The learning around ‘change programmes’ is clear.

Have good leaders in place who can paint a picture of the future, make the benefits clear, and tell a story that carries everyone through the process.

Simple, and rational.

Then why, even when these conditions are in place, do change programmes not seem to ‘work’?

A theory.

Change, and human beings, are just not this…. reasonable.

Dip into any of the major streams of 20th century psychotherapeutic thought, and a common theme is clear.  We are all relational beings.  We are not autonomous, rationally driven, units of thought and action.

Winnicott, for example, famously said there is ‘no such thing as a baby’….by which he meant that a young baby is always in a relational dance with a mother. (Or a primary carer).

And at work we are all in a relational dance – more mature and socialised – with our environment, our colleagues, our work, and our leaders.

Winnicott introduced a key concept in the development and changing of a young child – the transitional object. The cuddly toy, the blanket, the loved object, acts as a kind of half-way house between safe dependence and new external independence.

Organisational change charts an eerily similar course.

Teams are asked to leave what is familiar and move to the new.

This big ask is handled as a rational process.

Management points to benefits and longer-term gains, and employs ‘pain now, rewards later’ arguments.

But if we apply Winnicott’s thinking, rationality is of only marginal help.

The experimenting and trying on of new identities via transitional objects is the profoundly necessary part of the change process.

Are we ignoring an important need?

Where are the adult versions of traditional objects?

A small person would experience change that is managed via rationality and reasonableness – yet without the learning opportunity and support of transitional objects – as brutal.

It is possible to be too …reasonable.
















Several conversations this week have been about ‘managing resistance to change’.

Perfectly reasonable” I hear you say “It’s a real problem, this ‘getting people to change”. I’m just wondering, though: might this not be a weirdly old-fashioned way to think about your people, your business, and about how things happen? (I’ve even written a couple of wee books about overcoming team resistance to change and don’t wish to be weird or old fashioned). But there’s something to pursue here; in a spirit of genuine curiosity.

It was stumbling across this little limerick again that got me thinking:

“There was a young man who said, ‘God
Must think it exceedingly odd
If he finds that this tree
Continues to be
When there’s no one about in the Quad.’ “


“Dear Sir:
Your astonishment’s odd:
I am always about in the Quad.
And that’s why the tree
Will continue to be,
Since observed by
Yours faithfully,

It was Bishop Berkeley’s ‘Veil of Perception’ that sparked the limerick. The Bish was troubled by contemporary thinking about how the world is perceived, to what degree representational theories (then current in the early 18th century) could be trusted, and why “God” was becoming more and more marginalised by the ascendant scientific community.


His theory is odd yet beautifully ingenious.

He answered all the philosophical puzzles bound up with perception by suggesting that our material world is made up of objects that…are just our sensory experiences.  If we cannot sense them, they are not there. If not perceived, they do not exist. And the reason that parts of the world are not constantly doing the hokey cokey into existence, is that there is God’s eye maintaining them.

After yet another ‘we must find a way to make them change’ conversation I realized how like Bishop Berkeley this wish is. As if these people who will not change, like the world around us as BB conceives it, only leap into life when the observer, the leader, senses them.

As if your ideas, as a leader, about change are more real than they are. As if those people that you are so determined to foist change upon have no existence when you are unaware of them…no independent needs, ambitions, dreams, objectives, concerns.

Isn’t it rather odd to expect them to just fall in with your grand change designs?

We smile at the ‘veil of perception’ theory nowadays.

Yet aren’t many ‘Leaders of Change’ still unconsciously living it?


T80pxtreeom Lehrer, creator of darkly humourous songs, ( famously declared ‘satire’ dead when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.  He said that a place well beyond irony had been reached.

Perhaps it’s happening again.

A group was talking in the café the other day about the patchy wi- fi, which led to grumbling about missed calls, which led to how essential the ‘phone was, which led to discussing cell phone addiction…

Guess what?

There’s an app for that.

There is an app for you for if you are addicted to apps. Its called ‘Break Free’.   It will help you ‘maintain a healthy digital lifestyle’ apparently.

Titter ye not.

Are you sensing a small loss of awareness here? A small loss of a sense of irony?

Loss of irony is a teeny tiny warning sign.
It’s a warning of the imminent loss of being able to see another’s viewpoint.

How so?

Deb Gruenfeld, social psychologist from Stanford, studies power in organisations and its effects on our emotional intelligence. In the ‘E’ and ‘Fan’ experiments in 2008 ( she and her colleague looked at how participants wrote an ‘E’ on their foreheads after having been primed to feel powerful or less powerful. Those who felt powerful were 3 times more likely to write from their own perspective – ie the letter was backwards/ meaningless to anyone else.

And the participants could see nothing questionable about this at all.

Emotional intelligence, the skills of comprehending and connecting with others, of seeing things from another’s viewpoint, had been corroded by feelings of power.

Back to the app.

So powerful is the power feeling from having an app to solve stuff, that another perspective, a perspective that might be alerted by irony to something going awry, begins to disappear.

Emotional Intelligence? There’s no app for that. There really isn’t.
Penny Hunt is author of ‘Managing resistance to change’ and ‘Support your team through change’ available from Pearson 


N80pxtreeew cards have appeared on the tables in this cafe since I was last here.

They ask cheerily ‘How did we do?’ and offer 3 alternatives – brilliant, good, and not so good.

This sort of structured feed back request now pops up in so many areas of our lives. But is such a process really about feedback? Is it really about transparency? Does it matter?
image00When I asked around I was surprised by how often this sort of limited listing of breathlessly cheerful options can tip people into a curmudgeonly mood – even from a previously positive position.

Perhaps this feedback process, this apparently cheery sign of openness is not all that it appears to be.  One of the most common niggles in the work situation that I hear people worry out loud about is the absence, or fake-ness, of feedback from others.

If you really want a response, and want it delivered with good heart and pure intent, then eliciting those true views really is an art form.

The Electoral Commission has just persuaded David Cameron to change the wording of the EU referendum question. The new wording (which suggests an ‘in v out’, or ‘leave v remain’ choice) is thought fairer than the previous question asking for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to the current situation. This is after months and months and months of debate. (And this – basically – a binary issue.)

Understand qualitative responses is just so much trickier, elusive, and uncontrollable than we would like it to be. Yet is being simplified daily.  Trying to find out what we think of issues, services, and…each other… moves from tricky to worrying, when the ‘feedback’ is ‘baked in’ to a business model.

Take Uber for example.

Two young chums were wondering about taking a cab. One checked her app and noticed there weren’t any Uber cabs near by. Yet her friend found a dozen instantly. ‘There must be something wrong with my app….” But the words trailed off as they looked at each other in mock horror. Because of course chum 1 had been, unwittingly yet effectively, blacklisted by the cab company for not being ‘nice’ enough. (Chum 2 had clearly been smiling like a good’un.).  The cab company business model involves a mutual evaluation of driver by passenger, and vice versa.
Now this poor ‘niceness credit’ rating was remedied within a short time with lashings of unctuous charm and forced good feeling. Oh, yes.

But what has really happened here? Isn’t the feedback sort of – worthless – now? It’s become a game to be played, and won.

A quote usually attributed to George Burns, a comedian, ‘Sincerity – if you can fake that you’ve got it made’  doesn’t feel quite so funny any more.

We’ve got it made.