A Six Step Change Management Cycle that is OK, I suppose

This is the second in my Change Management Theory suite of blog posts.

I am going through my old MBA materials and re-reading all the old bits on change management and blogging about it to reinforce the learning.

See here for the earlier post on Change Management Frameworks.

I am a little skeptical of all models and theories in business education. They are useful insofar as they provide structure and process, but they are not the be all and end all. This model (from the Open University) is fine, but I find academia increasingly confused when it comes to things as practical as change delivery. They don’t seem to know what to do with themselves.

The academic hinterland behind change management is wonderful stuff: psychology, theories of communication, adult learning, that sort of thing – but when it comes to mapping out this sort of change model, I think more practical sources such as Kotter’s “Leading Change” (link to my review of “Leading Change”) or the ADKAR model are better.

That said, I will plough on, seeing as I’ve got this far …

The Six Step Change Cycle

This is a simple cyclical model based on the ideas from the Change Frameworks discussed previously, and three other key sources:

The key point that differentiates this approach from most others is its cyclical nature.

This is to move away from the idea that change is a simple linear process of discrete steps. This approach argues that it’s an ongoing process of repeated steps to shuffle change along (and so borrows mostly from the Outlandos d’Amour framework and Dawson’s process approach).

It’s important to note that although the model is circular, it doesn’t mean the change is.

A change project is a journey: it has a beginning, a middle, and an end (sort of) – the model argues that to move along this track, you need to cycle around the six steps – yes, up to a point, but hopefully at some point you can draw a line and say you’ve embedded the change.

This feels very different to Kotter’s model. He is much more linear, and goes to great pains to argue the importance of completing (or nearly completing) each of the eight steps before proceeding to the next.

The six steps are:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Create a guiding coalition
  3. Develop a vision and strategy
  4. Address cultural issues
  5. Manage the transition
  6. Sustain momentum

I will quickly run through these, jotting down the main points from the module – but each deserves much more attention than I’ll give in the remainder of this post. In the future I’ll write more on each, drawing on more material than just these course notes.


Sense of urgency

Getting things moving from a standing start is hard, especially when staying in the same place is feasible and less risky. To make any change happen, you need to make the forces for change (both push and pull) greater than the forces for standing still.

Sometimes these forces come knocking at the door: stuff breaks, market share falls, profits tumble, government regulation changes … but oftentimes it’s much less obvious that change is needed (or going to be needed).

So the first thing is to make sure there’s a lot of external data coming in. This should include things like benchmarking against competition, customer feedback, industry news, general economic news – with a focus on those things linked to industry key success factors.

For example, I once consulted for a property company that sold Spanish property to UK residents. They were highly exposed to exchange rate fluctuation, the UK housing market and the Spanish mortgage market. Any movement in any of these key variables, and demand for their product would shoot up or down. Understanding what numbers to track was vital to getting the right kind of external information in front of the right people.

There are also internal triggers to change.

I divide these into two: micro-factors and macro-factors.

The first, micro-factors, are those things which don’t impact the overall strategy, mission or values of the organisation. This includes new IT systems, better internal processes, new facilities or equipment, HR policy changes such as a new performance management process, new rules around health and safety or quality control, internal restructures etc.

Macro-factors are those which do impact the overall strategy, mission or values: moving into new markets, new products, new ways of competing, mergers and acquisitions, new focus on values or corporate brand etc.

More in a separate post, at some point in the future. Probably.


Guiding Coalition

Senior management support is vital for change to succeed, yet in many cases senior management are responsible for (and often doing very nicely from) the current situation.

This can be jolly tricky. It’s about politics and stakeholder engagement (look at the Zenyatta Mondatta (or multiple-accountability) framework) and needs to be managed with care and skill.

If the first part is done well (the sense of urgency), then this becomes easier. If it is already widely accepted that change needs to happen, then the change manager can work with the key stakeholders to ensure their needs are understood, and – a useful trick – what is not going to change is explicitly stated. This has the advantage of providing some certainty and stability at a time of uncertainty and instability.


Vision and strategy

At the start we created a sense of urgency – this was the push factor. This helped to bring the key people on board as the “guiding coalition” who – with the Change Manager’s able help – need to build the pull factor: the vision thing.

An effective vision … holds various dimensions in balance: there will be a reference to an idealistic future but it will be based in the present, it will have an outward focus but be cognisant of inner strengths and weaknesses, and it will be broad enough to inspire, yet specific enough to differentiate the particular product or service of your organisation from any other



Address culture

This is the real meat in the change management sandwich, the really fun part.

Corporate culture is defined as:

the behavior of humans who are part of an organization and the meanings that the people attach to their actions


Paul Bate, in Strategies for Cultural Change (1995) presents four approaches for cultural change:

  1. Aggressive: rapid, top-down, non-complex etc.
  2. Conciliative: collaborative, continuous change, inclusive etc.
  3. Indoctrinative: learning, explicit, social
  4. Corrosive: manipulative, political, informal

Despite the negative labels, each has a place and can be used to help drive through cultural change. One, more or all of them can be used at different times during the project, sequentially as we move through the project, or mixed together as circumstances dictate.

The key tools are communications and training, but also stakeholder engagement tools are really useful here. I personally like the Mitchell et al (1997) matrix* which maps stakeholder’s power to influence against their legitimacy, but any old “Commitment plan” will do, as long as it shows the key people and how supportive (or not) they are (and where they need to be moved to).


Manage the transition

This is not just project management skills (although they are necessary), it is about using the frameworks to decide exactly what activities need to be included.

I like Edgar Schein’s thinking on this, and would distill it down to three main areas to look at:

  1. What can we do to prove the vision, make it less cloudy, less pie in the sky, and make it feel more real and realistic
  2. What can we do to make the status quo, the current state, less stable and safe : before any change the current state always feels more like solid ground than some potential possible maybe future visiony thing
  3. What support can we provide to people to help them move from A to B


Sustain momentum

Having taken a risk by going through a managed change project, it’s important to keep things moving by communicating the positive impact of the change (new stats/KPIs showing improvement, “celebrate quick wins” (Kotter again)) and dealing with those parts that aren’t working so well.

As I said at the start of this post, this model is cyclical. This means that it may be necessary to start again, building urgency and keeping the guiding coalition on board, reiterating (and refining) the vision etc. – many change projects run out of puff, especially when no real benefit is shown soon enough (hence the fundamental importance of communications);  the nay-sayers who’ve been banging on about it all being rubbish are always ready to pounce on any perceived weakness as cast-iron proof that they were right all along and had had the foresight to tell you so.


* Toward a Theory of Stakeholder Identification and Salience: Defining the Principle of Who and What Really Counts by Ronald K Mitchell, Bradley R Agle and Donna J Wood


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