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Landing Transformational Change: Closing the Gap Between Theory and Practice

Richard Smith Comments on the CIPD's Landing Transformational Change Report

I’ve just been reading the new Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development research report Landing Transformational Change: closing the gap between theory and practice (CIPD, September 2015). Written for CIPD by Professors Julia Balogun and Veronica Hope Hailey and Dr. Imogen Cleaver, the report identifies eleven key themes in successful transformational change. These eleven themes are organized across three areas:

          • the design of transformational change,Richard Smith comments on the CIPD's Landing Transformational Change report, addressing how it relates to The Effective Change Manager's Handbook and how he wil
          • techniques that can buildunderstanding, and
          • management of the process.

These areas were identified in their first report on Landing Transformational Change, published in 2014. In that report they identified ten themes spread across the three areas, to which they have now added a further eleven based on analysis of four excellent case studies (BBC Worldwide, HMRC, News UK and Zurich UK).

Designing transformational change

Many of the themes they describe are be familiar to me and colleagues who collaborated to write The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook (Kogan Page, 2014) – hereafter “the ECMH”! For example, those themes covered by the design area are addressed (to a greater or lesser extent) in chapters 1, 2 and 12 of the ECMH. However the CIPD report does a great job of unpacking the impact of culture and leadership, showing with multiple case study examples how these issues interact to support organizational transformation. This should be required reading for all ‘C-suite’ leaders embarking on major change initiatives!

Techniques for building understanding

Again, chapters 5 and 10 of the ECMH offers some frameworks for the techniques for building understanding, and the CIPD report offers rich insights into how this can work out in the real world. The analysis and commentary, as well as the case study examples, bring this area to life.

Management of transformational change

The area of management is addressed throughout the ECMH, especially chapters 1, 6, 7 and 11, but I was particularly struck by the report’s comment on rethinking the idea of resistance to change. The concept of resistance is so embedded in change thinking – especially in more hierarchical, command and control environments – that it is seldom questioned. The report’s authors point out that resistance can most appropriately be thought of in terms of ‘employee voice’ (or as I would prefer, the more general ‘voice of the stakeholder’). Although many of the leadership approaches will remain appropriate, whether it is described as ‘employee voice’ or ‘resistance’, the mindset reflected in the former is more likely to lead to productive outcomes.

The role of HR and OD skillsets

The report overall highlights the contribution made by those with HR and especially OD expertise in ‘landing’ deep and sustainable change successfully. It shows how, in the report’s case studies, these professional groups have been strong contributors to the design stage (helping to ‘read’ the organizational context for change), the implementation stage (supporting engagement and dialogue through the organization) and sustaining the change. The report comments approvingly on the shift from earlier studies where HR seemed to focus on structures and processes to these examples where their expertise in human and cultural engagement was more prominent.

I found reading the report an insightful experience and a fruitful use of my time. I have no doubt I shall return to it, drawing on the authors’ clear thinking – and language – to support my own client work.

About the editor: Richard Smithis a specialist in organizational development-related people development issues and has enjoyed a number of senior roles for a range of blue chip organizations, including Dixon Group and Lloyds Bank. Currently running his own consultancy Richard Smith Associates, he works with clients as diverse as Unilever, GKN, Nestle, Mars and Harvard Business School. The Chief Examiner for APMG Change Management products and lead author of the first global Change Management Body of Knowledge for the Change Management Institute, he is also a Fellow of the CIPD.

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