How To Scale Up Your Organisation Change Program

How To Scale Up Your Organisation Change Program

Susan Rosina Whittle                         2018

Investment in the design and development of organisation change strategies tends to be front loaded. Often, the focus is on selecting the right change model and setting up project management structures. The design and sequencing of interventions and activities for growing and embedding change can be after-thoughts, if thought of at all. To deliver value, investment in organisation change needs to have impact, and that’s desired impact, not the cynicism and low participation that can undermine  change efforts.

Change programs can become stuck; in consultants,  in project teams, in some departments or sites, in the top management layers or specialist areas. These programs fail to scale up; to enlist those throughout the organisation who can make changes happen. Scalability is where the planned deployment of additional resources delivers increasing returns. Scalability is well recognised as a business model problem but scalability is not recognised so much as a change model problem.

A recent MIT paper ‘Building Scalable Business Models’ 1  outlines five ways organisations can scale up their businesses:

  1. by adding new distribution channels;
  2. by looking for ways to overcome capacity constraints;
  3. by outsourcing some investments to partners who become participants in the business model;
  4. by customers and other stakeholders take up multiple roles in the business model;
  5. by establishing industry level platforms whereby competitors may become customers

Can we apply these scalability methods to organisation change?

1. Add new distribution channels

All change programs are targeted at some locations, some processes, some types of people and not others. When the impact of your talent development or waste reduction program is slowing down, identify at those locations, those processes, those people not targeted  and redirect some resources to these new channels. One way to do this is by drawing a schematic plan of the whole system you want to change (by locations, processes, people or whatever your targets are) .

Indicate where you have already intervened in blue, or if it’s easier, indicate those locations, processes, people, etc, that have not been included in your intervention design in red. These signal your potential new distribution channels. Those not included might be people working night shifts or those not office-based; locations perceived as non-core business or too far to travel; processes that are highly political or unglamorous. Redesign your interventions to widen access: run workshops at different shift times; use remote and virtual technologies; get help to address political dynamics; look at how your culture excludes and make that the next change agenda.

2. Look for ways to overcome capacity constraints

The pace and scope of change can be dictated by an organisation’s intervention capacity and the consultants’ work capacity, whether consultants are internal or external. Capacity to change and capacity to work on change can be constrained if:

  • there are too few people with the skills, knowledge and ability to take up change agent roles;
  • there are too many people that need training/ developing in the time available.
  • there is low capacity in the organisation to make people available for training/ development
  • technological capacity is low, making communication and performance management problematic, for example.
  • there is little consultant experience in or organisational history of the sorts of interventions required.

Capacity constraints can be overcome:  by piloting your intervention design to see where the bottle necks might be; by incorporating ‘train the trainer’ elements into your design to build change knowhow capacity; by standardising those interventions that can be standardised and making them available virtually;  by cascading interventions through organisation hierarchies to build experience and grow shared narratives of change.

3. Outsource some investments to partners who become participants in the change model

Change models developed in hot house conditions can produce fragile and high maintenance intervention designs.  Investment and policing is needed to ensure consistency of message and compliance by internal and external suppliers. Hot house models, developed in the rarified atmosphere of the Board or Executive Away Day, have a tendency to divide organisation members into thinkers and doers. This is expensive; does not build change capacity; and works against scalability. Inviting suppliers and organisation members to collaborate in the design, development and delivery of organisation change immediately increases capacity, reduces costs, and enhances the viability of the model(s)

4. Have customers and other stakeholders take up multiple roles in the model

Organisation members and change leaders sometimes become very attached to the way things are done.  The change program, as depicted in Gantt charts, workshop handouts, improvement slogans, and performance awards,  can become an object of love … and hate. To be robust, intervention designs need to be able to work with those infatuated with a change program and with those who avoid and resist  the program.  This work is made more difficult, and hence scalability is challenged, where roles for participation in change are prescribed and mutually exclusive. In this context, fantasies about the love/hate object can be projected onto those in other roles.

This is countered if stakeholders can take up  multiple roles in the change program, for example, sometimes as leaders and communicators; at other times critics and performance assessors. The challenge is make sure organisation hierarchies are NOT reproduced in organisation change project structures.

5. Establish industry level platforms whereby competitors may become customers

Declining returns to scale are a common feature of organisation change strategies.  Finding ways to challenge taken-for-granted rules and recipes is critical to scaling-up. A perennial problem is how to ensure that boundaries set up initially to help focus organisation change do not hinder scalability later on. Benchmarking helps.

Shifting from internal benchmarking (where comparisons  are made against own historic indices) to external benchmarking ( where comparisons are made against competitors’ performance and then against performance from other sectors) can raise new challenges. Find out how long this or that type of change takes to achieve measurable and meaningful impact. What return on investment can be expected? What investment is reasonable? Who leads and how?  Join a research  or networking group to hear the warts and all versions of organisation change and develop a macro model.

Thinking macro, at industry and sector levels, rather than keeping to micro level organisation boundaries helps to recast competitors as collaborators and possible customers.  Putting together benchmarking data about organisation change in your industry can present new opportunities, both to sell your know how  and to shape the whole industry. That’s scaling up.

  1. Building Scalable Business Models: MIT Sloan Management Review & Report January 10, 2018


Hull gasification plant progress

Hull gasification plant progress

Its great to see a project I worked on taking shape. The photos were taken in September 2017. The facility is expected to be operational this year, 2018.

The plant is designed to export 25MW of electricity generated from specially prepared waste. The CV of the waste has not been published but to get a feel for the size of the plant with the published export power of 25MW it suggests that the plant is equivalent to an EFW of around 250kt processing standard MSW

Why a gasifier?

The simple answer is that this technology is subsidised by the government through the price it is guaranteed to be paid for the electricity generated, see

Over many years it has been the UK government’s view that ‘gasification and pyrolysis have the potential to deliver more efficient generation in the longer term and deliver further benefits beyond renewable electricity generation’ (DEC 2012). This view has driven the eligibility for this technology in successive Renewable Obligation Orders. This eligibility resulted in such technologies receiving above market revenue for the electricity generated. It should be noted that only the energy from the biomass content of the waste is counted for this subsidy and as such is renewable by the usual definitions.

Environmentally, there is little difference between pyrolysis, gasification and what is often referred to as conventional energy from waste (EFW). All those technologies are regulated under the same standards. Emissions to air have to be continuously monitored and must conform to the same strict emission limits.


The green structure on the foreground is the office, the air cooled condenser centre followed by the turbine building  with a distant view of the gasifier near the stack20170923_164928

Unusually for the UK the heart of the plant is outside, this is the gasifier.

20170923_165910This shows the fuel storage and prep building from the public highway. The preparation building is where recyclables are removed.  You can get a feel for the scale of the building by looking at the cars in the distance.

EU Part Funded Project Taking Shape Ahead of BREXIT

Photo Energy Works

It is great to see a project I’ve worked on over the years taking shape. The recent photo shows Hull’s Energy Works under construction.

The project has been awarded a grant of almost £20 million from the European Regional Development Fund, in recognition of the role it can play in encouraging further innovation.

On site waste processing enables a range of   material to be delivered to the site. The prepared waste is then treated in a fluidised bed gasifier to generate steam for the turbine generator. When complete in 2018 the facility will process around 250,000 tonnes of waste and generate 28MWe

The fluidised bed gasifier is classed as Advanced Conversion Technology and is subsidised under the Contract For Difference  with a strike price of £119.89 (2014 price). The subsidy is grandfathered for 15 years.


The photo shows the office building in the foreground, waste reception building, turbine building and stack. The gasifier and gas clean up structural supports can be seen in the distance. The development is on a strip of industrial land running alongside the River Hull about 1.5 miles from the city centre.

God Save the Queen!

God Save the Queen us!

It was 1745, in the days of the Jacobite rebellion, that God Save the King was first sung in the playhouses of London. The uproar in the last 2 days, at new Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s   abstention from joining in this ode to the monarch, comes at a time when Scottish rebellion is again strong. Is this a coincidence?

In 1745, the Whigs were in control and had despatched the Tories. The Whigs championed the power of parliament over the monarch and expansion of the right to vote, in contrast to the rejected Tories, who had backed an abandoned return to power by the Scottish Stuart kings. There was trouble in Ireland and war with France. With the backing of France and Spain, Bonnie Prince Charlie urged the Scots and sympathetic members of the English establishment  ‘to follow him and … take on the military might of the British government, or … betray their principles and abandon him to possible capture and death’ (UK national archives).

The massive success of the Scottish National Party in the 2015 UK national election, the current crisis in Northern Ireland following the resignation of the First Minister, and calls for more devolved government in England, raise anxieties about the state of the ‘United’ Kingdom today. As in 1745, we are urged to sing the national anthem to confirm our belonging and commitment to … What is the UK national anthem about? Unlike most other anthems, it is about saving our Queen, not serving the country.

Jeremy Corbyn resisted singing the UK national anthem at an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. It made national headlines. Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson, Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames, called him ‘very rude and very disrespectful’ to the Battle of Britain pilots and to the Queen.

Constitutionally, the British people are subjects, not citizens, hence patriotism and allegiance to the monarch are difficult to disentangle. The visceral reaction, by people from all walks of life, to Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to very publically dissociate himself from monarchy stems from this entanglement. Anyone who does not support the monarch is disrespectful, disloyal, unpatriotic. Politically, this has worked well for the monarchy and for those who are attached to and who wish to retain the constitutional status quo. It makes things simple. The royal family has always been there … .

Turbulent Times and Maladaptive Strategies

In uncertain and turbulent times, a desire to make things simple is a signal that members of a group, an organization, or a society feel uncontained or lost; that their identity is under threat. Simplification is one maladaptive strategy that can emerge when it’s difficult to make sense of the present and there is anxiety about the future. These strategies, or reactions, are regressive in that they avoid contact with and relating to the source of their anxiety, the current context.

Maladaptive strategies are basically of two types: (i) clinging to what you know or (ii) withdrawing. Both types lessen the group’s or organization’s capacity to adapt and survive; to remodel identity and redraw boundaries to fit a different context.

Here’s a brief description of the 2 types:

(i) Maladaptive strategies that manage anxiety by clinging to what you know, like the conductor who waves the baton ever more furiously when the orchestra is out of sync:

  • Fundamentalism – diagnosed by spotting the use of ideologies or orthodoxies (the EU, war, family, religion, happiness, humanity) to make sense of and handle complex situations.
  • Authoritarianism – indicated by appeals and adherence to long standing and traditional forms of control and coercion.
  • Evangelicism – when people join with like-minded others to express their dissatisfaction and dissociation without the expectation of change.

(ii) Maladaptive Strategies that manage anxiety by withdrawing, as when individual orchestra members stop playing or play their own tunes :

  • Superficiality – evidenced where low investment in or denial of connections to others justifies self-interest.
  • Segmentation – apparent where rational means-ends thinking is replaced by opportunistic and short term actions.
  • Dissociation – experienced as cynicism about the present, about those in power, about institutions, and a loss of common purpose.

Maladaptive Strategies emerge where:

  • what was known and predictable becomes unknown and unpredictable:
  • relationships are temporary and shifting;
  • boundaries are blurred;
  • no one person, group or state can control the agenda.

If we look around now, these are conditions that apply in many situations, and are inevitable in organization change and development. We need to be able to recognise regressive dynamics and work with them.

Susan Rosina Whittle


Fred Emery 1976 Futures We Are In. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff

Quick, Quick, Slow: Time and Timing in Organizational Change

wordpress clockWhen we talk about the work of crafting organizational change, time is often an issue. Time is money. There is never enough time. Decisions are taken too quickly or too slowly – like watching paint dry. The planning workshop was hurried to meet a contract deadline. A feedback presentation is brought forward, because the CEO won’t be around next week. Things don’t happen when agreed or there is obsessive clinging to the timing of events and actions as if to a life boat in a stormy sea. Billions of years ago, the earth had a five hour day. But the impact of an asteroid, that  created the moon and its gravitational field, has been slowing down our planet ever since. Now days are getting shorter again, as the moon moves away from the earth. In the future, our 24-hour day will seem bizarre. The assumptions we share about time (our time logics Reay and Hinings 2009) are deeply embedded in our organisational cultures (Schein 1985) so any significant change inevitably challenges prevailing time logics. But whilst ‘The quicker the better’ may be a useful mantra in a fast food or travel business, anyone visiting a doctor or hairdresser will know that challenging time logics to get the timing right is a tricky business. This makes orchestrating the sequencing, pace and tempo of interventions a core competence for practitioners of organizational change. 5 Points for working with time in organisation change  1. Analyse whose time matters. Customers may have some choice about whether they patronise organizations that consume too much of their time (through slow service or faulty goods) or give too little consideration to their time (appointments with the doctor that are not long enough). Many employees feel that they have no choice. Compliance with the prevailing time logic seems like the only option. So we resent feeling at the beck and call of a boss who thinks that her time is the only time that matters or being time-jacked by a corporate change agenda that offers us few if any real benefits. Noticing whose time is valued and whose is not is a good first indicator of an organization’s temporal culture. 2. Map time projections and time anxieties. We are very good at locating a time problem in someone else: they are taking too long to agree a plan; it would help if you slowed down a bit; you might have all the time in the world but I have to meet a deadline; I can’t believe they haven’t done that yet. Realizing that different people inhabit different time worlds, at different times and in different contexts, and that these are as legitimate as my time worlds can be a revelation when working to change organizations. We think of time as perishable: it is lost if not used now and wasted if not used well. These time anxieties may be distributed randomly but it is more likely that they occur in patterns, being concentrated in different departments, in different jobs, locations, tasks, ages, genders and other organizational categories. Experiential mapping of time can offer intriguing insights into an organization’s temporal cultures.  3. Understand how time is managed now. Time is money and many devices are designed to control what happens when. Project aims and output specifications, Gantt charts, meeting schedules and the rhythms of planning are cultural devices to signal the time logics in use. These can vary between departments and between sites, and they can vary between consultant and client. Organizational change can overrun its schedule (or stall altogether) as planned interventions become caught up in the internal tempos of client organizations. All too easily, waiting (for meetings to be rescheduled, contracts negotiated, information to be available, and events to be organized) can become the norm. Who controls time and how is a critical factor in leading organizational change. 4. Notice when time is used to avoid or delay change. Planned change often requires working on shifting an organization’s macro relationship with time, say from being stuck in the past to a concern for the future (Sama 2009). Following the financial crisis, CEO’s, Organization Development (OD) and Human Resource (HR) specialists in banks are engaged in this type of work, which means reducing head count and redesigning reward practices. But the pace of change is not quick enough for taxpayers and those hit by spending cuts. Why does change take so long? Banks and governments respond by saying now is not ‘the right time’ to reduce salaries and bonuses as this might jeopardize banks’ abilities to retain the best people and the banks’ abilities to pay back their huge public loans. Who decides when is the right time?  5. Understand your own assumptions about time. The idea of ‘a right time’ employs an implicit sequencing of events and actions that are judged to be appropriate for the agenda for change. Sequencing refers to how the different steps, stages and interventions that are part and parcel of organizational change relate to one another, along with rationales about why they are sequenced in this or that way. The ‘why’ is crucial. Rationales offered by your client provide insights into their model of time and their attachments to long standing routines and practices. Aspects of sequencing that you find obvious, surprising, uncomfortable or just plain wrong, offer insights into your own model of time and to you attachments. You might find that your time logics can be difficult to challenge. This post is based on Chapter 5 from Changing Organizations from Within edited by Susan Rosina Whittle and Robin C. Stevens

Design Principles for Consulting and Change Development Programmes

Development programmes are interventions; interventions into the way people think about themselves and their work and the sorts of routines and resources they bring to bear in their everyday working lives.

Like all other interventions, development programmes need to be designed for a specific purpose and to deliver agreed objectives. That’s why all WSK in-house programmes start with a design workshop, to understand organisation level needs. We translate those needs to individual practice issues. What do Principal Consultants, Team Leaders, Service Heads, OD, HR and other specialists need to do differently?

WSK programmes are designed to help participants:

  • work on their own practice needs by identifying which elements of their current repertoires are helpful and which are unhelpful in their work
  • address their perpetual preoccupations (with rescuing, being critical, being humorous, avoiding authority) by recognising patterns of past behaviour revisited in present experiences.
  • access useful theory to promote active analysis of problems and experiment with solutions.
  • enhance their competence in contracting, role-taking and intervention design by collaborating on crafting and co-creating module designs.
  • develop themselves as instruments in their practice by learning how to analyse data, work with emotions, and take up their authority in challenging contexts.

Consultant development programmes offer space to

These design principles provide the architecture in which we introduce specific content knowledge and develop practical expertise in leading and consulting to organisation change.