Magazine excerpt: Collaborate your way to successful change

Collaboration is the key to change leadership, say Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay.

Reading time: 4 minutes.

Leading organisational change and transformation presents the biggest and most complex task for managers, and for L&D to step up to support such changes. Often many organisations know they need to change but struggle to achieve it in practice.

Many well-known names are experiencing significant challenges, such as retailers House of Fraser, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams who seem not to have responded speedily to changes in consumer buying habits. Other big names such as the failed outsourcing company Carillion have overstretched themselves and not responded effectively to change.

Hanging over every change initiative is the frequent assertion that up to 60% of change initiatives fail.

But rather than focus on negatives, in this article we examine what can be learned from those who apply successful approaches to change initiatives and in particular we pick out a common thread that emerges, describing the approaches which mobilise the whole organisation behind change. We examine how collaboration plays a key role in lasting change. 

Key lessons from successful change initiatives

Widespread collaboration and engagement

To help achieve lasting change, engage a wide group of people who exert influence in the organisation, even though they may not have the title of manager or leader – leadership comes from many areas and is a necessary requirement for achieving change.

Adopt a responsive approach not a rigid top-down plan, both in the early stages and throughout the implementation phase.

One change consultancy sees influencers accounting for some 15% of the whole organisation, across every level. The aim is to achieve a shared sense of ownership throughout the organisation. We are currently working with one organisation that has ‘change champions’ embedded at all layers of the business, 18 months before the change itself will take place. 

A compelling story

Create a compelling story around change that encourages buy-in. Start by focusing on the issues that the organisation faces, rather than importing a fixed template or methodology for change.

Be responsive and encourage teamwork

Adopt a responsive approach not a rigid top-down plan, both in the early stages and throughout the implementation phase. Encourage collaboration and teamwork. Also essential is a well-understood working framework, with regular milestones to check progress against the overall objective and to provide a basis for communication.


Importantly, although there are a range of change methodologies that can be adopted, there are no foolproof methodologies and tools you can always rely on, whatever the organisation. The key is to encourage collaboration and to keep ownership resting firmly within the organisation. 

Leadership plays a key role 

The change process should not be rudderless; it needs leaders who are open to ideas and promote a clear sense of direction with visible role modelling. Leaders must set the example of involvement and engagement, so these become working practices throughout the organisation.

This means pushing decisions and leadership down the organisation and, as part of this, building in regular feedback and learning loops. 

Communication and involvement

A key feature of successful change leadership is that involvement and communication across all interested parties must take place, tapping into the skills, ideas and motivations of all employees. Leaders need all parts of the organisation to be engaged and to create a climate where continuous improvement is encouraged and people speak up and learn as change progresses. 

Developing leadership change intelligences

L&D plays a major role in supporting leaders to overcome obstacles and achieve change. Taking a tailored and involving change leadership approach involves communicating and sharing throughout the organisation, so that the whole organisation takes responsibility for implementing changes.

There is a lot of work to be done to gear up and deliver substantial change. Underpinning change is a leadership network which encourages positive attitudes and motivations to make change happen. Development must focus less on individual competence in isolation than building a collaborative process in working closely with others.

Consider this list and decide what is most relevant to take your
whole organisation forward: 

  • IQ – intelligence quotient. A leader’s ability to acquire knowledge and make a compelling argument.
  • EQ – emotional intelligence. This is necessary for effective relationships. It is a leader’s ability to understand and manage both their own emotions and those of others.
  • SQ – spiritual intelligence. This is the ability of leaders to understand their own values and what is important to them and to the organisation. This also represents the areas of self-awareness and selfdevelopment, which are important if leaders want to role model effective behaviours during change.
  • PQ – political judgment. A leader’s ability to navigate a way forward through diverse stakeholders’ agendas. It represents the skills, knowledge and behaviours required to influence and negotiate with others.
  • RQ – resilience quotient. The leader’s capacity to emotionally sustain high performance under pressure.
  • BQ – business intelligence. This is the ability to understand the business and the context for change and then respond in an agile way to any changes and trends; spotting the opportunities and constraints within the organisation.


About the author

Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay are development specialists who focus on helping managers and organisations to achieve change in a customer-focused way. Sarah is MD of The Stairway Consultancy and can be contacted at Steve is an associate at Cranfield School of Management’s Centre for Customised Executive Development and can be contacted at


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