Landing transformational change - closing the gap between theory and practice

Published: September 2015

This report explores how the themes on transformational change, identified in the first report, apply in practice. Case studies from four organisations provide practical examples of how organisations have approached transformational change.

The report also includes recommendations that HR, OD and L&D professionals should consider for their organisations and their own skill set, if they are to be successful expert initiators and facilitators of transformational change.

Executive summary

This report is the second on landing transformational change in the CIPD series. The first report, launched In September 2014, covers how some of the latest thinking in change management can inform how organisations approach transformational change. This second report explores how the themes identified apply in practice through a focus on providing practical examples of how organisations have approached transformational change.

Both reports seek to inform senior executives and HR, OD and L&D practitioners by providing a platform of knowledge on the ‘how’ of designing, managing and embedding change.

The first report identifies ten essential aspects of transformational change processes, in three areas – techniques to design change, build understanding and manage change:

  1. The design of transformational change requires senior executives to be adept at reading and rewriting their context, aligning strategy and culture, and delivering radical change opportunistically.
  2. Techniques that can build understanding include the use of ambiguity and purposeful instability; narratives, storytelling and conversations; and physical representation, metaphors and play.
  3. Management of the process requires relational leadership, building trust, voice and dialogue, and maintaining energy and momentum.

While we found evidence of all of these aspects in the case studies in this second phase of research, this report also identifies 11 additional key themes to do with designing change, building understanding and management, common to the approaches organisations take to successfully land transformational change.

Three additional aspects of the design of transformational change facilitate success. These are new CEOs/business leaders with a transformational change agenda; ‘backstage’ preparatory work with executive teams; and expert facilitation. The backstage preparatory work is significant for the formation of a team united in leadership of the transformation, in terms of a shared vision and the capability to lead change through role-modelling. Expert facilitation for this backstage work and the subsequent change process was provided by individuals often from an HR background, with significant knowledge of the delivery of change, although not necessarily in roles identified with HR.

Techniques to build not just understanding of change but also commitment to it include: mass engagement events; repeated and consistent communication from the top; achieving clarity through brevity and translation through detail; and changing patterns of interaction. These techniques when used together created an integrated set of interventions that led to not just a shared understanding of the need for and nature of change, but also how this change had to be translated into new behaviours, systems and processes at an individual level down through the organisation.

Managing the change process to enable change also involved creating change advocates, removing obstacles and providing tools, and acting on measurements.

What is interesting about the findings in this report is that they demonstrate the existence of a new generation of CEOs/business leaders who seem to understand better how to land transformational change than their predecessors. They understand the need for a long-term approach, sequencing of interventions, leading by example, investment in softer interventions beyond structures and systems, pushing new strategies down to the front line, translating corporate rhetoric into tangibles and the role of transparency and proximity in this translation.

When considering the implications for HR, we have reflected back on two previous CIPD reports on managing change, one in 2005 – HR’s Role in Organising: Shaping change (Whittington and Molloy) – and a second report in 2010 (Miller and McCartney). Both reports were concerned with inspiring HR practitioners to play an expert role in designing and facilitating change. What is striking about our research in 2015 is the increased level of sophistication in HR’s support for CEOs and business leaders in transformational change. Just as CEOs and business leaders have demonstrated a greater understanding of what is necessary to implement deep and sustainable change, senior HR leaders have equally enhanced their knowledge and expertise in the design of change techniques but also managed to deploy this knowledge more adeptly with senior managers, middle managers and workforces. HR in all cases was found to be successfully performing rather than just aspiring to fulfil the role of ‘expert facilitator’.

Middle managers remain critical to change processes in organisations and need to continue to be given role-relevant recognition and support.

We conclude the report with a number of recommendations for HR, OD and L&D practitioners drawn from the themes we identify as to how organisations successfully land transformational change. Many of these involve HR, OD and L&D practitioners having the skill set and knowledge to work with CEOs/business leaders and other very senior executives to design and facilitate change.

Download the full report below
Landing transformation change - Research report.pdf (475 KB) Landing transformational change - closing the gap between theory and practice - Full research report

Case studies

Case study - BBC Worldwide-PDF.pdf (108 KB) BBC Worldwide case study
Case study - HRMC-PDF.pdf (93 KB) HMRC case study
Case study - News UK-PDF.pdf (110 KB) News UK case study
Case study - Zurich UK Life-PDF.pdf (108 KB) Zurich UK Life case study