Why traditional change management doesn't work and how we use a different approach

Sarah Lewis (our MD) is a Member of

Sarah is accredited by the ABP
Sarah is accredited by the BPS

Sarah has written two books on change in organisations and has written a third Positive Psychology And Change, due out in Summer 2016

You need to change how your organisation works. You've planned how the change will occur, what the result will be and announced it to great fanfare. Then nothing happens. Or a lot happens - a lot of resistance. You decide you need some help. Here are 5 questions to ask any consultant who promises they can help you:

1. Are you going to focus on what we do well already as well as what needs to change?

Simply concentrating on what's going wrong dooms a change effort from the start. Not only does it make people depressed, defensive and concentrate on blaming others - making it very difficult for them to co-operate in the way needed to make change actually happen - but it means that there is no possibility in people's minds that things could be better. When you get people to realise that 'well yes A isn't working well but we're much better at B' this helps them to believe that A doesn't have to be the way it is and start to look at why B works so much better and think about how they could apply that to improving A.

2. Are you going to help us not only ask the frontline staff for their ideas but actually do some of them? 

This is vital for two reasons: One is that the staff lower down in your hierarchy will actually have some pretty great ideas that you and the other leaders in the organization won't have thought of. There's no shame in admitting this - great leaders don't have to come up with every idea, their key skill is spotting great ideas and implementing them.  The other reason is that it will actually make change happen. Change is more difficult than carrying on as normal and if your frontline staff are told to do something and don't understand, and more importantly don't believe, that this change will make their working lives better they will resist it. If they can see that at least some of these ideas come from them and they are involved in the decision making process, they will believe the change will help them and won't just stop resisting - they will try to help!

3. Are we going to start changing now? 

Another reason that you should involve everyone affected by the change from the beginning is that they can start trying out ideas straight away. Otherwise you and the other leaders will spend months devising 'The Plan' and then unveil it to the organization. Quite apart from the fact that this gives the staff no chance to influence the change and so every reason to resist it, it's unlikely to achieve what it's supposed to even if everyone does what you want them to. An iterative change where ideas are tried and evaluated and then discarded, modified or expanded and then tried again, works by responding to feedback and building momentum. It is far more likely to succeed than a big 'one-shot' approach which misses the target and which everyone concerned is too exhausted to try again anytime soon.

4. Are we going to be able to keep changing after you are gone? 

It's not good enough these days for organizations to stay frozen for 5, 10, 15 years at a time in between attempts to change how they work. The modern world won't wait for you. It's equally impossible for new Grand Masterplans to come down from the leadership every 18 months even if they worked - it's mentally exhausting for everyone concerned and engenders cynicism. If a change consultant has helped you to create an environment which accepts and even embraces change because it's seen to make everyone's working life better then that environment will survive even after they've left.

5. Will you guarantee we won't be wasting a lot of money on you? How can you do that? 

Think about it - if a consultant is helping you to write a plan and they earn all their money doing that then it's not until after they've gone that you have any idea if the help they gave you was worth anything. If they're working to help bring about the iterative approach outlined above you can see if it's working or not as you go along. Similarly if you bring a consultant in after the 'roll-out' - when resistance has emerged - and they're advising you how to continue pushing through The Plan then if that fails will you know why? Maybe the advice they gave you was wrong, maybe the changes were always going to be too much to ask of your organization. Who knows? But if they try to do something different, and in an iterative way, at least you'll be able to see if it's working, and quickly.

How you can access our free resources

You can connect to Sarah via social media using the buttons above or use RSS feeds for our website but the best way ask questions, get help and ideas is in our thriving online forum Positive Psychology At Work.

 Some of the organisations we've helped

If the answer to any of these questions isn't convincing or the consultant you're talking to says they're going to help you "overcome resistance to change" then steer clear - you're in for a lot of frustration and wasted time and effort. If change is done well, building on your organization's existing strengths and engaging its employees then the resistance itself will fade away. This is how we work at Appreciating Change.


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Some examples of Sarah Lewis explaining the concepts we work with and methods we use


What We Do

We work with organisations that are struggling to change how they work. We help avoid and reduce resistance to change and other problems so that people get stuck in to making change actually happen, saving you time and money.  

We do this using several techniques, including Appreciative Inquiry, that make it possible for the people affected by the change to see it as an opportunity that they can get involved in rather than a threat or burden that’s being imposed on them. That way they can become your partners in change rather than the source of problems to be overcome. If you and your organisation need help with this call 0845 055 9874 or email jemsmith@acukltd.com to arrange for a free 30 minute initial consultation.

Appreciating Change is an Organizational Change Consultancy based in the United Kingdom which has served clients on every continent. It was founded by Sarah Lewis in 1993 as Jemstone Consultancy and for over twenty years we have been helping organisations to bring about fast and effective change that improves their leadership, organisational culture and the level of engagement of their employees. Sarah was at the forefront of introducing positive psychology techniques like Appreciative Inquiry to the UK in the mid 1990s and we continue to apply them today to organisations across the world. Sarah is also a passionate advocate of strengths-based working and continues to produce books, short informative videos and to curate our online LinkedIn group 'Positive Psychology At Work'


The Centre For Appreciative Inquiry

Facilitators And Trainers - Gain An Entry Level Qualification In The Future Of Organisational Change

The Centre For Appreciative Inquiry is planning a new course for facilitators and trainers from all parts of Europe to gain an entry level qualification in Appreciative Inquiry. It will be unique in the UK by being an accredited standalone course, by leading directly on to higher level qualifications and by being a blended learning experience with both distance learning and face-to-face interaction elements - saving you time and money. 

The course is still under development and we are negotiating with Westminster University to have this programme accredited. We are also in discussion with several providers of intermediate and higher level training to tailor the content to lead into their programmes. In particular Dr Ilona Boniwell’s well regarded International Masters In Applied Positive Psychology (IMAPP), Case Western University, and Ron Fry’s 3-day UK programme are in contention. We are looking now for expressions of interest with a view to accepting the first delegates in the spring of 2016.

Those who register their interest now will be entitled to a 10% discount on the price of a place on the course, in addition to any early bird discounts or other promotions.