Cerah Associates is active in the areas of Consultancy and Learning. In this blog I like to write about another subject as old as the road is to Rome i.e. change.

In the past 30 years I have been involved in approximately 1 or 2 change efforts a year in either the private – or public sector. If I look back on some of those experiences, some of these change efforts went very well + delivered good results, some were quite good or ok and some were considerably less.

With respect to the lesser ones, what do I recall? Often it was not clear to people why to change at all, it was considered not needed, or I heard ‘’we are doing it already!’’. I also recall situations that people were profoundly clinging to the past, and that they would like to restore the past images and realities the sooner, the better. This is really a situation of not being able to ‘’let go’’, people just wouldn’t move on. I have also seen leaders of the organization wanting to go too fast, they were kind of on their own on the battlefield, others were far behind. Often there was good thinking and talking, but no doing whatsoever. Lastly I have seen that financial implications of change efforts were not always in the forefront of the minds of those involved, which made it difficult to prioritize which initiatives, in the end, needed to be selected and executed in the future.

Against the background of the above, allow me to share some ‘’change’’ related thoughts. In my opinion, simplistically, when dealing with change we have the why, the who and the what? Here it goes ….

Why change?

In my working life to date, I have always been able to distinguish 3 different whys, i.e. 1. desperation 2. anticipation and 3. aspiration. It is straight forward isn’t it? We either need to change because of despair – ‘’there is no alternative really’’, or because we anticipate – ‘we may see some challenges ahead of us, or lastly, because we aspire – ‘’we have a positive desire to do so’’. It is important that all those involved in the change effort have a clear understanding and comprehension of the ‘why change?’, and what is the sense of urgency. It helps if all involved have the same sense of urgency, however it is not necessary (and likely) that all involved have that same sense of urgency. If there are different degrees of senses of urgencies, that is ok too, however all involved need to be aware about these differences and each one involved in the change effort needs to want being involved realizing his/her own driver being either desperation, anticipation or aspiration.

Who + emotions of those involved

Most of you will know ‘’SARAH’’, i.e. the emotional phases we may go through when confronted with ‘negative change’’. First we may feel ‘surprised’, then get ‘angry’, and subsequently we may ‘reject’ what has been thrown at us. Here we are in a rock bottom negative state of mind. Over time however, we may start to see some light at the end of the tunnel and start to slowly on ‘’accept’’ the new situations as is. We even may start to see some positives, on which we start to build our outlook re the future, we crawl to the ‘hope’ phase. The above will be known to most of us. The ‘’power’’ of realizing SARAH is that we are aware that different people will be at different phases at different times, and that different people will go through all these 5 phases with different speed. Some will go through this all the phases incredibly fast, some will do this very slow and others at any speed in between. The other ‘’power’’ of realizing SARAH is that we can hook to these different emotional phases as good starting points, for stakeholder management approaches. People who are mentally in different phases, will need to be approached differently (communication, wording, explanation, speed etc).

The emotional phases of Sarah

A final thought in this context. Often the people who initiate the change have already gone through the SARAH curve and are likely somewhere in ‘acceptance’ / ‘hope territory’. They start messaging the change to all others who are in ‘before-shock territory’ and often expect people to work with them as soon and quickly as possible, i.e. if they were already in ‘acceptance’ mode. Don’t do that, take it easy, I suggest. Give people time, don’t talk solutions, crawl back to the shock, anger, resentment phases. Be comfortable being at these phases on one hand, realizing, on the other hand, that your fingers may be itching to get going since you yourself may be in the acceptance / hope phase. Be diplomatic at times (try?), tune into your environment, dose your energy, and depending on who you have in your direct environment, behave in accordance with the emotional phase of those around you and go from there. How to do this best and most effectively, is a leadership challenge for sure … good luck!


Who + commitment of those involved


Some people will be very motivated getting involved in a change effort, some others completely not. And some will be ‘’in between’’. In my past work experience, a group of change agents landed on three categories of how people may look at change. Simplistically, these are categories like ‘’prisoners, tourists and explorers’’. The prisoner brings the mentatility with him/her of ‘’can not do / it doesn’t make sense’’, almost straight from the word ‘’go’’. The tourist brings the mentality with him/her of ‘’maybe yes, maybe no’’. Sometimes the tourist is in, sometimes the tourist is out, it all depends on how the wind blows. The explorer brings the mentality with him/her ‘’yes can do’’, equally well also almost straight from the word ‘’go’’. Both the prisoner and explorer often can do with a bit more rational / data driven thought processes, but hey if I have to choose with whom to work and get going, I’ll chose the explorer any day, any time. Everything being equal, it – at least – will be much more enjoyable to start with, good energy all around! A good friend of mine, James Gardener, came up once with a 4th category i.e. the occasional terrorist. These people will fight whatever you want to try achieve, they will sabotage your efforts. There are not many of them, but if you come across them, be clear how you deal with them and the spanners they might throw at you.


Change what?


Most of us have been involved in either small or huge change efforts, either in the private and / or public sector. As we all know, change efforts will need to embrace 1. long term visions and objectives; 2. strategic thrusts; 3. detailed implementation, action – and communication plans. To be clear on ‘’who does what, when?’, and a coordinating and overseeing Management Office, are extremely important for effective and efficient implementation of agreed initiatives.


Another aspect I’ve learned, along the way, is that you have to ‘keep the money in focus’. This means that in ’private sector change efforts’ the P&L is absolutely critical i.e. be clear how certain initiatives (old or new) impact the P&L. Spell initiatives out to the most detailed level possible, including their P&L impact. Knowing the financial impact will be a key guide for decision-making what to do or not to do in the future. Hard to swallow for those who will be directly negative effected, but one can’t have it all. Follow the money in ‘public sector change efforts’, means that you always look at how budgets, for example, are allocated per ministry, or per major initiatives. If implementing changes means that 1 ministry becomes more important / gets higher priority than others, then that should mean that budgets should be re-allocated in order to reflect these priorities. Hard to swallow for politicians and/or civil servants, but one can’t have it all.


The above covers some essentials in relation to ‘’Change’’. Of course there is much more to change than the above reflections, but – for now – I’ll leave it with this. Anything profoundly missing? Any views? ‘Please share …..

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