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Exploring change in an organisation

“Everything flows, nothing stands still.” Heraclitus.
Your action plan is designed to bring about change in your organisation and often there is resistance to change. To make sure your change brings about the desired effect you will have to work with it carefully. These notes provide you with information on approaches for planning change and tools for working with change.

Planning Change

When you have decided what change you want to bring about you can then consider how people will reactThere is a cycle of reactions to change: people go through this cycle in varying degrees of intensity. Some experience each stage very briefly – and move on to the next stage. Others can take a long time to come to terms with change.

The Transition Curve

The Transition Curve, as shown in this model adapted from Adams, indicates the stages that people undergo when they experience change.

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Source: (

  1. Shock: Initial reactions to hearing news of change.

  2. Denial: Trying to avoid the inevitable.

  3. Awareness: Beginning to accept the necessity for change and their own part in it.

  4. Acceptance: That the old ways will change.

  5. Experimentation/’Praxis’: Testing out new ways of doing things.

  6. Search for meaning: Making sense of the new situation.

  7. Integration: New ways of working are accepted and used.

A Framework for thinking about systems change

There are elements within an organisation, which, when active and present, can achieve change. Knoster, Villa and Thousand developed a model to show those elements and their effects.

A vision is the starting point for goals - it provides the launch pad for action and the parameters for problem solving. Once a vision is established, it is necessary to build the skills needed to realize the vision. Incentives help to motivate the workforce to acquire and maintain new skills. Building ‘buy-in’ engages them - it means they are now stakeholders.

Adequate resources allow the vision to be achieved. Action planning is a continuous thread across all phases - it is change process. Although presented as the final component of the change framework, it should be viewed as the foundation of the systems change process.

If any of the steps are missing, something will go wrong:

Vision Table Image

(Knoster, T., Villa, R., & Thousand, J. (2000). A  framework for thinking about systems change. In R. Villa & J. Thousand (Eds.), Restructuring for caring and effective education: Piecing the puzzle together (pp. 93-128). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.)

Building on this model, Phillip Butler and Simon Crowe’s document Managing organisational change ‘Snakes and Ladders’: e-Learning Development for ACL Providers explores these elements further and looks at the opportunities, pitfalls and winning posts and offers suggestions and ideas.

The See-Feel-Change Model

John Kotter's highly regarded books Leading Change (1995) and follow-up The Heart of Change (2002) describe a helpful model for understanding and managing change. Each stage acknowledges a key principle identified by Kotter relating to peoples’ response and approach to change, in which people see, feel and then change:

(This section is adapted from Alan Chapman’s website (, which contains more useful advice about working with change.)

  1. Increase urgency - inspire people to move, make objectives real and relevant.

  2. Build the guiding team - get the right people in place with the right emotional commitment, and the right mix of skills and levels.

  3. Get the vision right - get the team to establish a simple vision and strategy, focus on emotional and creative aspects necessary to drive service and efficiency.

  4. Communicate for buy-in - involve as many people as possible, communicate the essentials, simply, and to appeal and respond to people's needs. De-clutter communications - make technology work for you rather than against.

  5. Empower action - remove obstacles, enable constructive feedback and lots of support from leaders - reward and recognise progress and achievements.

  6. Create short-term wins - set aims that are easy to achieve - in bite-size chunks. Manageable numbers of initiatives. Finish current stages before starting new ones.

  7. Don't let up - foster and encourage determination and persistence - ongoing change - encourage ongoing progress reporting - highlight achieved and future milestones.

  8. Make change stick - reinforce the value of successful change via recruitment, promotion, new change leaders. Weave change into culture.

Techniques and tools for working with change

“Management means helping people to get the best out of themselves, not organising things.” Lauren Appley.

Key factors for working with change are:

  • Understanding the current situation
  • Having a clear picture of what success looks like
  • Identifying the steps for implementation
  • Checking that the desired results have been achieved.

There are many different techniques for working with and managing change, and you may already have a favourite. However, it can be useful to look at other ways that could work for you.

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Abraham Maslow.

Force Field Analysis

Force Field Analysis is a management tool developed by Kurt Lewin, which is a useful technique for looking at all the forces for and against a plan for change. It may be useful when looking at the variables involved in determining the effectiveness of a change management programme, and when planning and implementing that programme.

The tool helps you make a decision about the important factors and identify changes you could make to improve those factors. Driving forces are those forces affecting a situation that are pushing in a particular direction; they tend to initiate a change and keep it going. In terms of improving productivity in a work group, pressure from a supervisor, incentive earnings and competition may be examples of driving forces. Restraining forces are forces acting to restrain or decrease the driving forces. Apathy, hostility and poor maintenance of equipment may be examples of restraining forces against improving productivity in a work group.

There are a number of ways of recording a Force Field Analysis, but probably the most common is to write the change or objective at the top of a piece of paper, and then draw a vertical line down the centre of the paper under the heading. Then:

  1. List all driving forces for change in left column and all restraining forces against change in right column.

  2. Allocate each comment a score according to impact (1 = weak, 5 = strong).

  3. You can also allocate points to identify how easy it would be to do something to influence the force, which can help to identify areas where you can achieve quick wins and build momentum in a change programme.

For example:

Implementing ILT into Creative Arts Curriculum Area

Forces for – driving forces



Forces against – restraining forces

Strategic indicators to use ILT.



No funds.

Inspection soon.



Reluctance from many tutors to start new training.

Small group of keen tutors.

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Poor connectivity at many centres.

Learners wanting to use technology.



Old and tired ICT equipment.




Tutors not keen to use laptops in craft rooms.

When using the Force Field Analysis you can either assign a score to each force or use arrows of varying sizes to identify strength of each force.

This activity can be done as an individual exercise or in a group. It can also be done individually with a dispersed group of individuals and the summary circulated, for example by fax or email, or it can be done live with a remote group, for example by video conferencing or as part of an online discussion.

Each situation is unique, but there are some common patterns that emerge in change activities when you use Force Field Analysis:

  • There tends to be an emphasis on the driving forces at the start of a change initiative, particularly if the organisation is trying to persuade people of the benefits of change.
  • Communication tends to be frequent at the start of a change initiative, and then decreases as people assume that everybody has understood and agreed.
  • The restraining forces at an individual level are varied and may not be expressed openly in the early stages of a change.
  • Different people see forces very differently, ie what one person sees as a huge obstacle another person sees as insignificant.
  • When progress is not as fast as desired there may be a tendency to re-emphasise the driving forces, but looking at the restraining forces and reducing some of them can often help progress more.

The Solutions Focus

Mark McKergow and Paul Jackson have developed an approach to working with change that focuses on the solution, not the problem. Their approach encourages the change manager to focus on identifying what’s already working well and build on that, instead of spending time on isolating and ‘fixing’ a problem.

Solutions-focused methods involve identifying the Platform, the starting point for the change, then defining the Future Perfect, the ideal world that will exist when the change has been successfully made. Then you gather Counters - the resources, skills, etc to enable you to work along a Scale that measures your progress towards the Future Perfect. Often the small actions that are taken prove to be remarkably successful in this type of approach.

You can get more information on this approach at

Decision trees

A decision tree is an excellent tool for making financial or number-based decisions. The decision trees technique encourages a structured approach in laying out all choices and looking at challenges, values and probabilities of outcomes. Further information can be found on the Mind Tools website.


This tool uses a checklist to select and prioritise actions needed to implement a plan. The inventory of support and resistance uses a matrix to show the overview and the persons involved in the plan, and then to note levels of support and resistance. Further information can be found on the ESDToolkit website.

Word storm/word showers

This is one of the easiest and quickest techniques. It works well for individuals and groups, and can give some excellent results in terms of innovative ideas.
How to word storm:

  1. Select the area to focus on.
  2. Ask someone to write down all their ideas on the focus area, however unusual they may be.
  3. Choose a problem/issue.

While you are doing this:

  • be enthusiastic and positive
  • do not evaluate ideas (or people) at this stage
  • remember quantity is important
  • do not focus on one idea for too long
  • work quickly.

When you have finished:

  1. Evaluate the ideas.
  2. Choose the key ideas.
  3. Explore possible solutions.
  4. Develop an action plan to follow through your ideas.

Mind mapping

This technique was developed by Tony Buzan as a method for students to take notes during lectures, yet still be engaged in the lecture and also to retain the information and to generate ideas. The general idea is to use key words, colours and images to help generate ideas and to help organise ideas in a non-linear way.

Steps to creating a mind map:

  1. Begin with a word or image in the middle of a blank page.
  2. From the focal point branch out to other thoughts.
  3. Add sub-branches if you want – maybe with descriptions along the lines.
  4. Avoid evaluating these ideas, just write them down quickly.
  5. Use key words, images, colour and a range of different pens, crayons, etc.
  6. On the branches you can begin to add words that link or build relationships between ideas.

For a detailed look at how to create a mind map, visit the Innovation Network® website and click on Mindmapping in 8 easy steps.

There is a range of mind mapping software currently available. Such software has been used successfully with students who have dyslexia.

Edward De Bono’s six thinking hats

When we are thinking about something we are usually trying to do everything at once. We might be looking out for dangers and difficulties – reasons why something will not work. We might be trying new ideas or looking for information. Most of us, when dealing with problems, tend to approach them from one angle only. So, some of us may have emotional responses that do not reflect a full understanding of a problem, which is not the most productive approach. Our feelings and emotions may interfere.

This is an excellent technique, which encourages us to be aware of how we normally respond to problems/change and then to actively change that response and to consider another way of looking at something. Look at the chart below and see which colour hat you identify with most of the time:

White Hat
Focuses on information known or needed. Deals with facts.

Red Hat
Responds to emotions, feelings, and intuition, without explanation.

Black Hat
Judgemental, critical; looks for why something is wrong or might not work.

Yellow Hat
Optimistic, positive, looks for benefits and what is good.

Green Hat
Thinks creatively, considering the possibilities, alternatives and new ideas.

Blue Hat
Organises the thinking process, considers all the aspects that need to be thought through.

With the Six Hats approach, you are asked to consider which hat you wear most of the time, and then actively take that hat off when faced with a problem and put a different coloured hat on. This forces you to look at the problem from another angle, and to adopt a hat that helps to resolve the problem.

We can also use this approach in groups to great effect. The group identifies the problem and then looks at it with each person wearing the same hat. This can help move away from an adversarial approach towards one that encourages greater unity in exploring change or problems.

When using the hats it is useful to apply them in sequence. Start with blue to identify the task, followed by black to ascertain the risks and cautions, then moving to green to gather fresh and innovative ideas.
For further sequences see the St Monica’s Primary School Online Project website.

IdeaFocus offers other lateral-thinking strategies.

Further tools and resources


Printed publications:

  • Managing Change at Work (1994), Cynthia D. Scott & Dennis T. Jaffe. Crisp Publications.
  • Managing Change and Making it Stick (1987), Roger Plant. Gower Publications.
  • The Solutions Focus: the SIMPLE way to positive change (2002), Paul Z. Jackson & Mark McKergow, Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
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