• Simon Phillips

Successful organisational change IS people change


“Organisations as we know them are the people in them; if the people do not change, there is no organisational change. Changes in hierarchy, technology, communication networks, and so forth are effective only to the degree that these structural changes are associated with changes in the psychology of employees.”

Schneider, Breif and Guzzo (1996)

As I walked from my car to the office of the new CEO at my long-standing client I was wondering what their agenda may be; would it be to “shake up the organisation” or to “consolidate and retrench”? Or, would they have a personal hobby-horse to promote? Their reputation preceded them. This CEO was a rising star in the public sector, someone adept at making change happen. This was going to be fun I thought…

....six months later and that meeting has faded in my memory. Not because it was not interesting or insightful; not because the CEO wasn’t charming and filled with the energy of someone new to the job. No, it has faded because this interim CEO’s mission was to change the way the whole executive team operated, both structurally and in terms of responsibilities. However, despite hearing my concerns about the relationships between key team members and the culture of mistrust and silo working, the CEO was not interested in having “fluffy conversations” and fixing what I considered to be the real problem.

To add a little more context, this was the sixth CEO in three years and the first substantive CEO following four disastrous interims.

Structure and process does not change the way two people speak to each other or how they feel about each other. An underlying jealousy or overt resentment over a past perceived slight is possible between the most professional of individuals; ripple that up to a whole team and have serious challenges.


The CEO’s reluctance to tackle these thorny issues and hold the mirror up to their team to expose the unhelpful behaviours led to their own inability to push ahead with their agenda. Meetings were disrupted or non-quorate, background activities slipped when “more urgent” actions appeared, necessary conversations were constantly avoided and delayed. The passive resistance continued until the CEO finally erupted, shared their frustration and imposed a “3-line whip” for a teambuilding programme.

The key lesson here is simple. Overlook the relationships between your key stakeholders at your peril. Stakeholders are effectively anyone involved in your change or impacted by it and it is not enough to merely identify them. Understanding them, their hopes and fears, their perceptions and their frustrations is also important. Who are the key influencers? Where is the locus of power? How does each stakeholder prefer to communicate? How can they be motivated? How can they be mobilised to deliver their best? These are critical questions to ask to turn your executive team into effective leaders of change. Ask these while you are developing a great relationship of mutual trust and your stakeholder network will support you long into the future!


Simon Phillips is an organisational development expert, specialising in the people side of making change happen.

As well as running several mastermind groups for aspiring executive change makers, Simon also founded The Change Maker Group!

#stakeholders #change #networks #ceo #leadership

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