Change: Opportunity or Threat?

Viki Holton

Senior Research Fellow at Ashridge. Her interests include surveying current trends in management and management development, best practice in career development, HR, equal opportunities and the development of women managers. She co-authored with Fiona Dent Women in Business: Navigating Career Success published in 2012.

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Fiona Dent

Fiona Dent has worked at Ashridge with a range of organisations and clients on a national and international basis. She teaches and consults in a broad spectrum of leadership, personal, interpersonal and relationship skills, and is trained in a range of psychometrics. She is Professor of Practice at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, UK.

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Viki Holton and Fiona Dent explain how to introduce change successfully.

Change remains one of the most significant contemporary business challenges for organisations, leaders and managers. Recent research by Ashridge Business School in the UK that surveyed leaders in the private, public and higher education sectors indicated that implementing and managing change remains a major issue for all. This is highlighted by the survey findings that 51% of private sector responders agreed “change in my organisation is managed well”, falling to 45% in higher education and 39% in the public sector.

Change as an opportunity

One of the insights from all of the survey evidence we have collected over the past seven years (from a total group of more than 5,000 managers) is that while a good deal of effort may go into the planning and design of change initiatives, relatively few people see change as an unalloyed good thing. Although the senior team may plan a change process as an opportunity, it is much harder to convey this to staff, who are more likely to see planned changes as a threat. Even more worrying is the senior team overlooking the importance of keeping everyone aligned with change throughout the process.

The following is an example of what might happen:

Stage 1:

The senior team expends considerable effort organising, planning and envisioning the change that will happen. This usually involves significant time, energy and resources but often behind closed doors at this initial stage.

Note: During this time the rest of the organisation will know that “something big” is happening and may catch a glimpse of the process but know very little else. This might be called “suspended animation” and is most unpleasant and frustrating for those not in the know.

Stage 2:

The senior team may then involve the next level of managers in the process. At this stage time pressure to begin implementation may be considerable so further debate and discussion is often discouraged or dismissed as “we’ve covered this already”. As a result, middle managers often feel discouraged, disenfranchised and cynical – which then affects their ability to assist in the implementation process.

Note: “The top team are all excited about the change but the rest of us lower down

in management have no clear idea of what might happen. They tend to forget we are not as committed to the ideas as we haven’t had time to consider and assimilate them.” This might be called a “forced partnership” where one group is less equal than the other.

Stage 3:

It is now time to get the rest of the staff involved, which tends to include some or all of these techniques – workshops, town hall meetings and a flurry of communication (emails, posters, pop-up meetings).

For the full article, you can view the PDF or listen to the podcast.

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