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A Change Leader’s New Years Reflections

I send out the Lean Leaders Christmas Reflections article (see below) every year to my clients who are in the process of changing their organisations. The wise words in that article are not mine and come from a friend involved in change for a great many years. The article talks about being caught up in the “things” of the situation and not the purpose of the situation.

I want to add to that article and provide my Change Leadership Reflections for the New-Year.

It comes as no surprise to me that working towards the implementation of “things” in a project plan instead of developing Change-maker conversations is always easier because it needs little talent and not much courage. Implementing ‘things’ is usually perceived and justified as the safe route, the incremental route, when in reality it can become the most patronising route because it leads to treating staff like children and under no circumstances must we scare the children. All this is an avoidance tactic to push away the real work of change – that is have difficult conversations and debates about the Purpose, why do we do what we do. And importantly the need to change the unproductive relationships between management and staff and create an environment where willing contribution is normal.

This is called change leadership and is the real job of change-makers at all levels in the organisation.

Sadly, I rarely see change-maker leadership from individuals instead they stick to the ‘things’ in the project plan ignoring the human need to change attitudes, behaviours and relationships that are crucial for sustainable and effective change.   While it is rare that does not mean it never happens. Some step into the role of change-maker choosing to lead oneself, so others may do so too.

The greatest risk to any improvement program is failing to improve our leadership and substitute the real work with the busy work passed off as real change in the hope that we never have to face the tough questions because we are expected to know all the answers before we start. 

You can only lead change, you cannot manage change. Program plans and charts and presentations and status meetings is not leadership. Plans are worthless, planning is everything.

[bctt tweet=”Plans are worthless, planning is everything. #changeleadership”]

It is in every conversation that change leadership happens, in every planning session (not to be confused with a project status meeting), where ideas are shaped and purpose is made more clear. Leadership means constantly changing your route to change the minds and insights of others and force reflection from everyone including yourself, especially when the route is unclear and we don’t have all the answers yet.

Changing your mind is evidence that you are thinking and learning, not changing your mind is evidence you are not.

Leadership is the art of possibility in the face of reality. If you are not falling down enough and getting back up then you are not changing enough.

Change is not about the implementation of things, it about the transformation of minds- especially the minds of those leading the program. Leadership is an activity not a position.

The Change Maker Guide

Purpose– it must be your fearless passion otherwise do not even start. Anything else will leave you disappointed.

Vision – it must be the world you wish to create for those around you.

Strategy – is the overall approach.

Tactics – are the day by day conversations and actions that ensure you survive the journey. They happen in an instant. They cannot be planned. They are opportunistic, requiring confidence, resourcefulness, and clarity of purpose, vision and strategy. -Project plans are of no use here only the strength of your planning conversations can save you.

If you have none of these you will not find the honesty, courage and tenacity to overcome yourself or begin helping others overcome the busy busy bang bang world of mindless doing. 

Reflect on what YOU fear the most inside yourself and you will find the biggest risk to change.

Warm regards,

Stephen Parry


What do you know about your customer’s world?

Traditionally, technologists sat behind an organisation’s IT department walls. When they delivered technology to the designated specification, they considered their job done.

Lean has changed that entirely. With Lean, when technical teams see how the IT they are supplying is actually performing, they obtain a much greater insight into how the company’s technologies may be underperforming as well as ideas about new features which could be added to improve it.

By involving not just service delivery managers, but the whole delivery chain, the entire organisation benefits from a heightened awareness of what its customers really want and need. In this new scenario, there is also a much greater level of customer intimacy than would be evident in a traditional technology business.

For IT businesses, adapting to change means locking onto the customer’s world in order to understand, in fine detail, the impact of its products and services.

Companies must start to ask: what are we learning about the customer’s world? And once we have this knowledge, are we sharing it end to end – within our technology business, across all different technology disciplines? And are we sharing it with senior management so that together, we can develop an understanding of what it means for our business?

[bctt tweet=”What Lean Thinking teaches us is that leading is an activity, not a position.”]

When technical teams have a 360 degree view of their customer’s world, we can give them a much higher degree of autonomy, so they can make decisions to fix customers’ problems and develop new solutions. This shift has a huge bearing on the role of senior management, whose job becomes much more about creating and sustaining the right environments.

Implementing leanWhat Lean Thinking teaches us is that leading is an activity, not a position. We must shift the power from the top of the business to much lower down, to the people who help deliver the day-to-day ‘nuts and bolts’ of the business.
Rather than hold them within the tight constraints of frameworks involving delivering to a specification, we are looking at how we deliver, to improve what we do, and go beyond the specification.

This gives people a much greater sense of involvement; they take on more responsibility and they start to make more decisions – quite naturally. Thus, their levels of learning and enthusiasm increase.

Group businesspeople

Adaptability can be hard but worth the effort

No one ever said adaptability would be easy.

And for good reason too. It isn’t.

That it is worth the effort is borne out by the workplace climate and of course, productivity.

Over the 10 years spent researching how Sense and Respond works we’ve observed what makes a difference and what just adds to the mess.

We have been able to tease apart what works and what does not and in the process dispel many change management myths such as ‘its all in the mind-set’.

It became apparent to us that the principles upon which you design the organisation gives rise firstly to the way people think, then secondly, how they behave, closing the loop thus reinforcing the original design.

We found many organisations where people wanted to behave in more constructive ways but the organisational systems and norms created by the design prevented them from bucking the established norm.

It takes a lot of individual effort and position power to buck the trend, some succeed in changing the environment but the vast majority are worn down by the rest of the organisation simply waiting for them to fizzle out.

Unfortunately, many organisations have learned how to passively absorb change pressure to get themselves to the fizzle out point.

Implementing lean

The real point of change is simply to design better organisations, design better more rewarding, fulfilling even meaningful work, ensure management focus on developing creativity, innovation and disciplined experimentation to continually solve efficiency, effectiveness and any other problem the organisation encounters.

These are the engines that drive adaptability and they must be supported by the organisational practices and structures. Without it, they are doomed to fail, or perhaps even worse, doomed to remain the same as before.


Work climate key in Lean and Agile strategies

Working with companies over the past ten years, I’ve become acutely aware of the importance of the work climate, or simply, ‘how it feels at work’.

Research into work climate can be used as both a diagnostic to identify the areas and activities most in need of attention and a predictor of long-term business outcomes.  

The adaptability features of Lean and Agile align well with work-climate forecasts and can create completely new capabilities, where the workforce itself can adapt quickly to meet the latest demands.

Understanding a work climate enables an organisation to become engaging, learning, leading and continuously improving. In other words, one that is adaptive.  This is the new core competency, the new battleground.

Some have asked me if Lean and Agile is just about operational efficiency.

It’s not. Operational efficiency is about improving what is currently being done, whereas adaption is all about changing what is being done to service customers better in different, more effective and efficient ways.

Operational efficiency, on its own, will not ensure success. However, efficiency combined with adaptation means changing rapidly, efficiently and then changing everything again.

Adaptive organisations are about purpose, creation, effectiveness, optimization, destruction and recreation. This cycle needs to become the norm. It is no longer about mastering continuous improvement but about mastering continuous change.


Changing technologies, business models and competitive landscapes are today’s normal business challenges. Organisational structures and workforces need new forms of adaptation to meet the demands of new technologies and new competitive business models.

However, few have the ability to adapt let alone exploit these changing circumstances because of ingrained traditional cultural approaches to management, measurement and people development.

Focusing on a new form of adaptive management with an adaptive workforce is now the new cutting edge in developing a winning business culture that supports the change agenda within your organisation.

So how adaptable is your organisation today and how adaptable do you need to become in order to stay in business?