About Steve Barlow

Steve is Managing Director at The Change Gym. He is a Certified Change Fitness Coach and an organisational change readiness consultant. You can contact him on steve@thechangegym.com.

The Meaning of Management

By |2021-07-20T12:41:17+10:00June 30th, 2021|Categories: General, Managing Change|

The Meaning of Management

What does management mean to you? What did it mean in the past and how has it changed over time?

Social Change

Before the start of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700’s, most people lived and worked in small communities. The corporations or government enterprises we are familiar with today did not exist at that time. Hence, managing people and workload was not so complicated a matter.

However, industrialisation saw the establishment of many large enterprises (such as cotton mills, mining, railways, and international shipping). Most of these businesses relied on steam powered machines, which were the latest technology at the time. They also required a large workforce to operate these machines. So, there was a massive relocation of people from rural areas to the industrial cities. The age of big business had dawned. And with that dawning, how to manage people and workload became an important issue.

Management Becomes a ‘Thing’

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most people were employed as farm workers or in small businesses. There were not many large-scale employers at that time; but there was one – the military. So, it’s not surprising that the new enterprises turned to the military for inspiration.

The military managed thousands of soldiers; providing training, discipline, and structure to people and workload. So, following this model, managing businesses at that time looked a lot like a military operation. It was hierarchical, obedience was expected, roles were defined, and there was a clear chain of command.

But as the Industrial era progressed into the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the world was changing quickly. The hard sciences were flowering, new technologies were emerging, and people were beginning to apply scientific methods to social contexts.

One of these social contexts was management. These thinkers were not military men but academics and engineers. Three names are associated with the emergence of ‘Classical Management Theory’. These people are Max Weber, Frederick Taylor, and Henri Fayol.

If you’re interested to learn more about these people and their ideas, you can easily find information online. Here we need only to state their broad ideas. These are:

  • Management should take the form of a bureaucracy – it’s not about relationships; it’s about business,
  • Workload and processes should be developed along ‘scientific’ grounds – there should be evidence supporting the best way to do things,
  • Managers must do clearly identified and important administrative tasks and follow set principles.

This summary simplifies the contributions of these people, but the principles they advocate reflect the thinking at the time. There was that slow emergence from a military model of management, so it’s not surprising that the ideas of these men have that ‘control and command’ flavour to them. They also lived at a time where huge steam-powered machines dominated life, so it’s not surprising that they saw organisations like huge machines.

But they also lived at the crossroad, where scientific thinking was being applied to social settings. They wanted scientific evidence about ‘what works’; hence the emphasis on Time and Motion studies, identifying best practices, and efficiency studies. They stood at the beginning of the era in which we live. They wanted scientific thinking to be applied to management. They wanted evidence about what worked.

If I were to summarise these ideas, it would go something like this: Organisations should operate like a well-oiled machine. Managers must accumulate scientific evidence about the best way of performing work-related tasks. Science has identified a discrete set of processes that managers must perform. Organisations must be governed by formal relationships and hierarchies. Workers must follow the instructions they are given. A worker’s life outside the organisation must stay outside.

Moving On

These ideas are what we call ‘Classical Management Theory’ and they still have some relevance in modern times. However, new ways of thinking emerge over time and old ideas often appear old fashioned and limited. Today, many people would see Classical Management Theory as having these limitations:

  • It is mechanistic in its approach. It views the organisation as a machine and workers and processes as parts of the machine.
  • It is rigid in its structure, providing structured rules and principles about ‘the best way’ to do things. It can be overly authoritarian.
  • It emphasised efficiency but overlooked the needs of workers. This led to industrial conflict.
  • It failed to reflect the complexity of modern organisations, which operate more like an integrated system than a machine.

Modern thinking about management involves ideas like these:

  • Relationships matter – how people relate to each other affects how they perform,
  • Motivation matters – people who find their work meaningful and enjoyable perform better,
  • Interactions matter, what happens in one part affects other parts of the organisation, and harmony is important. Organisations are more like biological systems than mechanical devices.
  • Adaptation matters – organisations, like organisms, must adapt to changing environments, or die.

Where Does That Leave Us?

Thinking around management must adapt to new realities in society. And new realities are upon us. COVID has brought the reality of having to manage virtual workplaces. And as the Fourth Industrial Revolution speeds up, managers will find themselves in new relationships with machines.

So, where does management go from here? What new challenges will emerge?

What do you think?

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KPIs and Change Fitness

By |2021-06-20T10:15:26+10:00June 20th, 2021|Categories: Uncategorized|

The true value of change fitness becomes apparent when you think of improvements in KPIs. Performance improvements can come from efficiency gains, or they can come from capacity gains. Building change fitness increases performance capacity. We have outlined this in our recent publication “Big Performer”.

This of this for a moment. If you could improve your performance capacity by, say, 10% over the next 90 days, what impact on your KPIs would that produce? What would be the dollar value of those performance gains?

You will pay for the change fitness coaching once, but the gains will keep coming long into the future. The question is, can you really afford not to build your change fitness?

At the end of the day, you might already be a change-fit leader. But you will never know unless we test your change fitness and tell you your score. If you are already highly change-fit, you probably don’t need coaching and you can feel that much better about yourself.

But if you are not already sufficiently change-fit, wouldn’t you want to do something about it? Especially since it can significantly improve your performance.

Our coaching has produced an average increase of 40% in change fitness scores over a 90-day period.

The Change Fitness Story

By |2021-05-18T17:21:08+10:00May 18th, 2021|Categories: Uncategorized|

The change fitness story

Everything has a story. Here’s a quick peek at the change fitness story.

About 20 years ago, one of The Change Gym’s founders, Dr Steve Barlow, worked in the NSW prison system delivering anger management coaching to maximum security inmates. He became interested in why rehabilitative programs worked better with some inmates than with others. Why would a program that was highly effective for one person be a total failure with another?

The real question was something like this: what did some people bring to programs that made the programs work?

Unable to find a satisfactory answer, he decided to research it himself and enrolled in a PhD program. Six years later he had some answers to this question, and an Outstanding Thesis Award to boot.

To put it simply, a key ingredient to the effectiveness of programs is individual change readiness, also called ‘change fitness’.

Over the past 11 years, Steve and his business partner, Stephanie, have gone on to create the only change fitness assessment tool on the market, written 5 books, created numerous change fitness and other leadership programs, coached people in change fitness in 16 countries. Their change fitness coaching program has been on the scope of the International Coach Federation and Australian Association of Social Workers as a professional development course for coaches and social workers. They are currently delivering their change fitness coaching program as part of a Master of Leadership program at the University of Tasmania. Steve has also presented at many conferences around Australia and in Europe.

Over time, the change fitness story has expanded to include organisational change readiness and, together, they provide the ‘design language’ that sets The Change Gym’s trajectory and sets it apart from other providers.

Boost Your Performance

By |2021-02-20T21:49:20+10:00February 20th, 2021|Categories: Uncategorized|

How do you boost performance in your organisation? Do you use incentives to inspire people to perform better? Or perhaps you rely on performance reviews to provide feedback, maintain accountability, and set new targets.

Sure, all these can have their place, but they also have their limits. Incentives don’t inspire everyone, and they can create a culture where people only perform if you give them special treats. Performance reviews can sometimes be harsh or not effective at all.

There is nothing wrong with holding people accountable, providing feedback, or encouraging them to perform better. But using these methods to boost performance is a flawed way of thinking. It is like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.

Here’s the problem. People often see performance and flexibility as goals. Leaders want to find ways to improve performance and make the organisation more flexible. After all, performance is part of the holy trinity – performance, productivity, profit.

But performance and flexibility should not be seen or treated as goals. They are an outcome of other things. What other things?

They are the outcome of the capacity to handle change well. If you improve how people deal with change, you will, at the same time, improve their performance and flexibility. Whether changes are happening or not.

Developing the capacity to handle change well is all about change fitness and change readiness.

So if your goal is to develop more change fitness and change readiness in your organisation, one of the outcomes you will get is improved performance and flexibility. Once you understand how this process works, you realise it cannot be any other way.

How we do that

The most common way to manage performance is by setting performance targets and monitoring progress over time. You recognise people’s efforts and achievements when they meet new targets and provide training or mentoring when they don’t meet them.

This system works, but it has a severe problem – it doesn’t target the areas that build performance and flexibility. It motivates people from the outside, but it doesn’t target things that increase the capacity for improved performance and flexibility. We need to build performance capacity, not only manage performance.

We take a different approach. We need to increase people’s ability to follow the success pattern. To do that, we must target two areas – the individual’s change fitness and the organisation’s change readiness.

Together, these three areas – the success pattern, change fitness, and change readiness – build the organisation’s capacity to perform well in all areas and maintain a flexible response to the environment. The way we help you get what you want is to work together on these three areas.

But before working on anything, we need to know where you are already performing well. What do you need to strengthen and extend? And what you need to improve?

We find this out by asking the right questions, doing some assessments, and thinking about the findings. Once completed, we will sit down and discuss with you what we have found out. We will make some recommendations about what to do to improve your performance and flexibility. Most of the time, this can happen remotely, via Zoom.

If you decide to move ahead, we will coach and mentor you in how to do it. Our approach is to help you learn how to improve things yourself. So, click the button below and start a conversation with us.

Create Star Performers

By |2021-01-28T12:33:25+10:00January 28th, 2021|Categories: General|

It’s often said that people are your greatest asset.

But not all people equally. For instance, Google found that 90% of their teams’ performance was produced by just 10% of their people. And we’re all familiar with the 80/20 Rule.

Some people are star performers – the ones you want to keep and the ones your competitors would love to poach.

But other people are average performers, and some are poor performers.

So, you’re already getting great value out of star performers, and you naturally want this to continue. But there’s an opportunity to increase productivity through people who are not star performers.

Imagine if you could turn some of them into highly productive star performers. Or, more modestly, even just increase their productivity by, say, 10%.

10% extra revenue would make a big difference to the bottom line. For example, in a company with 1000 employees and a 4:1 Revenue per Employee ratio, a 10% performance improvement in 300 of their lower performing employees would generate around $6 million of extra annual revenue.

Reach out to us if you would like to know more.

4 change readiness questions

By |2020-12-22T09:25:27+10:00December 22nd, 2020|Categories: Change Readiness|

An organisation’s change readiness is its readiness to succeed at the change process. It is not about an organisation’s readiness to begin a change project – it is about readiness to succeed at the change process.

Stakeholders who are unable to succeed at the change process level cannot help an organisation succeed at the change project level.

Project success occurs when an acceptable number of stakeholders succeed at the change process within an acceptable timeframe and at an acceptable cost.

When we help organisations build change readiness, we ask 4 key questions.

First, how much change fitness do the stakeholders have? This refers to their individual and collective psychological capacity to navigate the change process successfully.

Second, is the organisational culture ready to support change? Every organisation has a culture and culture defines the group identity, what people believe, and how the group acts. Change may challenge this group identity, what it believes, and how it acts, and so the culture must be ready to accept this change.

Third, are the leaders ready to model and lead this change? There is a lot of ground we cover in this one.

Fourth, are the process, policies, and structures (PPS) ready to support the change? You could think of PPS as a pipeline. It is a structure within which certain behaviours can flow. The existing pipeline allows current behaviours to flow, but it may need to change to facilitate new behaviours to flow.

When these 4 areas work in harmony, the organisation is ready to succeed at the change process and will, therefore, be more ready for successful project outcomes.

So, if you want stakeholders who handle change well, a change-friendly and adaptable culture, highly effective change leaders and managers, and efficient processes, you need to start building change readiness.

When you do so, change will be more successful and so will you. We can help you with a framework and tools to make this task easier.

What we do

By |2020-11-23T12:05:10+10:00November 20th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|

What we do

We help leaders deliver organisational change projects that are more successful, easier to achieve, with less risk, and at less cost.

We do this by helping them build the change readiness of their organisation.

This is achieved by focusing on 4 areas:

  1. increasing the individual change capacity of stakeholders
  2. improving the change leadership capabilities of the team
  3. creating a change-friendly culture
  4. aligning the policies, processes, and structures to support change

Questions we help you answer

  1. How can we understand what change readiness is?
  2. How can we create a change-ready organisation?
  3. How can we embed change readiness into our organisation?
  4. How can we assess our change readiness risk profile?
  5. How can we assess the change fitness profile of key stakeholders?
  6. How can we build the change fitness of key stakeholders?
  7. How can we improve the quality of change leadership?
  8. How can we ensure our leaders have the knowledge and skills to manage change?
  9. How can we ensure change methodologies follow an emergent design?
  10. How can we ensure we follow The Success Pattern?
  11. How can we ensure communications build engagement?
  12. How can we check the effectiveness of engagement messages?
  13. How can we ensure culture supports change?
  14. How can we ensure policies, processes, and structures support change?

Why are these important questions?

They are imporant because they lay at the heart of change readiness. If you want to make sure your business is ready to succeed at change, you must be able to answer these questions.

Providing you a framework

Helping you find a valid and reliable answer to these questions provides a framework to guide your thinking so you can make the best decisions. Once you have the framework, you can solve more problems on your own. You won’t need us; you will be able to see more clearly and have a sense of what needs to happen.

How We Work

By |2020-11-20T08:09:00+10:00November 20th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|

How we work

Our initial meeting will be an introduction to build a general understanding of your needs and how we might be able to help you. This meeting is free of change.

People are often referred to us because they experience some problems around organisational change and/or change leadership, but they may not always know why these problems occur. So, if you decide to engage us, we will want to build up an understanding of what lies behind the problems. Some common problems are:

  • history of change not working well
  • specific change project is underperforming
  • general apathy around change
  • stakeholders are not engaged and don’t support the change
  • stakeholders are resistant to change
  • change leaders/managers have low skill level
  • general anxiety around change
  • a change-toxic culture

Some common causes of these problems are:

  • not properly understanding the change process and what is meant to happen
  • not correctly understanding what successful change means or requires
  • having deficits in change leadership needs
  • low levels of change fitness amongst stakeholders
  • low levels of organisational change readiness
  • not following The Success Pattern when managing change
  • failure to embed the key change readiness messages during the change project

Once we have identified the main causes of the problems you experience, we will make some recommendations on how to fix them. If you want, we can help you fix the problems, but we are more interested in helping you learn how to fix them yourself and providing the tools to help you do that.

Click on the button below to learn more.

Leading Successful Change

By |2021-01-28T12:35:09+10:00November 5th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|

Leading Successful Change

By Dr Steve Barlow

Every leader wants to be successful. Many leaders look and act successful on the outside. Many also lay awake at night – worried about those cracks in their armour.

When it comes to change, around 70% of leaders are not as successful as they would like to be. It helps to have other people to blame, and other people certainly play their part. Change is almost never executed to perfection, and stakeholders often prefer the status quo to the new.

But note the title of this article. It’s ‘leading successful change’, not ‘driving successful change’. To be honest, I hate hearing people talk about driving change. To me, it’s a concept full of misplaced power.

It conjures two images in my mind. One is of a drover (yes, I’m Australian) going behind a herd of cattle driving them where he chooses. The cattle are mindless beasts, pawns in an economic system they don’t control or understand.

The other is a car being driven. Again, the car is a mindless source of power and value that is useful only to the driver. He or she turns the wheel and it goes wherever it is directed.

Employees are not mindless sources of power that can be driven at will, and change is not a thing you can locate in the environment and push it where you want it to go. No. There are certainly some things you can push around – like sending old computers to the scrapheap or changing where the Chairman parks the Bentley – but in the end change involves people.

Successful change must be led from the front and the most important leaders are the senior executive. You need to set the pace and you need to know which levers to pull to make change successful.

But don’t just listen to the conventional wisdom to find out what to do. If conventional wisdom on how to manage change was the be-all-and-end-all, we wouldn’t be failing more often than we succeed.

I want to (briefly) tell you about four levers you should be pulling if you want to be a successful change leader.

Lever 1 – Personal Change Fitness

It’s not a secret – organisations are made up of people. Ordinary humans pretty much like everyone you see on the daily commute to work. But here’s something many people don’t seem to know: strong executive leadership is important, but change only succeeds from the bottom up. What this means is that successful organisational change depends on successful personal change. The organisation only succeeds at change if enough people on the ground succeed at change.

So, the better people are at successfully adapting to change, the easier it is for the organisation to succeed at all the changes it needs to make. And how successful people are at adapting to change depends on how much change fitness they have.

Therefore, a critical lever to pull is the change fitness lever. We can’t go into the how to do that in this article, but keep this lever front of mind.

Lever 2 – The Success Pattern

If you knew there was a proven behavioural pattern that made something work – and a million other patterns that didn’t work – would you want to follow that pattern?

Well, there is a behavioural pattern that makes change work, but it seems very few people know what it is. This is strange since the pattern has been recognised for over 40 years and it is very well researched.

Most people manage change without following this pattern. That’s dangerous and you don’t want to be one of them. So, the second lever to pull is following The Success Pattern.

Lever 3 – PPS

PPS stands for policies, procedures, and structure. These are the structural things that influence how information flows in an organisation, how decisions are made, and how easy or hard it is for people to take action.

PPS is under the control of leaders, often senior leaders like you. When you make these things change-friendly, you pull a lever that helps change succeed. You help reduce the turbulence that impedes change and makes it harder for people to adapt to new behaviours. Leveraging the Success Patten and the PPS are essentially management issues.

Lever 4 – Culture

Your organisation may or not have a change-friendly culture but, if you have, well done. Still, you need to understand that every culture seeks to preserve itself. Being change-friendly is something good to preserve, but it’s never a simple as that. A change-friendly culture is also lots of other things, and change may threaten some of those other things.

Culture is a bit like a rubber band – it may stretch, but it also wants to return to what it was. And this poses a very real threat to long-term change. Culture wants to push people back to what has been normal practice for a long time.

If you want change to succeed in the long run, you must pull the culture lever. And you need to know how to do that.


“You can’t force culture, but you can create the atmosphere for change.”

IBM Institute for Business Value 2018

Culture wants to push people back and low change fitness often makes people want to go back. That’s why you need to pull both these levers.

Pulling these four levers is what successful change leaders do. They can learn to do it even better, and so can you.

If you want to learn more about how to pull these four levers, we can help you. We provide training, coaching, mentoring, assessments, tools, and consultancy services. Book a time to explore your options.

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