Her latest book, The Shape of Change: A Guide to Planning, Implementing and Embedding Organisational Change, draws on a huge wealth of experience; she has supported many organisations in the private, public and non-profit sectors through a wide variety of change, including organisational transformations, restructures and mergers, IT-enabled change, cultural and behavioural change, and building organisational capacity to deliver change.
Nicola’s clients have included Penguin Random House, Houses of Parliament, Financial Ombudsman Service, National Childbirth Trust, BBC, ITV, Network Rail, Kent County Council.
Nicola is an accredited trainer for the APMG Change Management qualification, and authored the chapter on Change Readiness, Planning and Measurement for the set text for the course, The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook. So without further ado - let's meet her!
Hi Nicola, thank you for stopping by Activia’s Expert Insights section. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself for our readers?
Hi Ashley, thanks for inviting me – it’s great to be here!
I live in North London with my partner and three step-sons. I am also very close to my four nieces and nephews and it is great to have so many children in my life. The enthusiasm and wonder they have for life is infectious, and a great antidote to everyday stresses and strains.
My first career was as a classical musician and music is still a big part of my life. I play the viola and am currently learning the guitar. I try to keep fit by swimming and walking, and have recently taken up yoga. The benefits of yoga are already becoming apparent as I can now touch my toes for the first time ever!
You’re an experienced business change manager, and you have a specific interest in cultural and behavioural change, which is one of the reasons why you decided to create The Shape of Change: A Guide to Planning, Implementing and Embedding Organisational Change. What was it in particular that drew you to this topic?
I have supported many organisations to change the way they work. The extent to which people get involved often makes the difference between success and failure. You can have the best idea in the world, but if people don’t support it, engage with it and ultimately choose to change their behaviour, it won’t happen.
Many organisations seem to view their people as resources to be managed, cogs in a machine to be instructed, or even a source of resistance which needs to be overcome. These organisations struggle to change. Organisations who understand that every individual is unique and valuable end up with much better outcomes from their change initiatives.
Therefore, successful organisational change requires as much focus on culture and behaviour as on the tangible things that are changing. This includes the behaviour of the people leading and managing the change as well as those affected by the things that are changing.
Who is this book aimed at and how will it help them?
The book is aimed at anyone involved in change in their workplace, including:
- Business change managers and anyone else who works with people during change
- People managing change, including project and programme managers, operational performance and continual development teams, and operational teams who are implementing local changes as part of business as usual
- People leading change, for example project and programme sponsors and boards, operational leaders, and senior executives
- Operational managers whose teams are being affected change
- Individuals in teams who support their colleagues through change, either as formal change champions or more informally
- Support teams, including HR, organisational development, communications, and technology teams. Many other teams can also be involved in supporting change, including project management offices, learning and development, finance, policy and strategy teamsIt will also be useful for anyone studying business skills, including project management and leadership development.
Planning and implementing are both popular subjects for books on organisational change – what is unique about The Shape of Change: A guide to planning, implementing and embedding organisational change?
There are many excellent books available on planning and implementing change in organisations. Every book focuses on a different aspect of change, for example organisational strategy, project management methodologies, leadership of change. The Shape of Change is unique because it focuses on the people aspects of organisational change.
The book takes readers through a typical change journey – from the initial idea through planning, implementation and embedding. It highlights the key points where people need to be involved, engaged and supported to make the change successful. It explores activities, tools and techniques which can be used at each point and examines what, how, when and why to apply these things during different change projects.
It is called The Shape of Change because there is no one way to work with people during change. Individual needs vary widely depending on many factors, such as the culture of the organisation and how the change will impact them. We need to shape our change management approach every time we work on different change initiatives.
Can you give some examples of companies who are great at implementing change within their organisation?
Organisations change to survive. Even standing still requires continual adjustment to keep up with developments in the external environment, advances in technology and actions of competitors. Organisations that manage change best are those at the top of their industries – the ones who innovate, utilise new technologies and adapt well to changing environments and customer expectations.
Changing an organisation is hard - people regularly talk of 70-80% failure rates. Many failures occur because organisations do not engage their staff properly in the change. Reading The Shape of Change can help lower these failure rates by increasing understanding of how and why organisations need to prioritise their people during change.
What would you say is the first step towards developing or improving a plan of organisational change?
Understand the culture of the organisation. Culture, which is often described as ‘the way we do things around here’, has a huge influence on how people think and act in organisations. Change often disturbs the culture in some way, which can cause all sorts of problems if not recognised and dealt with properly.
Cultures are not easy to identify and describe. They are very deep-rooted and have often been sub-consciously refined and embedded over many years. The chapter on culture in The Shape of Change suggests a couple of ways to analyse organisational culture which I have found very useful in my work, and gives worked examples of how to undertake the analysis.
Can everyone be adaptable to cultural and behavioural change, or do different people react differently?
Everyone is adaptable to culture and behavioural change, given the right circumstances. Just think about how we have adapted our behaviour since the birth of the internet. The way we communicate, access information, build our social networks and value expertise has altered significantly over the past few years, and continues to do so as technology advances.
Everyone reacts differently to change. This is why stakeholder engagement is such a big part of organisational change. Individual reactions to change can be caused by many things so we need to take time to understand our stakeholders and build mutual respect and trust. We can then begin to engage positively with them to facilitate successful change.
People very rarely resist because they don’t like change. Unfortunately, there is a common myth that resistance is inevitable during organisational change and needs to be managed and controlled.
This is incorrect. People do not resist change, but the way that it is done. People often feel threatened during organisational change. Their environment becomes uncertain and their well-being is put at risk. Resistance is often the only possible response.
Therefore, resistance is a reaction to a threat rather than an action carried out against a change. Those planning and leading the change need to ensure that people are engaged, involved and supported to minimise the threat to their wellbeing and reduce the need for them to resist.
Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Organisational change can be done well but there is no quick and easy solution. It requires resources, time and patience. Put the effort in and the results can be outstanding!
Nicola’s latest book, ‘The Shape of Change: A Guide to Planning, Implementing and Embedding Organisational Change’, is published by Routledge and available now. You can order it directly from the Routledge website and receive 20% discount by entering the code FLR40 at the checkout.
Nicola blogs at Business Change Enthusiasts. and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org