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For change to come naturally, think like a human (not a consultant)

The change process has been analyzed from every angle. The word itself – change – has been thrown around so much it’s become stretched to the point of meaninglessness. My approach is simple. If change isn’t driven by customer needs, it’s not worth talking about.

All too often companies launch into change processes that have nothing to do with getting better at serving customers. This is particularly endemic to organizational changes. Virtually without exception, management pushing everyone into artificial change initiatives leads to wasted resources and a damaged brand.

Sustainable change for the better only happens when it flows organically from customer needs. If you’re relying on authoritarian decrees from the board of directors and hand-waving consultants in expensive suits, things have probably gone off the rails.
When I reflect on my own life, moments of meaningful change have been more on the tranquil side. Genuine turning points tend to sneak up on you and are only fully understood in hindsight. They happen when they need to. The organic way change weaves itself into our lives should serve as the foundation of a new approach in our businesses.

Change is a dish best served in small portions, preferably straight out of your customers’ hands. It should be driven by an invisible pedagogy blissfully free of Big Important Meetings, trips to the training center or team building games. When change happens organically, your message won’t keep hitting roadblocks.

To boil it all down, I’d say there are just a few simple things to keep in mind when communicating change. Your audience should be able to easily:

  • Understand the goal
  • Care about the goal
  • See it as a natural progression
  • Take action that means something to them

Maybe you’ve heard all this before. It’s hard for me to say since I’m allergic to leadership literature. In my opinion, if you want to know how human beings work, consult the masters of human behavior: the likes of Shakespeare, Tolstoy and perhaps most important of all, Astrid Lindgren. If you want long-lasting practical benefits, forget the flow charts and get inside the impractical minds of the human beings you’re trying to change.

Johan Gustafson

Johan Gustafson

International business creator
Former Swedish Armed Forces Intelligence and Security Centre
Author of textbooks on intelligence services
Johan Gustafson

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Personal value drives and business innovation


One of Sweden’s biggest challenges is coming up with smart new business ideas. Since traditional industries are fading away we need new ideas that benefit both profits and people. Whether a company can achieve that sort of innovation depends on a wide range of factors like training level, access to top talent, resources, technology and their innovation culture, to name a few.

The importance of developing an innovation culture was highlighted in The Global Innovation Index 2014: The Human Factor in Innovation where the researchers stated:

“The message is very clear: in order to build an innovation-driven nation we need to educate our people well, and to provide them enough resources and incentives to chase their dreams.”

It’s the part about incentives and dreams that leaps out at me. An employee is at their most creative and productive when their work synchronizes with their personal value drive – unleashing that drive is the key to a company’s ability to innovate. As individuals, we only go above and beyond when we find our work meaningful and satisfying.

In my own research, I’ve uncovered clear distinctions between what drives different individuals and how this affects their motivation to innovate. To better understand the implications, I created a scientific model that identifies the three core values that give us the greatest sense of personal satisfaction. Only one of these is your personal core value. While behaviour changes throughout life, your core value remains constant. Let’s look at these three value drives.

If you find it deeply meaningful to meet other people and gain the recognition of others, and long to feel a sense of harmony with the world outside yourself, your core value is Life. Being part of the process of creation together with others is itself the purpose for an individual with the Life core value. When they get to actively collaborate and feel recognized, they become more creative and productive.

If you find it deeply meaningful to constantly explore and test out new ideas, live and feel intensely in the here and now, and are always looking for the next leap forward, your dominant core value is Ambivalence. Feeling that your work is connected to a strong vision and being driven to use your own energy, and create energy for others, is the key to creative output for these individuals.

If you find it deeply meaningful to have things clearly defined, to decide for yourself what is meaningful and to keep your life in order, your core value is Control. Setting clear goals and focusing on what the individual can specifically do and deliver is what motivates a person with Control as core value.

Let’s look at a real case to see the implications of these values in action. A few years ago, I worked on a major change initiative for an international industrial company. The project was all about elevating innovation. The level of training and competence was the same across their innovation centers in all countries. Each of those centers was challenged to present new innovation ideas to central management every quarter.

We compared the countries after the project was over to uncover the differences between their innovation drivers and the types of solutions they came up with. It turned out the Polish innovation center was dominated by individuals with the core value ambivalence while the German center was dominated by control.

The majority of ideas that came out of the German organization were ways to improve existing products, many of which were successfully applied. But our friends in Hamburg didn’t come up with many outside the box ideas.

Our Polish colleagues, on the other hand, delivered almost nothing but groundbreaking ideas. The initiative gave them the chance to do the creative work they loved most. By inviting them to contribute and letting their imaginations run free, the Poles threw themselves into the challenge and went beyond existing products to find entirely new offers the company had never before imagined.

This case demonstrates that giving individuals the chance to work according to their own personal value drives can lead to brilliant new business ideas. Both groups made exceptionally valuable contributions – but each did so in their own way and with their own advantages for the company.


Learn more: The Rendahl Model™

Jan Erik Rendahl

Jan Erik Rendahl

Title: Jan Erik Rendahl, Doctor in Psychology, Lund University
Professor of Change Leadership at LTH, Lund University
Experience: 40 years as a practicing psychologist, researcher and CEO
Personal mission: Drive change based on individual drivers
Weapon of choice: The Rendahl Model™
Change anthem: Neil Young, Rockin’ In The Free World
Jan Erik Rendahl

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Why is it so hard to involve the people who have to do the changing?

I’ve been an IT management consultant for 20 years and I have seen a fair amount of ideas and approaches come and go. But there’s one that’s still struggling to be realised: involving the people who have to do the bulk of changing.

In IT, the change is often related to the introduction of new ways of working. That could be anything from a new work process to introducing a tool with new functionality. Whatever the project, the shots are called by senior management, who of course control the money. They inevitably put together a steering group to watch over the change project and make sure they get what they’re paying for. To the people in this steering group, it is often very clear what needs to happen. So, what’s the issue?

This group is usually made up of senior staff and that’s where the trouble begins. When communicating, they tend to communicate what will happen in either purely financial terms (“we’ll save millions”) or in technical terms (“this system is benchmark”). They don’t mention how people’s daily work life is going to change.

Information trickles down to middle managers and other leaders who find themselves in the unenviable position of knowing they will have to change but not what will actually be different. When their staff want to know more, all they can do is repeat the aforesaid numbers and tech specs. But that doesn’t address the question everyone wants answered: what does this mean for me?

Unfortunately, I’ve experienced this firsthand. One example from my own experience is when I was tasked with leading the transition of a customer’s central IT system to a new supplier. It all looked good on paper and had a very sound, thought through business case – the switch would save the client a lot of money.

But no one had a discussion with the people using the system about what it meant for them. They were left wondering what was going on. Senior management didn’t think it was necessary to involve them since, in their view, it was just an invisible platform running in the background that needed to move. A pure technical migration. Simple! But it’s never that simple. When you’re a global company with a system running around the clock, any change will have an impact somewhere in the organization with real effects somewhere in the world.

Suddenly, the pressure was on. The new contract had already been signed and the clock was ticking down to when the new supplier would take over and the old one would bow out.

Reaching out to the people using the system had been not on the steering group’s agenda, but my project team managed to get in touch with key people in each region around the world and ask them how they used the system. After we got an idea of how they worked, we figured out the right time to make the switch. Then we worked with the new supplier to map out how the transition would actually be made and how long it would take. Armed with that data, it was up to us to sell in the most realistic plan with clear, detailed activities, focusing only on business-related changes.

Top management was kept in the loop and actively supported our work – otherwise the project would never have succeeded. In the end a solution was agreed on by all parties and the transition was made with a month to spare. The success of the project left me with many hard won lessons and, to be honest, with some gray hairs. But more than anything what was painfully obvious in hindsight was how important it was to involve the people who actually had to change and how much simpler it all would have been if that had happened from the word go.

Lars Narvselius

Lars Narvselius

Title: 3gamma, Regional Manager
Experience: 20 years working with management consultancy
Personal mission: To make IT enable business success
Weapon of choice: Transparence and percistency
Change anthem: The Beatles, Life in a Day
Lars Narvselius

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How to craft your change project’s elevator pitch

You’re probably wondering what an elevator pitch has to do with your change project. Elevator pitches are for salesmen, everyone knows that. But for your project to get anywhere, a salesman is exactly what you’ll need to become.

You need your colleagues to devote scarce time and resources to your project and they aren’t going to do that without proper motivation. Listing the goals and benefits and logic of the thing isn’t going to cut it. Since when are people logical?

So how do you go about crafting that show-stopping message? Here are five steps to guide you.

Understand your goal

You know what the goal of your project is, but what exactly do you want to happen at the end of this conversation with this individual? It could be purely emotional or more concrete, like getting them to come to a workshop or to spread the message to others.

Accept that they don’t care about your project

It’s not that your colleagues are apathetic, everyone simply has their own workload to worry about. So it’s up to you to figure out how to make them care. How will your project make their life better? If they don’t see what’s in it for them, they won’t get involved.

Set the stakes

You don’t want to rain down doom and gloom, but your audience needs to see consequences they can relate to. If you manage to ask the right question about what their work life will be like if the change fails, you can actually get them to show themselves what’s at stake.

Show them a credible plan

Your job title doesn’t give you credibility. Being able to clearly show you know what needs to be done and who needs to help does. Be concise yet specific. Make sure to avoid buzzwords and jargon as they cause people to mentally switch off.

Make it easy to take action

You’ve got them on the hook, but they can easily forget about your project five minutes later. Make it simple for them to take the next step. For example, it could be getting a promise to gather information you need or booking a meeting with their boss.

The real bar for success with an elevator pitch is when it feels like a personal conversation. Making it feel spontaneous takes a lot of practice. When you’ve got your message down, tell it to yourself in the mirror. If it feels like it’s wandering, trim the fat. Then trim it some more.

Jason Ross

Jason Ross

Title: Symbal, Concept Designer
Experience: 8 years as a Creative
Personal mission: To inject humanity into your communication
Weapon of choice: Nouns and verbs and adjectives
Change anthem: The Hand That Feeds, Nine Inch Nails
Jason Ross

Leave the predictions to weathermen and monkeys

”Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” – Niels Bohr

How good would you say experts are at making predictions? Take your pick of subject: sports, weather, economics, whatever. The line between a monkey throwing darts* and an expert futurologist is often blurry, to put it kindly.

Consultants are no different. No one can tell you for sure how one person will react to change, let alone how a change will affect large groups over time. So anyone who tells you they know exactly how your change journey will unfold, despite the complexity of your organization and the people within it, is telling tall tales.

Behavioral theories are great (we use them often) but in our world they’re only worth your time if they apply in reality. Real reality. Not the one you sit around talking about in conference rooms, but the one where a last second order comes in and everyone forgets about your project. The one where things go well for a while but then people decide, nah, let’s go back to the old way of doing things. You know, the one where nothing goes quite like you predict.

What’s more helpful than predictions and theories is a framework to guide long term communication while planning for snap decisions. We personally use a four step model to guide change journeys to happily ever after. Experience has shown us that big changes need to battle through the same major steps before a new idea becomes a new everyday routine.

But within those steps is endless variety and a series of events you won’t see coming. A model helps stimulate quick action because it sets the same clear goals for everyone, step by step, and gives your people a common language.

So why are we so confident our particular model is an effective framework in this prediction-defying world? Because several clients have “stolen” it from us and started applying it in all their change projects. We consider shameless theft the highest possible praise.

Peter Gustafson

Peter Gustafson

Title: Strategic Advisor
Experience: 25 years working with change management
Personal mission: To take the fear out of change
Weapon of choice: The Symbal Change Model
Change anthem: Aerosmith, Dream on
Peter Gustafson