September 26, 2018|Kim's Blog, Management Skills, Strategy|
Change management Change Catalyst

I was at the Business Book Awards  in March. I saw Campbell’s humble and humorous acceptance speech when this book scooped the overall winner prize. The judges’ glowing commendations  meant that I simply had to read it. The change catalyst is indeed a great book. It’s beautifully written and a welcome addition to change management literature.

The 380 page book starts is organised into five parts:

  • An exploration of 10 reasons why change initiatives fail
  • A 10 part recipe for successful change
  • Analysis of cultural change
  • A practical guide to plan strategy and make change happen
  • Case studies and change toolbox

The author starts with the astonishing fact that 88% of change initiatives fail. The overarching reason for the failure of so many change initiatives, the author argues, is that people don’t like change. Right up front he talks about fear, emotion, complacency and motivation. People have a choice of being either ostriches or lionesses. He provides some thought-provoking observations about global changes such as health and mortality, climate, pollution, energy, technology, automation and politics (both Brexit and Trump are considered).

Why change initiatives fail

80 pages are devoted to an exploration and diagnosis of the main reasons change initiatives fail. There’s some powerful material exploring why people don’t like change demonstrating the author’s deep insight into human psychology:

  • From my experience, fear is the main reason why people resist change…Another strong obstacle to change is what I call “the comfort of victimhood” (with references to Stephen Karpmen’s Drama Triangle)
  • Fear of failure is a recognised condition called “atychiphobia”
  • “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H P Lovecraft)
  • As change leaders, we can confront these genuine fears by first acknowledging that they are genuine, then working to make the unknown known and finally making sure we give our people a sense of safety
  • As change leaders, we must remember that all change – even good change – by definition means a loss of something (with reference to Kubler-Ross’s change curve).

There are lots of examples of a lack of clarity or realism in change initiatives. The author argues that the following questions need clear and simple answers:

  • “What does success look like?”
  • “Why do we need to change?” (i.e. a burning platform – Daryl Connor)
  • “What’s in it for me?”

A focus on process over outcomes, inertia, a lack of governance, unclear decision-making processes and poor communication take some of the flak for failure. He argues for stakeholder engagement rather than stakeholder management.

Necessary ingredients for successful change

60 pages cover the 10 necessary ingredients for successful change (most of this which are the antidote to the 10 reasons why change initiatives fail). The role of a change is explored in depth – someone who is focused on outcomes rather than process. The author advocates a synergistic combination of internal and external change catalysts.

There’s a discussion of Goleman’s research into emotional intelligence that shows it accounts for 67% of the abilities deemed necessary for superior performance in leaders, and matters twice as much as technical expertise or IQ (see

There are some useful reminders about effective communication and a nice model of stakeholder segmentation. To build a change-ready culture the author says leadership must be empathetic and communicate constantly, clearly and genuinely.

Leaders need to assess the change readiness of their people (see, remove blame, keep accountability, ensure people are focused on outcomes, treat failure as a learning experience, support continuous improvement, reward people for seeking improvement, encourage people to question the status quo, help people think “and” not “or”, make change normal and give people tools to cope with change.

Culture change

This is my favourite part of the book – although it only covers about 30 pages. It contains material that has not been covered adequately in other books and uses the four component model for measuring cultural intelligence (P Christopher Ealy and Soon Ang) to supplement the highly important emotional intelligence model.

There’s an interesting, brave and amusing discussion about different national stereotypes. And helpful advice on how to observe your own “default settings”. There’s a great analysis of the six cultural intelligence profiles developed by Ealey and Mosakowski and the observation that only about 5% of managers were chameleons. There was an interesting insight that Westerners attend meetings to provide information whereas Asian cultures attend meetings to acquire information – and focus on how things are said and what remains unsaid. There’s an interesting analysis of Majilis-style decision-making in the Middle East.

There’s a fascinating section on instigating change in a foreign culture. The author stresses the need for change processes to be flexible and to take care not to point out what is wrong in the current situation. The author suggests that rather than uniting people by finding a common enemy they should be aligned towards a common goal.

The focus then switches organisational culture. The author suggests you conduct a culture survey and organise focus groups and interviews to understand the issues. The section on “teaching people to walk in the rain” is from the research that shows people running in the rain tend to get wetter. He uses Bob Diamond’s quote “A company’s culture is how people behave when they think no one is watching”. There’s an elegant seven-point checklist for culture change.

Getting down to business (strategy planning and execution)

Two thirds of the way through the book the focus shifts to planning and implementing change. The material becomes more intense here and the pace accelerates – there are so many great ideas and tools on each page it takes time to absorb it all. He starts with a wry look at the big five: vision, mission, purpose, capabilities and values.

He says that a good strategy “is anchored in reality, is customer-centric, is aspirational yet achievable, is based on an honest appraisal of future risks, overcomes obstacles and includes implementation”.

There are some excellent models to guide you through the process such as the strategy framework (covering analysis, strategy direction, go-to-market strategy and execution plan). There’s also the strategy execution plan – tier 1 for the leadership team, tier 2 for the departmental leadership and all supported by the delivery oversight team.

He suggests that most strategies fail for one of four reasons: lack of genuine commitment from the top, insufficient engagement with managers and key influencers, poor communication and the absence of a robust strategy execution plan.

He then moves on to organisational design with an elegant eight step process:

  1. Assess market/customer demands and opportunities
  2. Clarify strategy and end game
  3. Define KSPs and OD guiding principles
  4. Define core work and operating model
  5. Define capabilities, behaviours and talent
  6. Define roles, structure, options and select structure
  7. Agree integrating mechanisms
  8. Impact, metrics and implementation

He talks about overcoming complacency. Leadership is tackled with a concise section on “what does a good leader look like?” and then the author explores building extraordinary teams (where there is a great diagram exploring individual effectiveness, team effectiveness and effectiveness as a leader). There’s a useful review of the Nine-Box Grid and Performance Choice Grid for assessing and developing talent and succession planning.

My conclusion

I think it’s a tremendous book and would go so far as to say that all leaders should read it as change management is one of the fundamental roles of leadership. As well as explaining how change initiatives should be crafted and implemented, it also contains solid and pragmatic advice (and some valuable tools) to develop strategy.

Most of the case studies (i.e. insurance, IFAs, technology sector) are not directly relevant to professional service firms although there is one on real estate agency and a consideration of Andersen Consulting. But there are plenty of great stories and anecdotes along the way.

The book contains references to many of my favourite writers. For example:

Interesting statistics

  • 88% change initiatives fail – 2016 Bain & Company survey of 250 large companies
  • Two thirds of change projects fail – 2008 McKinsey survey estimated
  • 70% of change management project fail – 1996 John Kotter
  • Worldwide average life expectancy is 71.4 (WHO)
  • The richest 1% of American men live 15 years longer, on average, than the poorest 1% (The New Yorker, 2016)
  • Three times as many humans die from over-eating than from malnutrition
  • In 1965, the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio in the USA was 20:1. Today it is 300:1.
  • According to Fortune magazine’s data, the 500 largest companies in the US have a median CEO tenure of 4.9 years. In the UK, the median is 5.9 years according to the FT.
  • “Culture is critically important to business success” according to 84% of the more than 2200 global participants in Strategy&’s 2013 culture and change management survey
  • The Economist recently reported that UK companies that are acquired by US firms experience, on average, a 10% increase in productivity
  • 90% of strategies fail due to poor execution (Fortune magazine)
  • 70% of CEO failures are due to the poor execution of good strategy (HBR)
  • Only 5% employees understand their company’s strategy (HBR)

Soundbites and quotes that I liked

  • Emotional commitment is four times more powerful than rational commitment
  • “A change catalyst’s strength lies in his/her focus on outcomes. A project manager’s strength lies in his/her focus on process. You need both”
  • Hayden Christensen explained brilliantly in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, complacency is a trap that befalls a significant number of market leaders.
  • Pointing out that the organisation lacks a clearly articulated strategy and a measureable set of objectives can beg the question of how long this has been going on and why no one has done anything about it before now
  • “I asked for help, which is the hardest thing in the world” (Marcia Wallace)
  • Strategy without execution is day dream. Execution without strategy is a nightmare
  • Scientists have proven that without emotions, we would not be able to make a decision
  • Companies with high employee commitment deliver two to three times the total shareholder return than companies with low employee commitment
  • Change is inevitable, successful change isn’t.
  • There are downsides to everything; there are unintended consequences to everything (Steve Jobs)
  • If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail (Benjamin Franklin)
  • No battle plan survives contact with the enemy (Helmuth von Moltke)
  • Culture eats strategy for breakfast (Peter Drucker)
  • One of the great things about Emirati culture in particular is that they genuinely involve even the most junior and inexperienced Emirati managers and leaders in the decision-making process
  • Fail to value new innovation properly because they try to shoe horn them into existing product lines, margins and ways of working that have made them so successful
  • Leadership: it’s the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it (Dwight D Eisenhower)
  • Leadership is defined by results not attributes (Peter Drucker)
  • Great leaders embrace stewardship, working to leave the organisation in a better state than they inherited from the leaders before them

Change Catalyst book contents

Part 0 – Change is inevitable

Part 1 – Why 88% of change initiatives fail

  • People don’t like change
  • Lack of clarity regarding what we are trying to achieve and why
  • The implications are not fully understood
  • An obsession with process over outcomes
  • Inertia
  • The project is set up to fail
  • Poor communications and disingenuous stakeholder engagement
  • We forget that emotions trump logic every time
  • A change-averse culture
  • The leadership doesn’t stay the course

Part 2 – The necessary ingredients for successful change

  • A change catalyst to drive delivery
  • Clarity about what we are trying to achieve and why
  • Detailed understanding of the implications of the change
  • A laser-like focus on the outcomes
  • A change process that includes “pause for reflection”
  • Clear governance and thorough planning
  • Genuine engagement with people at all levels of the organisation
  • Identification of emotional triggers
  • A strong committed, aligned and unwavering leadership team
  • A change-ready culture

Part 3 – Culture change

  • Cultural intelligence
  • Instigating change in a foreign culture
  • Understanding your organisation’s culture
  • Teaching people to walk in the rain

Part 4 – Getting down to business

  • Vision, mission and other buzzwords
  • Values Schmalues
  • What does a good strategy look like?
  • It’s the delivery, stupid! (Execution is everything)
  • Where are your walls? (organisational design)
  • Overcoming complacency (the innovator’s dilemma)
  • What does a good leader look like?
  • Building extraordinary leadership teams
  • Your people
  • Case studies

Other books on change management (includes a book list)

Personal and organisational change management is tackled briefly in my new book on Better Business Relationships

Some other blogs on change management

Change management courses for professional practices (lawyers, accountants and surveyors)—A-Workshop-for-Professional-Practices/8417

Change management courses for marketing and business development professionals