Change management

Over the last 10 years I’ve visited for work, many public sector health services. Whilst no service is perfect, at each place I found things that were fundamentally wrong. Nearly every senior manager knew about the things that were wrong but they were unable to implement changes. I am referring to things that were known as wrong for years – not just weeks. The topic of change management is not new to me. My reflections led me to dig deeper and refresh my knowledge. This post is not a lecture or instruction manual on change management. It represents only items that are relevant to me.

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Change management is a complex and multifaceted discipline. It involves a systematic approach to dealing with the transition or transformation of an organisation’s goals, processes, or technologies. The purpose of change management is to implement strategies for effecting change, controlling change, and helping people adapt to change. Here are some of the key concepts in change management:

  1. Change vision: This is a clear and inspirational picture of the future after the change has been implemented. It provides a direction for the change and motivates stakeholders to work towards it.
  2. Change strategy: This refers to the plan that outlines the steps an organisation will take to achieve its change vision. It includes the objectives, activities, resources, timelines, and metrics for the change.
  3. Stakeholder analysis and engagement: This involves identifying the individuals or groups who will be affected by the change, understanding their perspectives and concerns, and engaging them in the change process.
  4. Communication: Effective communication is crucial in change management. It involves conveying the change vision and strategy to stakeholders, addressing their concerns, and providing regular updates on the progress of the change.
  5. Training and support: This involves providing the necessary training and support to stakeholders to help them adapt to the change. It may include skills training, coaching, mentoring, or other forms of support.
  6. Resistance management: Resistance to change is a common challenge in change management. This involves identifying and addressing the sources of resistance, and implementing strategies to overcome it.
  7. Change readiness assessment: This involves assessing the organisation’s readiness for change, including its culture, structure, resources, and capabilities. It helps to identify potential barriers to change and develop strategies to address them.
  8. Change implementation: This involves executing the change strategy, monitoring the progress of the change, and making necessary adjustments.
  9. Change evaluation: This involves evaluating the outcomes of the change against the objectives set out in the change strategy. It helps to identify successes, learn from failures, and improve future change initiatives.
  10. Sustainability: This involves embedding the change in the organisation’s culture, processes, and systems to ensure its long-term sustainability.

These concepts provide a framework for managing change effectively. However, it is important to note that every change initiative is unique and may require a tailored approach.


People are at the heart of any organisation and consequently they are central to the process of change. The success or failure of any change initiative often hinges on the people involved – their attitudes, their behaviours, and their capacity to adapt.

Here are some reasons why people are critical in managing change:

  1. Acceptance of change: Change initiatives often require individuals to alter their behaviours, learn new skills, or adopt new ways of working. The willingness and ability of individuals to accept and adapt to these changes can significantly impact the success of the change initiative.
  2. Culture: Organisational culture, which is essentially the shared values, beliefs, and norms within an organisation, is created and maintained by people. A supportive culture can facilitate change, while a resistant culture can hinder it.
  3. Leadership: Leaders play a crucial role in driving change, setting the vision, motivating employees, and steering the organisation through the change process. The effectiveness of leadership can significantly impact the success of the change initiative.
  4. Communication: Effective communication is key to managing change, and this relies on people. Clear and regular communication can help to reduce uncertainty, address concerns, and gain buy-in for the change.
  5. Resistance to change: Resistance to change is a common human reaction and can be a significant barrier to change. Understanding and addressing this resistance is a key aspect of change management.
  6. Change agents: Individuals within the organisation, often referred to as change agents, can play a key role in driving change, supporting their colleagues through the change process, and helping to embed the change within the organisation. See also followership.

Given the central role of people in change management, strategies that focus on people – such as communication, training, support, and involvement in the change process – are often key to the success of change initiatives.

External v internal drivers

Organisations are driven by various forces to change. In competitive private sector environments an organisation and its leaders will be constantly vigilant for developments in their macro-environment. People (workers) can also drive change. They are considered to be internal drivers. In reality there is no clear separation of external from internal drivers.

External Drivers

External drivers of change are factors outside an organisation that necessitate a response or adaptation. These drivers can be compelling, forcing organisations to change even when there is resistance or inertia. Here are some of the primary external drivers of change:
  1. Technological advancements: Rapid advancements in technology can render existing processes, products, or services obsolete. Organisations must adapt to these changes to remain competitive and relevant.
  2. Market changes: Changes in market conditions, such as new competitors, shifts in consumer preferences, or changes in supply and demand dynamics, can necessitate organisational change.
  3. Regulatory and legal changes: New laws or regulations can require organisations to change their practices. This can include changes in employment law, environmental regulations, or industry-specific regulations.
  4. Economic factors: Economic conditions, such as recessions, inflation, or changes in exchange rates, can impact an organisation's financial health and necessitate change.
  5. Societal trends: Changes in societal values or trends can impact an organisation's reputation and customer base. This can include changes in attitudes towards environmental sustainability, diversity and inclusion, or corporate social responsibility.
  6. Geopolitical events: Events such as political instability, trade disputes, or changes in international relations can impact an organisation's operations, particularly if they operate internationally.
  7. Demographic changes: Changes in the demographic composition of an organisation's customer base or workforce can necessitate change. This can include changes in age distribution, cultural diversity, or population growth rates.
  8. Environmental factors: Changes in the physical environment, such as climate change, natural disasters, or resource scarcity, can impact an organisation's operations and necessitate change.
These external drivers can exert significant pressure on organisations to change. While some organisations may proactively anticipate and respond to these drivers, others may only change when compelled by these external forces. Understanding these drivers can help organisations to anticipate change and respond effectively.

Internal drivers

Internal drivers of change are factors within an organisation that necessitate a response or adaptation. These drivers can instigate change even in the absence of external pressures. Here are some of the primary internal drivers of change:
  1. Organisational strategy: Changes in an organisation's strategic direction can drive change. This could be due to a new CEO or leadership team, a shift in business focus, or a decision to enter new markets or exit existing ones.
  2. Operational inefficiencies: The need to improve efficiency and reduce costs can drive change. This could involve changes to processes, systems, or structures.
  3. Innovation and product development: The desire to innovate and develop new products or services can drive change. This could involve changes to the organisation's research and development processes, or the creation of new business units or teams.
  4. Employee skills and capabilities: Changes in the skills and capabilities of an organisation's workforce can drive change. This could be due to the recruitment of new employees with different skills, the development of new skills among existing employees, or changes in the organisation's training and development programs.
  5. Organisational culture: Changes in an organisation's culture can drive change. This could be due to a desire to improve the organisation's values, behaviours, or working environment.
  6. Organisational structure: Changes in an organisation's structure can drive change. This could involve changes to the organisation's hierarchy, the creation or dissolution of business units, or changes in reporting lines.
  7. Financial performance: The need to improve financial performance can drive change. This could involve changes to the organisation's financial management processes, cost-cutting measures, or efforts to increase revenue.
These internal drivers can initiate change independently of external pressures. However, in many cases, internal and external drivers are interconnected, with internal changes often being a response to external pressures. Understanding these drivers can help organisations to anticipate change and respond effectively.

External v internal constraints

In a force-field analysis drivers for change can be set against constraints or hindrances. It is important for leaderships and followerships to appreciate the competing forces, so as to better navigate change.


In the context of public sector organisations, leaders often operate within a complex web of constraints that can significantly slow down the pace of change. Here are some of the challenges that even the most competent leaders might encounter:
  1. Political constraints: Leaders in public sector organisations often have to navigate a complex political landscape. Changes may be subject to political approval, and leaders may need to balance a range of political interests. Political cycles can also introduce uncertainty, as changes in government can lead to changes in policy direction.
  2. Regulatory constraints: Public sector organisations are typically subject to a high degree of regulation. Leaders may need to ensure that changes comply with a range of legal and regulatory requirements, which can slow down the change process.
  3. Resource constraints: Public sector organisations often operate under tight budget constraints. Even the most effective leaders may struggle to implement change if the necessary resources are not available.
  4. Bureaucratic constraints: The bureaucratic nature of many public sector organisations can slow down decision-making processes. Leaders may need to seek approval from multiple layers of bureaucracy, which can be time-consuming.
  5. Stakeholder constraints: Public sector organisations often have a wide range of stakeholders, each with their own interests and concerns. Leaders may need to spend significant time engaging with stakeholders and building consensus, which can slow down the pace of change.
  6. Cultural constraints: The culture of public sector organisations can often be resistant to change. Leaders may need to invest significant effort in overcoming this resistance and building a culture that supports change.
  7. Public scrutiny: Leaders in public sector organisations operate under a high level of public scrutiny. This can slow down the pace of change, as leaders need to ensure that changes are transparent, fair, and in the public interest.
While these challenges can slow down the pace of change, they do not make change impossible. Effective leaders can navigate these constraints and drive change by building a compelling vision for change, engaging stakeholders, managing resistance, and demonstrating the benefits of change. However, it's important to recognise that the pace of change in public sector organisations is often slower due to these inherent constraints.


Change, while often necessary, can be challenging for individuals within an organisation. Several factors can inhibit individuals from embracing change. Here are some of the key factors:
  1. Fear of the unknown: Change often involves moving away from familiar routines and processes to something new and unknown. This uncertainty can create fear and resistance among individuals.
  2. Lack of perceived benefit: If individuals do not see a clear benefit from the change, or if they perceive that the change will make their jobs more difficult or less enjoyable, they may resist it.
  3. Loss of control: Change can sometimes make individuals feel that they are losing control over their work or their environment. This perceived loss of control can create resistance.
  4. Comfort with the status quo: People often prefer to stick with what they know and are comfortable with. The status quo is familiar and predictable, and individuals may resist change that disrupts this comfort.
  5. Lack of trust in leadership: If individuals do not trust the organisation's leadership, they may resist change. This lack of trust can stem from past experiences, a lack of communication, or a perception that leadership does not have the best interests of the employees at heart.
  6. Poor communication: If the reasons for the change, the benefits of the change, and the plan for implementing the change are not communicated effectively, individuals may resist the change.
  7. Lack of skills or resources: If individuals feel that they do not have the skills or resources to adapt to the change, they may resist it. This can be particularly true for changes that involve new technologies or ways of working.
  8. Organisational culture: The culture of an organisation can significantly influence how individuals respond to change. In a culture that values stability and tradition, individuals may be more resistant to change. Conversely, in a culture that values innovation and flexibility, individuals may be more open to change.
Understanding these factors can help leaders to develop strategies to overcome resistance and support individuals through the change process. This might involve clear and regular communication, providing training and support, involving individuals in the change process, and building a culture that supports change.

Change fatigue

Change fatigue is a state of exhaustion and disengagement that can occur when individuals or organisations are subjected to continuous and often simultaneous change initiatives. Recognising above that ‘change’ is primarily about people, it is of high importance to understand change fatigue as a separate factor that may limit change. External drivers of change sometimes compel change at too fast a rate. People can then become fatigued or burnt out. The pace of change then slows down in the face of increasing pressures on workforce.

The following are recognised features or symptoms of change fatigue:

  1. Decreased productivity: Individuals experiencing change fatigue may show a decrease in productivity. This can be due to a lack of focus, confusion about new processes, or simply exhaustion from constant adaptation.
  2. Increased resistance to change: Change fatigue can lead to increased resistance to new changes. Individuals may become cynical or dismissive of new initiatives, viewing them as just another in a long line of changes.
  3. Decreased engagement: Individuals suffering from change fatigue may become disengaged from their work. They may show less interest or enthusiasm, and their commitment to the organisation may decrease.
  4. Increased turnover: Change fatigue can lead to increased turnover in an organisation. Overwhelmed by constant change, some employees may choose to leave the organisation.
  5. Decreased morale: Change fatigue can lead to a decrease in morale. Employees may feel frustrated, stressed, or overwhelmed, which can negatively impact the overall mood within the organisation.
  6. Poorer performance: Over time, change fatigue can lead to poorer performance. As employees struggle to adapt to constant changes, the quality of their work may suffer.
  7. Health issues: In severe cases, the stress associated with change fatigue can lead to physical or mental health issues, such as burnout, anxiety, or depression.
  8. Communication breakdown: Change fatigue can lead to a breakdown in communication. Employees may feel that their concerns about the pace of change are not being heard or addressed, leading to frustration and disengagement.

Recognising these symptoms early and taking steps to manage change effectively can help organisations to mitigate the effects of change fatigue. This might involve pacing changes appropriately, providing clear and regular communication, offering support and resources to help employees adapt, and fostering a culture that values and supports employees during times of change.

Navigating change

Organisational change means managing people and cultures among other things. This is no easy task.

Drivers, both internal and external, push an organisation towards change. For instance, external drivers such as market dynamics, regulatory changes, or technological advancements can compel an organisation to adapt its strategies, processes, or structures. Similarly, internal drivers such as strategic realignment, operational inefficiencies, or shifts in organisational culture can instigate change from within.

On the other hand, constraints, whether internal or external, can impede or slow down the process of change. External constraints might include regulatory restrictions, economic conditions, or societal pressures. Internal constraints could encompass factors such as organisational structure, resource limitations, or resistance from employees.

These drivers and constraints can indeed act as competing forces. For example, while market dynamics (an external driver) might push an organisation towards adopting a new technology to remain competitive, resource limitations (an internal constraint) might impede the pace at which this change can be implemented. Similarly, a strategic realignment (an internal driver) might necessitate a change in organisational structure, but regulatory restrictions (an external constraint) might limit the extent to which this change can be made.

Therefore, effective change management involves navigating these competing forces. This requires a deep understanding of the drivers and constraints, the ability to balance competing demands, and the flexibility to adapt the change strategy as needed. It also involves engaging with stakeholders, communicating effectively, and providing support to help individuals and the organisation as a whole to adapt to change.

Supplemental reading

The internet is full of articles to read on change management. I have provided some that I think are good reads.

Please note that availability of the following may depend on subscription or purchase.

  1. Approaching Change Management in the Government Sector – GovStrive This article provides steps for change management in the government sector.
  2. Change Management in Government – Harvard Business Review This piece from Harvard Business Review discusses principles for change management in government.
  3. 6 Reasons Change Management in Government is Challenging – ThoughtExchange This article explores why change management in government is particularly challenging.
  4. Strategic Change Management in Public Sector Organisations – This book summarises key theories and approaches to change management and includes detailed descriptions of key techniques used in change management processes.
  5. CHANGE MANAGEMENT IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR | Emerald Insight This article discusses the management of change in a high profile public service with political influences.
  6. Strategic Change Management in Public Sector Organisations by David Baker and Wendy Jordan (2008). This book covers all the major aspects of change management for those working in public sector and not-for-profit organisations.
  7. Leadership and Change in Public Sector Organizations: Beyond Reform by Robert Ward (2017). This book assesses the current state of the literature on leadership and change in government and public policy, and introduces the reader to innovative new work in the field.
  8. Managing Organizational Change in Public Services: International Issues, Challenges and Cases by Graeme Macleod (2008). This book offers an excellent introduction to change management and how it works within public service organisations internationally.

Take away summary

Key Concepts in Change Management Change management involves a systematic approach that includes change vision, strategy, stakeholder engagement, communication, training and support, resistance management, readiness assessment, implementation, evaluation, and sustainability.

Factors slowing down change: Several factors can slow down the pace of change, particularly in public sector organisations. These include bureaucracy, regulation and compliance, stakeholder complexity, risk aversion, resource constraints, political factors, cultural factors, and public scrutiny.

External constraints on leaders: Leaders may face challenges such as political, regulatory, resource, bureaucratic, stakeholder, cultural, and public scrutiny constraints. Strategies to navigate these constraints include building a compelling vision, engaging stakeholders, negotiating political landscapes, leveraging regulatory frameworks, managing resources effectively, navigating bureaucracy, building a culture of change, and demonstrating transparency.

Factors inhibiting individual change:  Several factors can inhibit change among individuals within organisations. These include fear of the unknown, lack of perceived benefit, loss of control, comfort with the status quo, lack of trust in leadership, poor communication, lack of skills or resources, and organisational culture.

External drivers of change External drivers of change include technological advancements, market changes, regulatory and legal changes, economic factors, societal trends, geopolitical events, demographic changes, and environmental factors.

Internal drivers of change Internal drivers of change include organisational strategy, operational inefficiencies, innovation and product development, employee skills and capabilities, organisational culture, organisational structure, and financial performance.

Concept of change fatigue Change fatigue refers to a state of exhaustion and disengagement among employees due to continuous and often simultaneous change initiatives. Symptoms of change fatigue include decreased productivity, increased resistance to change, decreased engagement, increased turnover, decreased morale, poorer performance, health issues, and communication breakdown.

Role of people in managing change People are central to the process of change. Their attitudes, behaviours, and capacity to adapt significantly impact the success or failure of any change initiative.

Competing forces in change management External and internal drivers and constraints can act as competing forces in the change process. Effective change management involves understanding and navigating these drivers and constraints, balancing competing demands, and adapting the change strategy as needed.