Reflections on 30 years of Change Management and Business Improvement Consultancy



For the last two months 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.

Last month I highlighted my learning that P&G was a “systems thinking company” where most decisions and day to day workings of the business were recognised as some form of “work system” (process to develop and drive the appropriate behaviours, to then drive the best results we could achieve)

I listed the main learning points for me and some of the immediate key indicators we look for in businesses today.

Key traps we see companies and managers fall into when not considering that “systems” make up the organisation and drive its behaviour….. 

·        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 owned 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 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 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”

So, during my later years in P&G, without knowing I was shaping my understanding of Systems Thinking to a point of being a practical and highly effective implementer of improvement with a “twist”……seeing organisations holistically is still uncommon and gives change agents a massive advantage over traditional thinkers. There are still many managers in business that have shaped their thinking on accountancy, engineering, and very linear activities like construction etc. You can’t put a roof on before first building the walls, four and four equals eight etc…organisations aren’t like that. Sometimes it feels like that have a mind of their own.

The diagram below shows how I started to see organisations in a completely different way and not in the classic, siloed and linear manner often illustrated in organisation charts.

The diagram shows an organisation as a system with inputs and outputs and other subsystems and environmental influencing systems around it. These inputs and outputs are managed through various managerial processes, but also the way the organisation operates within the system with a variety of task processes, team processes such as departments, locations and different functions within the business and individual activities.


Later in this series of blogs I will build on this diagram as a fundamental aid to implementing change effectively and how we have adopted this within NewLeaf International, which enables us to be highly effective in helping our clients overcome past implementation issues.

In those later years at P&G I was involved in a number Organisational Development (OD) programmes and was lead trainer in the companies’ prestigious “Mastering Organisational Effectiveness” intensive residential training and educational programme and as a European member of the IIC group (Integrated Internal Consultants).

There were twelve IICs in Europe and the team were part of a global group with American and Asia/Australia teams. This group was set up initially to ensure that the learning from the past, when implementing classic programmes of improvement, mainly in the Product Supply Chain were embedded into a more successful approach to change management and business improvement.

This opportunity turned into another life changing phase of my career. As mentioned, initially the group was set up to tackle internal improvement, but as P&G were making several large acquisitions to gain space in the Health and Beauty market (Braun, Gillette, Richardson Vick etc) I spent most of my time supporting change in areas within these businesses. We had tremendous support to do this. Both in the technical “hard” approaches for the effective use of TPM with the Japanese Institute of Production Management (JIPM) and on the “softer” side of implementing and managing the challenges that goes with implementation change, by psychologists. Priceless learning.


As well as the pillar approach learnt with JIPM and the engaging approach of autonomous maintenance as a first step and learnt a lot about combining the “hard with the “soft”

Implementation Principles


From the work with JIPM and gaining the personal support to enhance my delivery skills. I developed a set of implementation principles that are used today in NewLeaf International, whether to aid the design and development of customised programmes or making day to day decisions with clients. These will crop up from time to time in more detail in later chapters with specific examples.


         Involve as many people as possible. At all levels in the business and involving positive, inquisitive and possibly negative people into cohort groups to deliver improvements and develop their own skills.

         Focus on results (don’t let the “tail wag the dog”). Sometimes its possible programmes become more dominant than the reason for having the improvement programmes in the first place. This is a major watch out when designing programmes especially looking at governance and steering

         Learn by doing. You can spend a long time planning the implementation of a programme but often it’s more important to start; as long as you have the mechanisms in place to continually review and improve.

         Leaders must lead behaviours. One component within any change programme is the involvement of senior managers who need to be seen to support, lead and continually give direction in a change programme.

         Use a generic title and use existing tools and techniques wherever possible. All too often employees at all levels will have a preconceived idea of a certain programme such as 6 Sigma, Lean etc. Name your programme something unique to the business and then it can truly be customised.

         Create a process to address large and small defects/issues. Don’t just work on the obvious problems the Pareto analysis shows, work on the small irritating things that get in the way of progress at a local operating level.

         Business Improvement Roles (Facilitators). Have designated roles within organisations so key people become system owners for continuous improvement

         Use a step-by-step structure (Select a pilot and roll out). Start with pilot work in a certain area of the business, learn the uniqueness of the culture of that organisation and then once those nuances are learned then roll out with vigour and speed.

         Seek first to understand, then be understood. When introducing concepts and programmes, don’t merely transmit what is done, involve, engage and listen to people to gain their trust, as they have the ability to make a programme work. Listen more than speaking

         Put continuous improvement systems in place (Hawthorne). Once implementation is underway regardless of how well it’s implemented progress will fade overtime and unless specific sustainability processes are implemented as a dedicated phase of the implementation

         Improvement activities = correct Infrastructure AND Capability. Make sure when introducing tools, techniques and methods the development of teams and individuals are in tandem with the introduction of the process. Often this is separated such that training events and the implementation of processes aren’t engaged together

         Keep it simple; Pitch at the right level. Start with very simple fixes that are connected to the efficiency of the organisation. Only at very high levels of efficiency should programmes be highly sophisticated. Most quick gains are at the simple level of the day-to-day operation.

         Create a sense of urgency. Once you have a process to implement then doing it at a relatively assertive pace is important. This puts energy into the process. Energy in the process is a component which gives the overall programme the ability to be implemented well.


Next month I’ll be focusing on the time I left Procter and Gamble and taking my Knowledge, Skills and Attitude into Management Consultancy.


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