work: Highlight how the change will remove existing problems and issues and make the job easier. Enjoyment may be a product of social engagement with colleagues, enjoyment of specific tasks or belief in the value of the work, so discuss the change in terms of these factors.
  • A responsibility-oriented person: Highlight how involvement in the change offers opportunities for expanding what or who the individual is responsible for, and how these opportunities will continue throughout the change as more is understood about the scope of the work.
  • Motivating a person interested in career advancement and personal growth: Review the expected skills and experiences that someone involved in the change is likely to acquire. Work with HR and senior managers to identify how those involved in change can apply their knowledge once the change has been embedded. Some individuals will be hesitant about becoming involved in the change because they believe that by joining a change team they are losing their place in the organisation structure. It is the responsibility of the change manager to ensure that the longer-term planning for appointing members of the change team to new roles is agreed at the start of the change.

To ensure that those asked to implement the change are as motivated as possible, we need to aim for agreement with the following statements:

  • You feel able to control how you approach change activities – you are able to decide what activities to undertake, and when to complete them.
  • You feel that your manager has a good understanding of the work that you are undertaking to implement the change, and that this is aligned to their understanding of what is required.
  • You feel supported by your colleagues; there is clarity about what needs to be done and what to do if issues arise.
  • You have had positive feedback from your colleagues and your manager on your achievements.
  • You feel positive about the change and believe there are benefits for yourself, your team and the organisation as a whole.

Barriers to motivation

If we are to motivate others successfully to become involved in our change, we should ensure that we remove the most common barriers to motivation:

  • Not knowing the starting point – lack of obvious structure to successful change.
  • Lack of time – individuals struggle to balance their involvement with their business-as-usual responsibilities.
  • Distractions – psychologists have counted the number of interruptions picked up by our brain (ringing phones, other people’s conversations, traffic noise, etc.) as over 10,000 per day in a busy office.
  • Bureaucracy – if the rules and procedures associated with a task are too onerous then creative individuals will feel that they cannot innovate or input their ideas to the work.
  • Lack of conviction about the benefit of the change – individuals do not feel that the change means something to them.

When we are motivating individuals to change, we cannot guess what motivates them. The best we can do is ensure that there are positive, motivating aspects clearly signposted in the way in which we present the change.


Persuasion is used to get someone to do or agree something that they would not necessarily choose to do.

Persuasion is a process designed to change the attitude or behaviour of a person or group from their current view to the view that the persuader wishes them to hold.

Some people shy away from the subject of persuasion because they are fearful that it is manipulation by another name. However, if people participate in the negotiation of what they will and will not do, they can take responsibility and satisfaction from the negotiation process, which gives them a psychological win.

There are a number of forces at work when we attempt to persuade someone to do something. In change management, our ability to persuade needs to be strong because we are not only persuading someone to undertake an activity, we are asking them to see something in a different light, think about things from a different perspective or adopt a different attitude.

Persuasion is a complex area – we are impacting on the power that someone has over their own choices, so we are reducing personal choice (theirs) and increasing compliance with an external choice (ours). That is why the resistance to change is such a powerful force, because essentially it is about individuals protecting their ability to decide for themselves how their life will be lived.

To understand how to persuade others we need to examine three areas:

  • the person making the request;
  • the characteristics of the request;
  • the types of automatic response that can be generated by a request.

Person making the request

Our willingness to become involved in something is affected by our view of the person requesting our involvement. This view is a product of two factors: liking and authority.

It is fairly obvious that it is easier to persuade someone to do something if they like the person who is requesting their compliance. An essential rule of working in change management is that you need more friends and people that like you than in any other job.

Liking  The basics of being liked are:

  • physical attractiveness – not much we can do about this one;
  • similarity – we like people who are like us;
  • lifestyle – background, personality traits, views and opinions;

As a freelance consultant, I work with new teams all the time. I try to fit in, wear the same sort of clothes, work the same hours, use the canteen if my team do, bring my lunch from home if they do – in other words be ‘normal’ in their eyes so that I don’t get branded an ‘outsider’.

  • compliments and flattery – we tend to believe praise and we tend to like people who provide it;
  • familiarity – get them familiar with the change if you want them to like it, and get them familiar with you if you want their co-operation.

When I join a new team, I try and spend time getting to know them and for them to get to know me. I am direct and straight with people. I am clear about how I like to get things done, and I always deliver so they know I am reliable.

  • conditioning and association – people assume we have the same personality traits as our friends; you are known by the company you keep.

We cannot always be liked, though. An alternative is to identify friends of the people we are hoping to persuade, and either have them around when we are making our requests or be authorised to mention their name in connection with our request. In these circumstances, we are making use of the power of liking to drive our change forward.

Authority  Individuals may participate in change in response to a request from a recognised authority. Authority is conferred as a result of two forces:

  • formal authority – job titles, reporting lines, position in the company;
  • informal authority – knowledge and experience of the subject.

During change, when everything is new and unknown, there is an opportunity to develop informal authority by becoming an expert in all aspects of the change. Change team members can take advantage of the authority auto-response by becoming experts in the reasons, impact and risks of the change.

You can use titles within the change team to imply authority, via specialist knowledge, over a specific aspect of the change. Successful change teams appoint individuals to head up smaller teams responsible for each aspect of the change, who can be called upon to give their judgement when individuals are resisting the change and need to be assured that what they are being asked to do is relevant and necessary.

First thing I do when assembling my team is to set out who is going to be the lead on each area: systems – processing; systems – reporting; systems – interface; processes – internal; processes – external; planning lead; communications lead. Then everyone knows who to go to, and each member can develop very detailed understanding of their area so we can call on them for their expertise whenever we hit resistance.

Characteristics of the request

Our willingness to become involved is affected by a product of the activity’s scarcity and perceived value.

Scarcity  If there are limited opportunities for becoming involved in an activity, it appears more attractive. Scarcity introduces a competitive element, a chance that you might lose out to someone else getting in before you.

Whilst it may feel counter-intuitive, to increase participation in change activities, try and create an impression of scarcity. Limit the number of places on a workshop or limit the number of workshops to increase their attractiveness. The value of this response can be diluted if it is overused, so give consideration to the aspects of the change that you think would benefit the most from this extra focus. Good examples include the number of available positions on the change team, where you want to stimulate a competitive element that will ensure that the team members that you select are from the most engaged participants.

Perceived value  We all have a natural ability to assign value to our efforts. If we believe that we are well rewarded, then our enthusiasm for taking action is high.

In terms of change activities, we can create opportunities for taking part that make people believe that the effort is well rewarded. For example, ensure that those who are consistently working late as a result of the change activities are given additional time off or the first choice of holiday weeks in the annual rota. Attendance at workshops can be rewarded by certificates of attendance that form part of the individual’s staff file and contribute towards their annual performance review.

Perceived value is also a product of comparison. If we are asked to compare two items, the view we take about the second item will be impacted by the assessment we made of the first item.

To use this to best effect, if we are looking for involvement, it’s a good idea to present the request that involves the most effort first, so that subsequent requests look less significant.

A lot of what we put in the change plan needs sense checking, as our estimates of how long things will take are just guesswork! We need the involvement of those who are going to be doing the work to get things right but reviewing a plan line by line takes a lot of time, and the best people to review the plan are often the busiest. I usually ask people to review the whole plan and if I get turned down then I ask them to review just one section of it. After all, something is better than nothing, and sometimes I get lucky and one of them will review the whole thing.

Use Figure 28 as a guide for which technique to use in different situations.

Figure 28: Matching persuasion techniques to different situations

Automatic responses

There are certain rules that are embedded into us through our formative relationships with parents, teachers and others in authority that most of us have adopted subconsciously, even if we are not aware of them. If we are aware of these rules when we are communicating change, we can apply them to trigger an automatic response from the person we are trying to persuade.

Psychologists recognise three basic rules governing human nature: reciprocity, consistency and peer pressure.

Reciprocity  When someone gives us something, it triggers a deep-seated need to give something back in return. In other words, we don’t like to feel that we owe someone; we like to equalise the power between us and the other person.

The implementation of change relies on a great deal of extra effort and hard work by those impacted by the change. If the change team uses the rule of reciprocity they can create a group of willing helpers simply by making sure that the helpers are paying back the favours that the change team has done for them.

When creating the change plan and the communications plan, identify actions that will give something to those impacted by the change – create ‘favours’.

I was working with a group in the public sector who were short of computers, and a lot of time was wasted waiting for access to the machines on the days when the community workers came in to type up their notes. The change team supplied two new laptops to the community workers and took the pressure off everyone. It created a positive environment and they could not do enough for us in return.

Reciprocity is not driven by equality in size or scale of the favours being offered/received and responded to.

An example is to identify the concerns of those impacted and then create concessions, so the way in which the change is being implemented is adjusted to fit with the needs of the community affected. These concessions do not need to be significant, but they will trigger the reciprocity response; so you have to be ready to request something from the community in response.

Even if your request is at first rejected, when you come back with an alternative request the urge to meet your needs and return the favour is still very strong. Effectively, by coming back a second time, you are showing that you understand that your original request cannot be met, you respect this answer and are no longer pursuing that request. Offering an alternative indicates you have spent time thinking this through and are therefore making an effort. It would be churlish of the respondent not to hear you out and not to review your alternative request.

The second request is often agreed to because in contrast to the first request it appears smaller, which makes the person being asked feel bad about turning down the request for a ‘minor’ piece of work.

This is a popular technique, and for the more unscrupulous, the initial request is designed to be turned down, almost as a distraction from the main event, which is the second request – the one that is really needed. There is no downside, in that if the first, larger favour is accepted then the change team are getting more help than they bargained for. If the second request is accepted they are getting what they planned for.

Consistencyy  Once we make a commitment we put energy into seeing it through. We convince ourselves we have done the right thing, and put effort into making that a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We are more emotionally attached to something that we have chosen to do than if it were forced upon us. So our role is to ensure that those impacted by change are signing up for the change management activities that we have planned for them. Once we can get them to agree to the activities, the consistency rule should help them to put effort and time into completing them.

You can gain buy-in by asking them to rate how important these activities are to the overall change effort. Next, get the community to identify who would be best to carry out these activities (playing on the desire for personal choice – the community are deciding how the change is implemented). Finally, move in and make sure that those recommended for the activities are allocated to them.

The first intervention is important because it paves the way for future involvement. Again, applying the rule of consistency, if you have been involved in a change action once, what is the argument for not being involved in the next activity? This is called the ‘foot-in-the-door’ technique.

Another example is to use a ‘charter’ or ‘values statement’ as the first step in the change process. By asking people to sign up to a promise about how they will behave during the change, we are achieving that first early step.

Psychologically, a statement is a declaration. By signing a statement we are making a promise about what we will do or how we will behave, which gives us a push to carry out what we have promised. We can use this ‘rule’ by asking those impacted by the change to define the metrics or KPIs that they think their work should be judged against, and then sign up or promise to aim for them.

Peer pressure  One way in which we can persuade people is to tap into their belief that if others are doing it, then they should be too. The logic behind this automatic response is about playing the odds. If we see three out of four people behaving one way and a fourth person behaving a different way, the chances are the three people are correct and the fourth person is wrong.

Another way of putting this is that most people imitate and only a few innovate.

If we want to take advantage of this to implement change successfully, we need to use the power of user groups and reference sites. We are looking for positive examples of the behaviours we want our community to adopt. This is also why we are looking for those most closely connected to the change to model these behaviours.

The evidence we are looking for to trigger the social validation response is not about the benefits of the change, rather that the greater the number of people who have adopted it, the stronger the argument for following suit.

During the tender process I ask software vendors lots of questions about who else is using their system and how similarly they are using it to the way we want to deploy it. I visit as many reference sites as the vendor will give me to hear how the deployment really happened. It doesn’t matter how many meetings I have with the vendor – it’s the customers that I really listen to.

When communicating change, it helps to have presentations, videos or articles from those that have already made the change. Alternatively, to see it in action, arrange visits by those who are about to change to those who have already changed.

5 Ideas further explored in Adam, Hayes and Hopson, Transition: Understanding & Managing Personal Change, Allanheld, Osmun, 1977

6 Further explored in David A. Kolb, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Prentice-Hall, 1984.