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Change Management

Change Management (Part 3a) – Change Capability

How can IT change be more successful? Do I just follow John Kotter – “Leading Change” and all will be well? You might not be surprised to hear me say that it is not that easy…… this series of articles continues with a look beyond step models of change and then concludes with a closer look at change related to IT in projects.

The first article in this series, Change Management (Part 1) – Cracking the Code of Change focussed on some key theories and concluded that a change that tries to involve employees and alleviate their fears and concerns is far more likely to be successful. One that goes further and starts with a Top-down change then follows that with a Bottom-up approach to embed the change in the culture has a very real chance of delivering lasting results.

The second article, Change Management (Part 2) – Step Models of Change took a quick look at the best approaches to building that structured and coherent change programme which includes strong leadership from senior management, painting a clear picture of the reason for change and creating a sense of urgency. This then enables you to lead the impacted staff towards a new vision and then work towards anchoring that new reality in the organisational culture.

Change Capability

The approach below builds on Kotter’s model and combines it with Carnall’s (2007) Change Capability Framework in order to provide an improved model for implementing organisational change management that looks beyond a prescriptive set of steps into some of the circumstances of change that need to be in place.

Carnall’s Framework attempts to provide a holistic approach to change and is built around the premise that “the more ambitious the change the more likely it is to succeed”. The overall model links together the ideas of ambition, change architecture and how effectively the architecture is operated. This article proposes an extended model that more explicitly specifies the three stages, whilst retaining the key ideas from Carnall and therefore providing a more practical model to be used by change practitioners.

Stage 1 – Ambition

Carnall argues that “the more ambitious the change the more likely it is to succeed”, however, he qualifies this statement. Firstly, overly ambitious changes fail. Secondly, changes with insufficient ambition fail because they do not meet the challenges faced by the organisation. Thirdly, the change must be feasible. Carnall suggests care with how feasibility is examined, as staff may declare something infeasible in order to resist the change, as opposed to it actually being infeasible.

“Changes with insufficient ambition fail to meet the needs of the organisation” appears a reasonable statement that aligns with the need for the change to be sufficiently ambitious to animate the organisation. Carnall’s (2005) definition of what constitutes an ambitious change includes the change having a relatively wide scope and impact on the organisational structure. However, as mentioned by Pettigrew (1987) the change also needs to take account of the context of the company and the change itself.

Stage 2 – Change Architecture

Carnall stresses that a well thought out and structured change architecture is required. The second article in this series highlighted some well known examples, ranging from Lewin’s (1951) original 3-step model of “Unfreeze-Move-Refreeze” to more detailed ones like Kotter’s (1996) “Eight stage process” which we will utilise here.

Stage 3 – Effectiveness of Change Components

The third and final aspect of Carnall’s model is an area that Carnall believes is rarely covered by other change scholars, the Change Capability of the organisation. This is also the most controversial area, as there are no right answers: how do you ensure that there is sufficient structure in place to ensure the integrity of the change plan, but still provide enough flexibility to meet local needs, which is vitally important in order to gain the buy-in from local teams and allow them to feel ownership of the change in their areas (Carnall, 2007).

Carnall suggests five key components to be examined in order to determine the performance of the Change Architecture: Appropriate Structure; Resonance; Change Culture; Change Leadership; and Change Accelerator. Carnall provides various characteristics in order to define each component and assist in diagnosing the capability for the organisation to undertake a successful change.

Click here for additional information on the Change Capability Framework Definitions.

Appropriate Structure – Does the organisation have the capability to manage change?

Carnall describes this as relating heavily to the implementation of project management best practices, such as performance management, governance and risk management. A strategic change, as with any project, will struggle, lose momentum and/or direction and ultimately fail, if the appropriate management processes are not in place. Carnall also stresses the importance of avoiding unintended consequences of the change that could be detrimental to the organisation.


Resonance is “the extent that it [the change] feels right to individuals”. The greater the Resonance the more likely a change is to succeed. Where staff clearly feel that the change is the right direction they will take personal ownership of it and it’s progress. If managed correctly this can become a mutually reinforcing process, where a high level of resonance leads to staff supporting and becoming more involved, which leads to a greater fit with the local context. Key to this is the ability of the change to satisfy local needs and be adaptable. This component is also heavily related to the discussions on avoiding resistance and gaining buy-in to the change.

Change Culture

Carnall asks the question “is this a learning organisation?” i.e. do leaders learn from past experiences and build upon this knowledge? He goes on to ask further questions about the organisation – Are the change decisions credible and evidence based choices? Is the organisation solution, rather than blame, oriented? Is there transparency of processes and decisions? Is there appropriate management of personal expectations so that staff realise “what’s in it for them” and are not left worrying about their future.

Change Leadership

Carnall (2005) states “effective leadership is vital” if a strategic change is to be successful. But, what is Change Leadership? Nadler (1993) describes it as “using leader behaviour to generate energy in support of the change”. The previously discussed step models of change (by Lewin, Nadler, Beer et al and Kotter) identify the need for the leader to animate the organisation, provide a clear vision for the future, then be seen to actively support and drive the change.

Carnall (2007) suggests that the key characteristics of Change Leadership are: a credible change leader, who is accountable and accessible, open to new ideas and sponsors people in the change (especially “respected early adopters”). Kotter (1996) takes this idea further, examining charismatic change leaders, such as Lee Iacocca, and Lou Gerstner, and concluding that whilst these leaders provide catalysts to change and animate the organisation, they could not possibly achieve success without a trusted team to oversee the change, what Kotter refers to as the “Guiding Coalition”. Howard et al (2003) adds that the CEO can be the most powerful driving force or the biggest hindrance to change.

Change Accelerator

The use of project and programme management tools has already been discussed, when used properly these also provide a focus on the needs of the change and more importantly act as an accelerator. Of particular note is that the change should have an holistic and integrated approach. Carnall (2005) comments that: a change programme should be organisation wide and consist of an integrated set of changes, and that it should integrate people management practices with organisation change. He also asks whether the various manual and automated systems/processes within the enterprise align to the change or are there conflicts? For example, an unchanged reward system will continue to perpetuate unwanted behaviours.


In summary, Carnall’s extended Change Capability Framework focuses on the wider issues of strategic change and the organisation’s ability to undertake it, including whether the change is suitably ambitious and the appropriate Change Architecture is in place. Furthermore that the organisation has the ability to successfully undertake the change, which includes reviewing whether their culture supports and encourages change, and implement appropriate project management best practices.

Success with IT Change

So far this series of articles has covered types of change, step-models of implementation and finally the adapted Change Capability Framework discussed above. The second part of this article focuses on how to be successful with IT related change management.

Click here to read Change Management (Part 3b) – Success with IT Change.


Related articles:

Change Management (Part 1) – Cracking the Code of Change
Change Management (Part 2) – Step Models of Change
Change Management (Part 3b) – Success with IT Change
Change Management – What’s in a Name?
Why are IT projects Change Management time bombs?
The Importance of Change Leadership – Beyond “Step Models of Change”


28 thoughts on “Change Management (Part 3a) – Change Capability

  1. You have provided references in the 2nd and 3rd articles, thanks. It would be helpful to have these collated into a bibliography. It would also be helpful to reference your first article too.
    Thanks for the blogs, I enjoyed them.


    Posted by Rob | March 21, 2013, 7:00 pm


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