Support through Culture Change

Background - Planned change and resistance

The organization was going through a planned change process centred on the introduction of a new IT system and work processes. Less acknowledged was the appreciation that this was only part of a larger ‘culture change’ aspiration. After a long initial internal consultation process, the project was launch and small group of 7 managers were designated to work with the consultants and internal programme manager to drive the implementation through.

Appreciating Change was approached by the HR and OD managers who were picking up some discontent amongst staff as the project entered the implementation phase, and some uncertainty from managers about how to ‘lead’ through the transition time. They wanted to offer help and support to both these groups. We decided that the offerings needed to be ‘bite-sized’ i.e. a couple of hours, so that over-stretched people would feel they could take the time to attend them. And that attendance should be voluntary and self-selecting. It was very brave of the HR department to agree to this.


Introducing Emergent Change

It was clear that the planned change was not connecting with the wider organisation. To introduce some emergent change at this point we designed 2 two-hour workshops


  1. For  managers: Supporting Teams through challenging times

This work was to offer practical guidance to leaders on:

  • How to maintain a sense of pro-activity in the team by helping them focus on what they can influence rather than what they can’t.
  • How to motivate and energise the team to see beyond the immediate challenges to potential future benefits
  • How to continue to offer effective leadership through periods of turbulence
  • How to create and maintain a positive work atmosphere in the face of difficulties and challenges
  • How to access team resources to help create resilience and optimism

To do this in the workshop we thought about and explored:

  1. What happens to people during change
  2. The priorities of leadership during change and uncertainty
  3. The group’s stories of leadership and their leadership strengths
  4. How to extend the idea of working with strengths to their teams,
  5. The importance of maintaining morale through encouraging positive mood states and examined the benefits of that for the change process and also how to do it.
  6. We also made commitments to action to help support our teams during challenging times.


Participants feedback comments indicated that they came away from the workshop with a greater awareness of the need to attend to creating and positive workplace climate even when things were uncertain; the need to be visible and to make allowances for people’s confusion.  They were interested in the power of asking questions and of focussing on what their team can influence rather than what they can’t. And how to turn challenges into ideas about positive outcomes. I think this referred particularly to a team that were facing closure. We had spent a short while exploring the of focussing the challenge against definitions of success and performance into those that matched the task – in other words, thinking about what a really great closing down process would look and feel like and what the team would need to be focussing on to make that happen.


       2. For staff: Making sense of the forthcoming challenges

This workshop was different in design, it was based on a world café model where the group addressed a series of questions. Initially these were framed as

  • What will be different in the future state?
  • How will these differences impact my work, and within this what can I influence?
  • What is it that we are being asked to do differently or different exactly?

In the event the workshops developed some different questions to focus on  such as:

  • What fires can I light/seeds can I plant to help this organization continue to be a great place to work?
  • How can I contribute to help make the experience of change as good as possible for me and others?


In a final round people reported that they felt, more positive, more accepting, more assertive, more pro-active, more choiceful and braver. They articulated ideas they had about how they could positively influence the current situation for the benefit of themselves and others. They really liked the flexible format that allowed it to be adapted to the particular interests, situation and concerns of those in the room. They expressed appreciation at the opportunity to spend constructive time thnking and talking about what was going on, how they were feeling about it, and what they could actively do to improve things.

Their post-event feedback suggested that the opportunity to talk in a constructive way in a safe environment was much appreciated. They suggested that the creation of a bigger picture of change and the challenges of change helped shift the ‘us and them’ mentatily that was in danger of developing. Like the managers, many came away with a recognition of the importance of focussing on the things you can change or control, not those you can’t.


Combining The Planned And Emergent Change

The series of workshops culminated with a third session called ‘Embracing Change at...’. The challenge was to link the workshop to the recently designed and issued set of organisational competences. This workshop was three hours which allowed some time to explore the two ideas about change as being both a planned and an emergent process and to relate the discussion to the current situation. We then moved on to exploring how people behave in change and what needs to happen for people to be engaged, pro-active and innovative in a change context. After this we shared understanding of what positive engagement with change looked like. 

Finally we gave groups 5 different change scenarios and asked people to compare how they might have reacted prior to the workshop, and how they might react now. These scenarios included ‘My boss has told me I have to do something different and I don’t really understand why and I’m not sure it’s a good idea.’ And ‘someone has made a change that impacts on my work without consulting me!’

These workshops were very well received.

This case study is a good example of how ad hoc emergent change approaches can be brought to a planned change process to help ameliorate some of the worse effects and to promote a positive and appreciative approach to people in change.


More on these and related topics can be found in Sarah’s book Positive Psychology at Work.

See more articles from the Knowledge Warehouse on this topic here.


Appreciating Change Can Help

Appreciating Change is skilled and experienced at supporting leaders in working in this challenging, exciting and productive way with their organizations. Find out more by looking at how we help with Culture change.

For further information on these alternative approaches to change, please contact us or phone 07973 782 715