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The Life and Times of a Change Manager (Part 3b)

Editor’s Note:  Ron Leeman is a world-recognized Change Manager and author of several Change, Process, and Project training guides on Flevy.   He has decided to write a series of articles that chronicle his personal “change” journey.  This is the second installment (part).  You can read beginning from the first piece here.  You can also learn more about Ron and his approach to Change in our recent interview with him.

* * * *

It’s been a while since my last Life and Times of a Change Manager (3a) article, so I thought I would now recount my assignment for, what was then, The Department for the Environment, Transport and Regions (DETR), a large UK Government Department in London.

I can clearly remember my interview for this role because for some time there were questions being asked about things like the Information, Business and Technical Architecture and about Project Management… mmmmmmmm!

After about 20/25 minutes or so, I interjected and raised a question myself which went something like… “All these questions are very relevant but as my role would be that of Change Manager where are the questions about communications, the impact on people and potential change resistance.”

This clearly hit a nerve because, for what seemed like ages, there was an awkward silence and telling glances between the interviewers. So to break the silence I started to talk about what I would do and how I would go about things like communication, engagement and managing resistance and, as a consequence, took complete control of the interview process … just the way I like it. After the interview on my way out I was escorted to the exit by one of the interviewees and her comment was “I am glad you did what you did because this project is all about people and changing from one way of working to a completely new one and that was not being addressed by the questions you were being asked. I think you can safely assume that the role is yours” … it was.

I  accepted this assignment with some trepidation for two reasons:

  1. In the knowledge that  would have to deal with many extremely senior stakeholders including Government Ministers and Lords of the Realm.
  2. Knowing that those in the Public Sector were far more inclined to resist change than those in the Private Sector.

But hey that is the challenge of a Change Manager so “in for a penny in for a pound” or “in for a nickel in for a dime” as the sayings go.

The Project

DETR was a UK central Government Department who were implementing a Ministerial Electronic Briefing System (EBS) as part of the UK Governments Cabinet approved overarching Knowledge Network (KN) Project. The KN project was set up in recognition of the need to provide major improvements in the ways which briefing and official information was provided to Ministers across Government.

The DETR EBS was stimulated to a large degree by the KN project, which required all Government Departments to supply briefing in a standard electronic form. There were however convincing arguments to justify the introduction of an EBS into DETR irrespective of the implications of the KN initiative.

The Business Need

The primary need identified during initial study interviews was to provide high quality briefing which met the needs of the consumers, both in terms of quality and coverage. The current briefing process often fell short of these requirements with the main reasons being:

  • Lack of feedback mechanisms.
  • Lack of reuse of material.
  • Poor access to briefing material.
  • No uniform approach.
  • The briefing material produced was often viewed by Ministers and Private Office as inadequate, not fit for purpose and not politically aware.
  • Existing producers of briefing information did not store or have access to any shared (common) repository for the information they produced.


  • The introduction the EBS which included a wider Process Improvement initiative would provide a framework where these shortcomings could be addressed and resolved.
  • There was  a need for DETR to produce a system capable of feeding the central KN. This would be much more straightforward (and therefore potentially cheaper) if the system in place in DETR was compatible with the technology employed in the KN.

Project Initiation

The EBS was to provide a step change in the production and availability of DETR briefing information to Departmental Ministers. It would be a powerful enabler for developing common meta-data structures and inter-operability that would lead to (not necessarily in order of priority):

  • Streamlined production of briefs due to the introduction of common standards and controls
  • Briefing available, through the KN, at pan-government level – for example between DETR, Number 10 Downing Street, the Cabinet Office and other Government Departments
  • Briefing available to officials and Ministers remotely, 24-hours a day
  • Potential for providing regionalised and local facts and figure
  • Improved linkage with DETR Agencies.
  • The link with KN making DETR briefing potentially available to the public and to Parliament, including MPs of all political parties, via the Internet.

The need to provide an EBS within DETR was strong.

The following diagram gives you an idea of the high-level Information and Process Flow between the key participants in the Ministerial Briefing process.

Project Stages

The project was planned in four distinct stages spanning a total of between 12 and 18 months:

  • Stage 0 – Project Scoping and Initiation with a focus on the Business, Information and Technical Architecture.
  • Stage 1 – Pilot which involved selected Private Offices, Press Office and one or two selected Policy Divisions.
  • Stage 2 – Full DETR rollout in a finally agreed form, across DETR to between 500 & 700 Briefers and Contributors all requiring Read/Write access with all other users limited to Read Only access.
  • Stage 3 – Linkage to and/or implementation of agencies and NDPB’s to establish interfaces with systems followed by Government Offices.

What Was My Role?

I was appointed as the Change Manager working through Logica Consultancy with a responsibility for:


  • The Change Management strategy.
  • Co-ordinating the Change Management Programme in relation to the implementation.
  • Engaging with Government Ministers (including the Deputy Prime Minister) and senior Departmental officials e.g. the Permanent Secretary as well as other Government Department teams involved in similar initiatives.
  • Evaluating the current change status and producing the Business Change plan.
  • Helping to create individual Change Plans for Departments.
  • Developing Communication and Training strategy and implementation of the same.
  • Developing and implementing a Balanced Business Scorecard approach for measuring success.
  • Assisting with re-engineering core Business Processes.
  • Developing and implementing feedback mechanisms to build Briefing Best Practice guidelines.
  • Researching and identifying relevant ‘web writing’ tools.
  • Quality assuring published material and monitoring of content.

Knowledge Network

  • Working in partnership with the Cabinet Office sponsored KN project to maintain relationships and interfaces on all aspects of the initiative.
  • Developing Business Processes to underpin the interfaces with the KN Editorial Team and Policy Officials.
  • An interim gate-keeping function between DTLR’s Policy Officials and the KN Content Management team.

A fairly standard change role… NOT!

The first big impact on my Change Management activities was that, following feedback from End User’s during the Pilot Stage and the via the Project Board, the number of people to whom the EBS would be rolled out to was increased from 500/700 to in excess of 2,000 people. This was to ensure the system would be used as widely as possible and to provide more flexibility in the briefing process.

So effectively over 130% increase in the numbers to be communicated to and trained but more importantly more potential resistance!

So for this Life and Times post I will concentrate on Change Communications and Change Resistance  as these were the two aspects that featured heavily during my year long tenure and took up a considerable amount of my time.

Change Communications

Because of the big increase in end users it was critical to cast the communication net as wide as possible and provide both generic and tailored communications to the different impacted stakeholders.

Apart from the usual e-mail communication we used various other mechanisms to try and get the message across to the impacted community which included the following:

These mechanisms were kept up-to-date with anything and everything the user community needed to know but strangely there were still people who were not aware of the initiative even well into the implementation.

As we all know e-mail communication is not the most efficient of communication mechanisms so to try and get away from the usual boring written e-mail I thought I would create an automated PowerPoint Slide Show which I attached with instructions on how to open and view it i.e.:

“Double click on the attached PowerPoint document which will open it. Once you have opened it you will need to activate it as a Slide Show. Each slide has animations but you will need a ‘mouse click’ to advance you to the next slide. It will take you between 7 and 10 minutes to view this presentation.”

Well… this prompted a number of replies but I thought the following two amply demonstrated how trying to get a message across using a different approach can produce two totally different reactions:

As always there were lesson’s to be learned:

  1. Do not assume everyone is MS Office literate.
  2. Include very detailed instructions including screen shots.

To determine whether our communications strategy was working, during the Pilot Stage we decided to undertake a survey of all those involved in the Pilot with the following results:

Whilst these results were encouraging there was still an amount of room for improvement.

At the same time we also asked about Ease of Use with the following results:

Again very encouraging but still some work needed to be done.

Change Resistance

Inevitably when communicating as much as I did this gave people the opportunity to, for want of a better phrase, vent their frustration. The exchanges were many and varied, some more critical than others … here are just a few examples:

Resistance? Never… more like out and out revolt… LOL.

Anyway I made a specific point of replying to each and every one of these replies either through 121 meetings (see below) or, if that was not possible, via e-mail.

Another classic example of resistance was from the Department with a responsibility for the London Underground who were going through, what was in those days, one of the earliest forms of Public Private Partnership (PPP) … a mechanism to attract private sector investment for infrastructure projects and avoiding such schemes ending up on the Government’s balance sheet. So while the London Underground remained publicly owned the maintenance and, crucially, the massive renewal programme, was to be carried out by privately run companies.

As you can imagine his created an inordinate amount of work for the Department in question as they were creating a large amount of briefing material related to the PPP using their old traditional way. As a consequence they categorically refused to use the new EBS because of what they called “the additional and unacceptable burden it would place on the Briefing Authors”. Despite this flat refusal my thoughts were that if I could get this Department to use the EBS it would demonstrate to the rest of the End User community that it was actually a good system.

To accomplish this I employed two complimentary tactics:

  • I engaged with the Head of Department on a 121 basis in the first instance and then managed to get them to let me take over one of their regular weekly team meetings to present the EBS and its benefits to their Policy Officials. Well this was like “a baptism of fire” for me and I totally miscalculated the level of hostility. However as the meeting progressed I was able to rebut all of their misgivings and criticisms and finally after demonstrating how the system worked I could see that my messages were getting through.
  • As a direct result of the meeting I offered to create a “live” Policy Brief for them to demonstrate how easy it was. I asked them to provide me with a Brief that had been written by them in the old format so that I could recreate it in the new format on the EBS. This took me about a day to create. I loaded the Brief onto the system as a draft and let the relevant Policy Officials know that it was done. Well surprise surprise … they loved it and immediately hit the publish button.

Following this the Department became an avid user of the EBS and produced many quality Briefs which were used as “demonstrators” for other Departments to follow suit. What a result!

And the moral of this story is… there’s nothing like a change resistor turned change champion to further the cause.

Anyway I could go on forever and give more examples of communications problems and resistance but I am sure you would get bored so finally the following are four things that deserve a mention:

  • The internal team I worked with who were more than willing to pull up their sleeves and get stuck in.
  • Our approach being recommended by the KN to other Government Departments as being “the way things should be done”.
  • At a cross-Government Away Day we presented our CM approach and demonstrated the EBS which resulted in a great deal of interest  e.g. 14 Departments requested information from us and 6 Departments are being given a demo of the EBS
  • The level of support offered and given by Senior Government Ministers in terms of their accessibility and promotional activity.

Hey, we must have been doing something right!

My next Life and Times article will be the one that immediately followed this assignment… as a Business Change Programme Manager for the implementation of a Core Banking System (Globus) into Raiffeisen Bank in Poland. This one is another classic assignment.

About Ron Leeman

Ron Leeman has been involved in “change and process” work for more years than he cares to remember. He has worked extensively across the UK, Europe, and globally--and has an enviable track-record of delivering organisational change and process initiatives across a wide cross section of industry sectors. In 2012, Ron was bestowed with a “Change Leader of Tomorrow” award by the World HRD Congress “in recognition of my remarkable progress in initiating changes enough for others in the same industry to follow my example”. Ron is firm believer in knowledge transfer and now wants to share his vast knowledge with those who are considering getting into or at various stages of “change” and/or “process” work or those working on specific Projects wanting to gain practical insights into “how to” type situations. You can connect with Ron Leeman on LinkedIn here, where you can view his 85+ Recommendations and in excess of 800 Endorsements from clients and co-workers alike to give you an indication of the quality of service that he has provided and can offer. Ron is also a document author on Flevy. Browse his frameworks on Change Management, Process Analysis, and Program Management here: http://flevy.com/seller/highwayofchange.

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