Business Change – Flowing like a stream or as a torrent?

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Businesses across industries are undergoing a vast amount of change the moment. Yet, companies struggle to realise that change aspirations and approach change as the exception rather than the rule. They are eager to operate around Business as Usual (BAU), while Business Change as Usual is way more appropriate.

The Greek Philosopher Heraclitus, (you know, the cool guy who said 2500 years ago “Change is the only constant in life”), talked a lot about change. Thankfully, Diogenes Laërtius helped us by summarising Heraclitus’s philosophy, stating: “All things come into being by conflict of opposites, and the sum of things flows like a stream”.

Irrespective of if the summary statement helped our philosophical understanding of change or not, changing a business has never been and will never be “a walk in the park”. And that is totally fine.

The conflict of opposites at the very early stages of any change journey creates pain. An unavoidable pain that can be soothed, if you do the right things, right.

However, if you don’t, the sum of things will not flow like a stream, but rather as a torrent. 

After working with large scale business change across industries for more than 20 years, I realised, painfully I must admit, that “doing the right things” are almost empty words since they do not guarantee success.

Until today, I have come across three basic types of businesses when it comes down to the mental state and their starting point on their Change journey:


Over the years, Senior leaders in such companies often develop a strong belief that the “uniqueness” of their company justifies any deviation from best business change practices. This belief is so strong that many executives argue that their practices should be the guideline anyway, allowing their cognitive bias to impact their decision making ability in a negative way.


These companies “tick the boxes” in the grand list of things that need to happen, from change aspiration to change establishment and benefits realisation. These companies are not happy with the benefits, they realised. However, since they know that they did the right things in approaching business change, although puzzled, they really try to uncover what went wrong.


A small fraction of businesses is relentless in their pursuit of improvement in their business change practices. They seek improvements even on small things that may not catch the eye. On their journey towards business change autonomy, they continuously institutionalise learnings and consider advanced business change capabilities as a core competence for all employees and a source of competitive advantage.

Indisputably, businesses in these three categories have different sets of needs and of course, not 100% of everything they do is wrong, underperformed or well done. All these firms can markedly improve their business change capabilities if they sensibly embark on programmes that will increase their capability baseline in an organised manner.

working women write a business graph

The two dimensions of business change

Before even thinking about initiating highly ambitious business change capability improvement programmes, companies need to work on two fundamental dimensions:

Have a business change framework in place: This is about building a single version of a “desirable” business change approach to be always followed throughout the business. It outlines the future state of the capability and includes:

  • “change fitness” parameters like leadership, delivery, accountability, competencies, strategic direction etc.,
  • a process or playbook that needs to be followed from aspiration to OKRs realisation and institutionalisation of changes.
  • a realistic time horizon for its implementation under certain basic assumptions discussed along the way with key senior leaders.  

This is the single most important piece of work, and it assures consistency and replicability of results. Without having properly worked on this, companies will be working on a reactive, fire-fighting mode which does not yield any significant benefits. 

  1. Create “framies”, aka business change framework advocates: Even the best framework in the world will not add value without executive sponsors and their support. However, let’s keep in mind that companies can get traction with a small number of sponsors, even one, as long as:
  • The approach is well presented towards senior executives, supported by research findings, and provides potential solutions to chronic structural issues that may have an impact on the organisation’s strategy execution capability.
  • The sponsor(s) trusts the framework developed in the previous step and is/are willing to heavily support its initial implementation in one carefully selected project, probably within his/her own organisation as a value proving pilot.

The “prove as you go” approach is a modest approach aiming at doing the fundamentals right, early on, and then creating an ever-increasing advocate population that will spark the curiosity and the demand for further projects/actions until full institutionalisation. For this reason, transparency and experience sharing coming from “proof projects” is non-negotiable.

The “proof project(s)” do not need to happen in an isolated environment within the business. Although it may help and is a very tempting thought, we need to remember that we want replicable practices for scaling further down the line. Therefore, we must add a significant touch of realism to these projects, do our best and learn from it!

By doing the fundamentals in the right way and following a “prove as you go” approach, the journey will be far less overwhelming. The increasingly positive results will boost the organisation’s confidence and trust in the business change capability evolution path towards autonomy.

Even the most advanced companies can benefit from a “prove as you go” approach. The difference is that both their starting point in their journey and their aspiration will be much higher than their counterparts. For such companies, advanced improvement philosophies, like “marginal gains” or others, can be embedded in the business change framework to drive a relentless focus on improvement.

Irrespective of what is your starting point, there is a way to make the change journey less painful and without feeling overwhelmed…

Do you need help to move your business at the right spot of seeing their change effort flowing like a stream rather than a torrent?

 Get in touch

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Written by George Tsitouras
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