By Craig Johns

Any leader can instigate a change, but managing effective and successful change requires something special. A meticulous attention to detail, outstanding people skills and the stamina to succeed are just some of the important factors that great leaders possess in delivering effective changes over a long period of time.

This article is the third part of a four part series discussing transformational change from a variety of different angles and providing an insight into some of the organisational changes I have personally experienced. Part one considered why change is important for organisational success, ways to manage change, and organisational impact through change. Part two took a look at how to prioritise change, while investigating the challenges and resistance faced during change. This article (part three) highlights factors for success during change and implementing a continual change culture. Finally, part four will bring to light effective communication strategies during a change process.


To successfully effect organisation transformational change the most critical aspect is the ability to win the hearts and minds of the employees in relation to the change. Four key processes are necessary to impact change from a people point of view:

  1. Understand how the changes fit into the entire organisations environment, through a systematic diagnosis of the current environment, as well as determining whether there is a need for change and if the organisation has the capability to develop, manage and implement.
  2. Determine what adjustments the organisation will require to effect the change.
  3. Continually train all employees so the changes are integrated into the organizations culture.
  4. Ensure buy-in and win support from all employees through influencing appropriate adjustments.

It is so important to bring your team along for the ride. They need to grasp the purpose of the change, believe in it and be willing to give one hundred percent commitment. As a leader you need to plan and prepare how you will win the hearts and minds.

Jeff Immelt, who recently retired as CEO of General Electric (GE) after seventeen years at the helm, was successful at implementing a change culture that could comprehend multiple organisational transformation changes. In an article called ‘How I remade GE’ (4), he noted that you can’t have transformation without revamping the culture and the ‘ways things are done around here’ mentality. Jeff provided seven important attributes that contributed to his leadership of transformational change at GE:

  1. Discipline – Leaders require the discipline to ensure that new initiatives fit with all organisation initiatives and they release those that don’t fit.
  2. Soak – Good leaders are curious and always absorbing information about new potential trends and developments. They don’t instantly react, but instead contemplate, read about, listen to expert opinions and engage in a ‘soak period’ to reach a conclusion, understand what it means for the organisation and how to act on it. They must be profoundly convinced that the organisation must transform itself.
  3. Make It Existential – Treat every big change if it were life or death, and instill this type of psychology in the management team.
  4. Be All In – People can smell a lack of commitment, so you can’t improvise with half measures. You require a 100% commitment to ensure adequate financial and human resources are committed to the change and you are prepared to go all the way to the end.
  5. Be Resilient – Any change transformation requires ‘staying power’, grit, perseverance, risk taking, time and resiliency. You have to be prepared to open another door, every time one closes.
  6. Be Willing to Pivot – It is unlikely that you will get the strategy right, straight off the bat. You have got to be open to pivoting on the basis of what you learn, while still having the courage to act and motivate your team to continue moving forward.
  7. Embrace New Kinds of Talent – As a leader of organisational transformational change, you need to be prepared to protect new employees until they are fully integrated. You also need to be prepared to building a new culture, new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Change is not a simple process, especially when it comes to managing your team. You have to be very observant, sense the mood, understand your people, and communicate with conviction, clarity and consistency.

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Case Study: Thanyapura

Below is my Thanyapura experience based on Jeff Immelt’s GE 7 Attributes

Discipline – It is very easy to say yes to new ideas and hard to say no to initiatives that have already been implemented. Working at Thanyapura, we were pioneering, and prepared to take on the world and show them something special. We had a lot of talented people on staff with amazing ideas. It was a challenge for the leaders to keep a calm state and ensure only the best change ideas where executed.

Soak – With so many industries (Sport, Mind, Health, Education & Hospitality) blended together, and huge pressure from the owner to gain a return on investment, our soak periods were very short. It was extremely difficult to gain a quality perspective on what changes had the most potential as we were always on a bullet train, moving at light-speed, down the express line.

Existential – You have to be very disciplined and creative when creating a sense of urgency. We had to convince the staff that if we didn’t make the change we would lose our competitive advantage. This was challenging with multiple change processes occurring simultaneously and most staff involved in more than one change process. 

100% – This was the area that was make or break at Thanyapura. With competing change processes and resources, staff were unsure as to where the priorities lie. Many changes were still in progress while other changes were commencing, leaving staff wondering whether there would ever be an end in sight. You can see it the team members commitment and productivity when they are unsure of where the priority lies.

Resilient – Having to deal with regular new projects and change processes meant dealing with a lot of physical and emotional energy. Being prepared to deal with roads being rerouted, closed or side-streets opening meant there was always disruption to deal with. It didn’t mean it was a bad thing, it just tested you as a leader.

Pivot – We had an opportunity to create a world-first in women’s tennis. An agreement was difficult to finalise as we were competing with legal systems and insurance coverage from multiple countries. We changed strategy at least four times to try and find a solution so we could implement the change. Unfortunately we had to pull the pin as there were other competing priorities that needed our time and energy, after Lawyers said it would be too resource-consuming to seal the deal.

Embrace – This is an area that we didn’t spend enough time on. It was almost expected that new team members fitted straight into the culture. It is such an important component of every organisation to invest time into new staff to ensure that the can fit in and excel. 


As a leader it is important that you are effective at influencing and persuasion with your organisation, so that they are used to a culture of successful change. This is due to the common thought that most change projects are unsuccessful. Nick Tasler (6) recently debunked the myth that only 30% of change projects are successful, showcasing the percentage came from misinterpreted facts in a 1993 book titled ‘Reengineering the Corporation’.  Tasler summarised a 2009 survey by consultants at McKinsey mentioning that “a third of executives believed that their change initiatives were total successes, and another third believed that their change initiatives were more successful than unsuccessful. But only ‘about one in ten admit to having been involved in a transformation that was ‘completely’ or ‘mostly’ unsuccessful’”. We need to be more realistic in determining the success of each change project and influence our team members that 9 times out of 10 a change process will have some level of success and that a third of the time you will enable full execution.

Katzenbach, Steffen and Kronley (7) found that “almost every enterprise that has attained peak performance—including the Four Seasons, Apple, Microsoft, and Southwest Airlines—got there by applying five principles. Such companies see culture as a competitive advantage—an accelerator of change, not an impediment.” They provided five principles, based on research and client experience, that “can help an organization achieve higher performance, better customer focus, and a more coherent and ethical stance”:

  1. Match Strategy and Culture – Too often a company’s strategy, imposed from above, is at odds with the ingrained practices and attitudes of its culture. Executives may underestimate how much a strategy’s effectiveness depends on cultural alignment. Culture trumps strategy every time.
  2. Focus on a Few Critical Shifts in Behaviour – People find it very difficult to alter behaviour even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they should. Ask the people in your leadership groups, “If we had the kind of culture we aspire to, in pursuit of the strategy we have chosen, what kinds of new behaviors would be common? And what ingrained behaviors would be gone?”
  3. Honor the Strengths of Your Existing Culture – It’s tempting to dwell on the negative traits of your culture, but any corporate culture is a product of good intentions that evolved in unexpected ways and will have many strengths. Find relevance of the organisations original values and use storytelling, as the existing culture’s assets make major changes feel more like a shared evolution. It is also valuable to emphasise desired behaviours that already exist in the organisation.
  4. Integrate Formal and Informal Interventions – Whether formal or informal, interventions should do two things: reach people at an emotional level (invoking altruism, pride, and how they feel about the work itself) and tap rational self-interest (providing money, position, and external recognition to those who come on board).
  5. Measure and Monitor Cultural Evolution – Rigorous measurement allows executives to identify backsliding, correct course where needed, and demonstrate tangible evidence of improvement—which can help to maintain positive momentum over the long haul. Four areas to pay key attention to are: business performance; critical behaviours; milestones; and underlying beliefs, feelings, and mind-sets

As a leader you need to reduce as much complexity as possible and simplify the change process to overcome potential barriers. “Over a century ago, the philosopher Guillaume Ferrero proposed that humans operate on the Principle of Least Effort: given several paths, we pick the easiest. More recently, Harvard psychologist Shawn Anchor suggested that the behavior we choose is the one that’s just 20 seconds easier to start.” (Luna & Cohen, 2017) Asking yourself how you can make the process more simple is a good start.

To be successful in leading change you will need to be disciplined and focused so that everyone can see how the puzzle connects. You need to rewire you brain so that you 100% believe the survival of your company depends on the change. Being able to convince your team members that they need to get on board the train and come along for the ride, is crucial. You must be committed over a long period of time, because, as they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. The process of change will challenge your resiliency as there will be tough times while your organisation is creating a better future. You will need to constantly listen and act simultaneously as the organisation will need to pivot during change which requires a lot of courage, especially when you learn something new. Most of all, you will need to embrace new ways of doing things, a new culture and the rise of new talent.

To increase the likelihood of change being successful, you can employ the following tactics: 

  1. Create a step-by-step plan that includes a clear business case for the achievement of measureable aims, which can be continuously updated. 
  2. Ensure there is a consistent, clear and effective communication plan that includes the reasons for change, details of the change and what the benefits of a successful implementation will look like. 
  3. Provide each team member a part to play in the plan, and even more importantly the outcome. 
  4. Monitor key aspects of the change process such as implementation, costs, risks, assumptions, return on investment and effects on culture. 
  5. Develop a training, education and skill enhancement program for the organisation. 
  6. Be proactive in realigning any resistance to change to the overall vision of the organisation. 
  7. Protect your team and stand by them, when there is any interdepartmental conflict. 
  8. Show empathy and if required provide counselling to team members who are finding it a challenge to adhere to the change. 
  9. Be prepared for setbacks, identify challenges early, reassure your team members that it won’t derail the whole change process, and determine how to manage it. 
  10. Encourage your team members to think critically and ask questions as part of the process. 
  11. Symbolise the new identity and embed it in the organisation’s culture. 
  12. Establish early successes and celebrate the wins.


An effective leader is able to stimulate a culture of continual change, where they are able to turn an organisation into a perpetual motion machine where change becomes a part of everyday life rather than a major turbulent event. We are brainwashed into thinking that change is hard and difficult, as an occasional disrupter, rather than an important part of an organisation staying relevant. Leaders are more effective when they view change as the very essence of their role and believe that all management is change management.

Being able to set tough goals, establish processes to achieve them, lead the implementation of the processes, and carefully learning from both successes and failures should characterise the underlying culture and daily life at every level of an organisation. People find it much easier to see and achieve in the short-term, so by providing a clear picture of where the organisation is aiming for in the next month, quarter or year will make it much easier for team members to comprehend and accept the change. (8)

If we hold our managers accountable for continuing improvements, it will support their capacity to lead continual change while their team members develop the capacity to implement the change. They need to gather supporting evidence and advice from specialist experts, but need to take hold of managing the actual change. Leaders need to instil the culture of “change management being management, and management is change management” (8).

Walker and Soul (9) carefully articulate an organizational culture being similar to the wind. “It is invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt. When it is blowing in your direction, it makes for smooth sailing. When it is blowing against you, everything is more difficult”. They talk about movement research which suggests that change starts with an emotion. It generally starts small with “a group of passionate enthusiasts who deliver a few modest wins”. Regular small wins get the wheels of perpetual change motion turning and gradually they gain momentum. Using the momentum and the power of influence, a leader can commence institutionalising the cultural change.

The following practices can lead to a successful cultural movement that thrives on change (9):

  1. Frame the issue so it stirs emotion and incites action.
  2. Celebrate small wins to bring the heart and minds along the journey
  3. Harness networks and build coalitions that share a common purpose
  4. Create safe havens where creativity and discussion leads to a strategy
  5. Embrace symbols to create a feeling of solidarity

“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening, because it means things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”


Success lies in the hands of the leader as without one hundred percent commitment, discipline, awareness and influence, it will be a steep mountain to climb. In part four, I will dive into communication strategies that can assist you as a leader during every step of an organisational change.


Anand, J., Barsoux, J., (2017). What Everyone Gets Wrong About Change Management. Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 2017. link

Ashkenas, R., (2013). Change Management Needs to Change. Harvard Business Review, Apr 2013. link

Barrett, D.J., (2002). Change Communication: Using Strategic Employee Communication to Facilitate Major Change. Corporate Communication: An International Journal, Vol 7 No. 4. link

Bridges, W., (2017). Strategies for Managing Change. Website. link

Eisenhauer, T., (2017). How to Communicate During Organisational Change. link

Elving, W.J.L. (2005). The role of communication in organisational change. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 10, pp. 129-38. link

Immelt, J.R., (2017). How I Remade GE. Harvard Business Review, Sep-Oct 2017. link

Johansson, C., Heide, M., (2008). Speaking of Change: Three Communication Approaches in Studies of Organizational Change. Corporate Communications: An International Journal. Vol 13 (3). link

Katzenbach, J.R., Steffen, I, Kronley, C., (2012). Cultural Change That Sticks. Harvard Business Review, Jul-Aug 2012. link

Kotter, J.P., (2017). Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review, Jan 2017. link

Lawrence, P., (1969). How to Deal With Resistance to Change. Harvard Business Review, Jan 1969. link

Luna, T., Cohen, J., (2017). To Get People to Change, Make Change Easy. Harvard Business Review, Dec 2017. link

Prosci (2014). Change Management Communication Checklist. link

Schaffer, R.H., (2017). All Management is Change Management. Harvard Business Review, Oct 2017. link

Stebbins, S., (2017). Change Management Methodology And Strategic Communication: An Essential Partnership. link

Sirkin, H., Keenan, P., Jackson, A., (2005). The Hard Side of Change Management. Harvard Business Review, October 2005. link

Tasler, N., (2017). Stop Using The Excuse Organizational Change is Hard. Harvard Business Review, Jul 2017. link

Unknown, (2018). Change Management. Wikipedia. link

Walker B,. Soule, S., (2017). Changing Company Culture Requires a Movement, Not a Mandate. Harvard Business Review, Jun 2017. link

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