Leading Change? Expert Advice on How To Get There In One Piece

If you’re trying to change your team or company’s culture, take some deep breaths, buckle up, and get your grown-up pants on.

You’ll probably want to play the ‘phone a friend’ card while you’re at it too.

Leading transformation ain’t for the faint-hearted. In fact, if the process of “trying to change the way things are done around here” was a race – it’d be a marathon, not a sprint. (Probably more like a marathon, with a few sprints thrown in for good measure.)

In one 2015 McKinsey survey, only 26 percent of respondents said the transformations they were most familiar with have been very or completely successful at both improving performance and equipping the organisation to sustain improvements over time. In the 2012 survey, 20 percent of executives said the same.

As I said, not for the faint-hearted.

So even if you claim you don’t have time to read books, or you assert that “reading is not my thing” – in this instance, you should devour these seminal books on leading change, and do so quick smart.

Even if you’ve already embarked on your change journey, it’s usually not too late to correct course.

By becoming familiar with these experts and following their sage advice, you’ll save yourself (and your team) a world of pain.

  1. John Kotter – Leading Change

John’s book, Leading Change – is still THE seminal reading on leading transformation. He neatly outlines the eight errors that organisations make when leading change, and provides a nifty eight-step process to avoid these traps. Nifty to read, and especially nifty if you can follow them.

Favourite sound bite? “By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change organisations is to plunge ahead without establishing a high enough sense of urgency in fellow managers and employees. This error is fatal because transformations always fail … when complacency levels are high.”

My tip: Create a burning platform – it’s a sure-fire way to kill those insidious saboteurs of successful change – apathy and complacency.

  1. Carolyn Taylor – Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success

I first heard Carolyn talk at an ICF conference – she was a total standout. She’s one of the world’s foremost experts in organisational culture change and the CEO of Walking the Talk. During her 30 years in the field, Carolyn has run workshops with 50,000 leaders, worked alongside 200 culture change journeys, consulted on 15 mergers and acquisitions, coached 60 CEOs, and worked in 35 countries. A bit of an over-achiever in the change game, wouldn’t you say?

Her book, Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success was described by Strategic HR Review as “the most detailed, practical and readable book on how to change organisational culture.”

Favourite sound bite? “Spend as much, if not more attention to values, beliefs, actions and symbols as you do to outcomes, delivery of strategy and communication.”

  1. Chip Heath and Dan Heath – Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

What I love about this book is that the Heath brothers delve into the psychology of change and why it’s so darn hard. The book helps you to look at creating change in yourself and others in a different way; seeing the good things about why you should change and why it was better before. I’m a huge fan of their book Decisive – and Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard doesn’t disappoint either.

Favourite sound bite? “A good change leader never thinks, “Why are these people acting so badly? They must be bad people.” A change leader thinks, “How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?”

So do it – get on your horse and go west! Lead the charge on that change – because it might not only lead to great things for you and your organisation, it might even mean the difference between survival and ruin.

But just don’t dive in without turning to these clever people first.

Soak up their sage suggestions.

Oh. And … good luck.



  1. Frederick Nightingale on July 21, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Suzi, this is a great post.
    It raises one question: “If the leader is unable to drive organizational change, what does that say about their leadership abilities?”

    • Suzi McAlpine on July 21, 2017 at 1:32 pm

      Thanks Frederick. Yes great question. Leading others (and yourself) through inevitable change is a foundational skill to develop if you’re a leader. Cheers, Suzi.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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