Reflections on 30 years of Change Management and Business Improvement Consultancy


it's all about systems and how we manage them

Last month I started my new series by highlighting the very early learning I gained immediately I became a manager at Procter and Gamble. I was in learning mode right from the start because I hadn’t planned to be a manager and didn’t have any preconceived expectations like many of my contemporises had. I knew I had to learn and it taught me that my whole career (and life!) was a learning process.

I shared three key learning points last month…


Basically, a manager’s job is not only to direct, instruct and “tell” others what to do, but to develop them or “work systems” to make the department or area of the business flourish and continually improvement. In fact, half of a manager’s time should be on development. Development isn’t a specialised job, it’s the role of all managers!…….how’s that for an indication of change culture.


The importance of looking for trends to make decisions is required, but also managing by principles is critical to a standardised approach across a large business. I shared last month the current principles I found on the P&G website, and they haven’t fundamentally change for over 150 years. I learnt the sign of a mature business is that its principled lead and not lead by rules. Over the years I’ve also realised that some organisations never mature and develop a continuous improvement mentally, because it manages primarily by rules and doesn’t have a vision of what a principled lead business achieves in self-managing teams and individuals and workforce engagement.


I talked about priority setting and managing time. I was fortunate to have been trained by Stephen Covey and one of his 7 Habits of course, is putting first things first…….Time Management. Fundamentality, only working on what’s important

The Covey training was a revelation to me and as with other development opportunities offered to me, I embraced it and it has stayed with me forever.

I became a “Covey Disciple” and was one of a team of people with a giant pilot’s case, carrying a giant American format VHS player and tapes of Steven Covey lectures. This was my taster of how to convert training material into a meaningful and effective development “system”.

Coupled with my learning of Systems Thinking, which I studied as a degree the Covey work was a great combination to balance my thinking which has led to the NewLeaf Way today. More about the NewLeaf Way in later blogs.


What I learnt from the Covey programme is it’s not a list of things to simply do, or cherry pick, but a system of good management practices which are interconnected and any one habit is totally interdependent of the others. So, you can’t cherry pick one or even use the concepts as a toolbox, where you use one or two when the situation arises. You will gain some benefit from that, but you won’t truly embrace an effective style to management or even your life.

Be Proactive. Shake off assumptions and remove fear. Make things happen. Have a point of view. Turn negatives into positives.  Look in not out

Begin with the end in mind. Have a Vision of what good looks like, then plan the steps to get there. Don’t just fumble around in the day to day. Lead don’t follow. Have values and principles and use them to manage.

Put first things first. Agree what’s important to you and your role, then only do what’s important. Your diary and plans should all be about doing important stuff. Don’t let others dump their priories on you. Be strong. Stop firefighting by putting systemic improvements in place

Think Win/Win. Find solutions that enable all parties to achieve what they  need to achieve. Be careful not to agree on a compromise that wont work! If at loggerheads introduce a third win…what’s the right thing for the business?

Seek first to understand, then……..Listen, listen, listen then put your view forward based upon what you have heard. Listening is not agreeing, but be prepared to alter your view

Synergise. Everything is a system that in some way or other is joined to other processes and systems. Take into account changes that will be created in other areas will affect other things. In the world or organisations 2+2 isn’t 4! Also, put all these habits together too.

Sharpen the saw. Do other things in your life, exercise, rest, have hobbies. They all contribute to being more “rounded” and stop “blind vision” that can occur when only working on your job!

We don’t train Covey content, but Covey thinking has been a big part in our approach at NewLeaf to ensure we have integrated programmes that provide a simultaneous balance between tools and techniques and developing personal skills in key individuals to implement those tools effectively. This is highlighted in later blogs when I move onto the NewLeaf Way that has been derived from our past experiences.

By this time in my management career, I’m now developing a good understanding of systems thinking and how organisations are connected. In fact, the word organisation derives from the Greek for the “joining up of organs”. So, to see an organisation as a “human body” is more constructive than seeing it in any other way!

I will devote a complete blog on the basics of Systems Thinking next month, but in the meantime, at this stage of my career, I was understanding that seeing an organisation in a systems way (holistically) gave me strong advantages over people that saw it in a linear fashion. In my mind it was now becoming clear to be an effective “change agent” you must also be a System Thinker. At NewLeaf that is a prerequisite.

The differences between linear and holistic thinking. The fundamentals.

The diagram below is a very simple illustration of the fundamental different forms of thinking about how an organisation operates or functions.

The train illustration shows linear “project management” thinking, which is very important when constructing a building or installing a piece of production machinery, but where people and their behaviour is involved, the illustration shows the correct thinking should be more like a ship on the ocean, which needs to steer and divert due to unforeseen conditions occurring. (Storms, tidal changes, mutiny!) The environment is always changing in change management and managing deadlines and targets, which is required in Project Management, doesn’t work when shifting thinking and behaviours are required.

The second diagram below also shows another simple illustration, the various types of management thinking in relation to believing how an organisations works.

Many linear thinkers will see it as a set of building blocks. One on top of another and if one is removed the others stay the same. No, they don’t, sorry! Or maybe a bit more complicated….maybe more like a jigsaw, if a piece is removed the rest stay the same, but the overall shape is a little different. Well, no not really.

An organisation is much more like the “ball of cotton wool”. All the various elements of the organisation are, in some way or other, connected and effected by each other….change or remove a segment and the whole ball of cotton wool will change in some way. If close to the change dramatically and even further away will be effected by the vibrations that the change creates!

Understanding and managing the boundaries of what’s “in” and what’s “out” of the ball of wool (in real terms the area of the business) is a key part of managing change through the understanding of systems thinking. Inside the ball of cotton wool, are hundreds of systems connected together in an hierarchical fashion. I’ll build on this in later blogs too.

Key traps we see companies and individual managers fall into….. The Myths that “System Thinkers” bust…….

Below is a list of observations taken from my early understanding of Systems Thinking and being a facilitator and later the course owner of a prestige P&G training course called “Mastering Organisational Effectiveness” . These observations are seen in organisations that don’t fully understand the concepts of seeing their operation as a real system and the unwanted dynamics that occur

  • Treating a living organic organisation like a lifeless machine
  • Assuming that the organisation’s goals and principles are the same as that of employees
  • Not considering the complex environment influences on their businesses or business areas
  • Looking for one best solution to handle an organisational issue
  • Believing in a singular cause-effect relationship when in most cases there are many
  • Dealing with only a piece of the total system (known as reductionism)
  • Treating irregularities in the system as though they are errors in performance when in some cases they are changes in the systems environment
  • Forgetting that despite the organisations mission, being own by the business, it is also determined by the environment too
  • Not understanding that people in the system are also “open systems” that are self-regulating
  • Believing that motivation is something to give others and not as an output of other activities associated with the processes within the organisation
  • Assuming the employees are uncooperative when in fact they have different goals
  • Spending much time measuring the results versus the mission but too seldom questioning whether the mission is still appropriate
  • Ignoring the group core processes by issuing directives and then depending on individuals to get the job done somehow
  • Not recognising that resistance to change it’s almost always connected with the systems natural tendency to preserve its state of equilibrium
  • Failing to distinguish between accountability and responsibility in association with “system ownership”
  • Getting caught up in the core work rather than making management unique contributions through “boundary management”

If you recognise any of these symptoms, you will not be alone, they are endemic in most businesses!

In next month’s blog I will focus on my later years in P&G before embarking upon a career in management consultancy. I joined a small team of managers who were developed to facilitate the global programme that transformed the way the business managed initiatives The programme was “Integrated Work System” (IWS).

If you would like to know more about NewLeaf International and the work we do, please make contact for an informal chat.

Tel: 01905 425209


Martin Gummery, Managing Director, NewLeaf International Ltd