All change, please

Why can family holidays end in arguments? You have spent ages
sorting out where to go, how to get there and saving up the money
and are now left wondering why you bothered.

Slowly, the truth emerges. You wanted total relaxation away from
the stresses of work, your partner wanted to break their previous
record for rare twitching sightings and your children wanted to
stay out all night clubbing.

Three often neglected skills for successfully managing change are
illustrated in this scenario.

First, you need to agree on the intended outcomes of any change
before you decide on the what you are going to do, how you are
going to do it and what resources you need. Outcomes are the
benefits that users will gain from change or, in other words, how
their lives will be better as a result. Involving users themselves
in agreeing outcomes will not only sharpen your focus on their
needs and wishes but also force you to define these outcomes in
terms that they will understand.

So the first question should not be as stated in a recent Social
Services Inspectorate report1 which asks: “Is there a
shared understanding at all levels in the council about how
services are to change to meet the expectation of modernising
social services?” Rather, it should be: “Is there a shared
understanding about what better outcome we want to achieve for
service users?”

The second skill concerns the recognition that managing change
involves intense feelings. These can range from anger at the
implicit criticism that change means what people have been doing
previously is not good enough to a sense of excitement at new

Some readers will be familiar with Kabler-Ross’s work2
with people who are dying and their carers. Her stages that people
can go through in coping with new and stressful life situations can
be usefully adapted to managing change. People progress from denial
(“it will not affect me”), to anger (“why me?”), to bargaining
(“perhaps I can get them to leave me out of it”), to depression
(“there’s no point in doing anything”), to acceptance (“might as
well make the best of it”) and finally to hope (“perhaps I can make
this work”).

Individuals and teams will not move smoothly through these stages
but skill in recognising and managing this feeling process is an
essential aspect of managing change.

The third skill involves expecting the unexpected. Change is never
smooth, some things take shorter or longer than planned, people
develop new ideas during the change process, others change their
minds or get cold feet.

However good your planning, managing the implementation of change
will take 10 times as much energy and thought.

Planning change is a relatively simple task and the important work
starts when you are implementing change and beginning to assess
whether the intended outcomes for users will be achieved.

Martin Willis is programme director, Inlogov, Birmingham

1 Social Services Inspectorate, Modernising Services to
Transform Care, SSI, 2002

2 E Kabler-Ross, On Death and Dying, Tavistock,

Top tips

  • Don’t rubbish the past.
  • Look for opportunities to introduce and shape thinking about
    change and involve people.
  • Resistance based on emotion and perception is more difficult to
    deal with than a lack of information.
  • There are many models – it is okay to adapt them to meet your
    own change process.
  • The best lessons are those drawn from experience of trying
    things out – and, yes, sometimes from getting them wrong.

Rubbish tips

  • Managing change is always difficult.
  • Change always brings benefits.
  • There are quick fixes and easy solutions.   

Keys to managing A smooth transition

It is difficult to believe now, but the chief management task used
to be about managing stability and continuity and occasionally the
conditions for growth.

Nowadays the primary task of those who manage is development,
continuous improvement and constant change.

Good change management requires attention to a few key

  • Many people do not like change and will do everything they can
    to resist it. It is therefore essential to foresee reactions and
    plan accordingly. Think about what people may gain or lose from the
  • Understand the impact of change for the individual, the team
    and the organisation. People may react out of fear, perceived
    threat or a lack of involvement.
  • Change is a process that typically follows a series of stages.
    It is important to allow enough time as it often takes longer and
    the implications spread wider than you think.
  • Communication is a crucial skill in building commitment to
    change. Information should be delivered in accessible ways and at
    the right time.

It is worth remembering that few managers have a responsibility
for managing change in isolation or totally. It is likely to be a
part of bigger picture changes. Effective support systems should
therefore be identified as part of the implementation

Des Kelly is partnerships director, Bupa Care

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