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.

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.

Managing Change and Free Will

By |2020-07-12T16:18:50+10:00July 12th, 2020|Categories: Managing Change, Uncategorized|

When you’re managing change it’s obviously best if stakeholders want to follow you of their own free will, rather than being dragged into change against their will. The question is, how do you get people to want to do what they ultimately have to do?

Some people may question whether people really do have free will. I am not one of them, so let’s assume they do.

What is free will?

But when we speak of free will, we must define what we mean. We mean that people have the freedom to make individual choices that give them some control over their future, even their destiny. Some control doesn’t mean total control – there are constraints to what we can control or influence. There will be choices that are out of our range – at least for the moment.

The range of viable choices is different for different people, because some people have more change capacity than others, and people value different things. And it also depends on what the person can see.

4 key issues

So, we have identified 3 key issues – what people can see (their awareness), what they value (the benefits they could derive from a change), and what they are capable of (their power to succeed). To this list we should add another – their ability to trust the people who lead them into change.

So, we end up with 4 issues – awareness, benefits, capacity, trust. How do we build these 4 issues into our change plans to enhance change readiness?

Let’s look again at the 5 key change readiness messages we have spoken of in other places. In the table below, you see the 5 messages and how they relate to the 4 issues referred to above.


Key Messages


We have a problem or opportunity


We have a solution that can work


We will be better off after the change


We will fully support you through the change


We can do this together



Shaping the environment

To some extent, change managers and leaders can manipulate the environment so it becomes easier for stakeholders to want change and feel it is safe to do so. That’s why these 5 change messages are so important and should be repeated over again. Some people need to hear them more than others – usually it is those with lower change fitness.

And as we have said before, these 5 messages need to be true. You will lose people’s trust if you can’t keep your word. So, as a change leader, you should ensure you have the backing of more senior leaders. If you don’t and you make promises you can’t keep, stakeholders will learn not to trust what you say, and the organisation’s culture will suffer. So, you need to get this right.

Manage both directions

Finally, managing change means managing in both directions – down and up. You need to raise the awareness of those you lead and of those who lead you. Your role is to shape both environments, because you are the change leader and change specialist.

Changing Organisational Culture

By |2020-07-08T18:00:37+10:00July 8th, 2020|Categories: Uncategorized|

We often think of the culture of an organisation as ‘the way we do things around here’ or ‘the way things are’. Culture seems to convey some sort of reality – the reality of how things are.

One possibility among many

But just think for a moment about ‘how things are’. Sure, what we see around us in the organisation is, indeed, how things are. But how they are is not the only available option of how things could be.

Think about shopping. Back in the day, going shopping meant walking down to the local corner store and buying your goods. But then it morphed into driving to the shopping mall, going round in circles looking for a parking space, and finally entering this huge building filled with people all looking for goods and the entertainment of ‘going shopping’. And now, increasingly, it means browsing the internet on your phone and buying stuff online.

The point is, ‘how things are’ changes over time as other things that are theoretically possible become reality. How things are one possibility among many, and not necessarily something that ‘has to be like that’.

When you analyse what an organisation is like, what you see may be reality, but it is also the one possibility among others that was selected to become reality. The other possibilities might still be waiting out in the wings somewhere.

Reality and identity

Current reality is, often, a matter of the choices we make – which possibilities we choose to accept, and which we choose to reject. And those we choose to accept become part of our identity. This is a kind of self-supporting system – we choose certain possibilities because they reflect how we see the world, and then those realities shape how we see ourselves. And then they affect how we behave and what happens to us.

There are many examples of this in the real world. Think of Kodak. The company created portable film that meant anyone could carry a camera in their pocket and take shots of aunt Mildred blowing out her birthday candles. But eventually, other possibilities could turn into reality. The irony is, Kodak were the first to develop the digital camera back in 1975, but they chose to ignore it as a viable alternative to film. After all, kodak was all about film, right?

Or think about IBM. Business machines – that was the reality at the forefront of their mind. But they failed to see that another possibility was turning into reality – that the machine wasn’t going to be where the action was. The action was going to be in the software that made the machines useful – something that Bill Gates at Microsoft understood very well.

We could go on, but the point is, reality doesn’t necessarily have to be the way it is. And the way it is, is influenced by how people see themselves. 

Culture and reality

So, how are culture and reality connected? Reality is how it is – at least for now – and culture is what we say about how it is. Edgar Schein, the culture guru, recognised that culture says things about ‘how things are’ at 3 levels of embeddedness.

On the surface level, there are things we can see, smell, hear, and touch. You walk into an exclusive shop and you hear someone playing a grand piano, you see marble flooring, crystal chandeliers, and you know what all this says. It says, ‘we are exclusive, expect to pay more, and you are the kind of person who can afford to shop here’. On the other hand, when you go into Kmart, everything you see says, ‘we will save you money. Look at all this good stuff and see how cheap it is. You are a smart shopper’.  Everything you can see, hear, smell, and touch tells a story about the store, and about you.

On a more complex level, the story is about what we value. At the expensive store, it’s about valuing quality over quantity, exclusivity over commonplace, style over functionality. At Kmart, it’s about valuing thrift over excess, accessibility over privilege, function over form.

And at the deepest level, culture is about the stories becoming one with the reality in our minds. We believe the stories are so true at the deepest level that we assume everyone else believes them too. They cease being stories to us and just become things we believe to be true. So much so, that they don’t even feel like stories anymore. It’s just how things are.

The point of this is to say that culture supports reality.

Changing culture

If you want to change ‘the way things are’ – to make an alternative possibility a reality – you also need to change the stories about how things are. You need to do this at all 3 levels.

You need to get people to make alternative choices and a powerful way to do that is to control the stories they tell. Control what people know, what they believe, what they value, what they talk about, and how they talk, and you will have some control over the choices they make.

Politicians know this and they do it all the time. So do big companies. And so can you.

Written by Steve Barlow

4 Tips for New Coaches

By |2021-01-28T12:38:16+10:00May 22nd, 2020|Categories: Coaching|

4 Tips for New Coaches

It was my first day on the job.

I stood by the window, waiting for my first coaching client to arrive. I felt nervous, quite unsure of what to expect, but also quite excited.

I wondered how I would relate to my new client group. Would I understand their views of reality? How would I relate to their stories? How would they relate to mine? Would it be hard to make a connection? 

There were no answers – yet. But there was plenty of time. 

As I stood at the window, a man, who appeared to be in his early 30’s, made his way down the pathway. He seemed very intense and I wasn’t sure how to read him. I wondered, was he going to be my first client?

Then, suddenly, he stopped. Something on the ground caught his attention. He quickly bent down, picked it up and put it in his pocket.

I was curious. What did he find that interested him so? Did he find some money, or could it have been something more sinister?

I began to worry about what he had in his pocket. Can I trust this guy? I actually hoped he wouldn’t walk into my room.

But he did. He took a seat and looked at me. And that’s how my new coaching job began.

We all have our first-day experiences. Mine took place inside a maximum security prison.

But the story I just told highlights issues all coaches face: 

  • How do we build trust?
  • Why has this client come?
  • How much awareness do they have of their needs?
  • How will I come to understand what their needs are?
  • What do they want to achieve?
  • How can I help?
  • Will we relate to each other?
  • Will they be satisfied with who I am and how I coach?
  • How do I feel about myself as a coach?

Trust, purpose, anxiety, identity. So, if you’re new to coaching, i hope this article helps. And, if you’ve been coaching for years, I hope it is still relevant to you too.


Without mutual trust, you can’t get far. I could talk about authenticity and honesty and the need to establish trust early, but there’s no easy formula I can give you. However, there are two questions I think you should ask yourself.

The first question is – is the client willing to become vulnerable? The word ‘vulnerable’ derives from a Latin word that means ‘wound’. Someone who is vulnerable allows themselves to be wounded, hurt. The opposite is self-protection.

People make themselves vulnerable because they either genuinely trust you or because they lack insight and trust people too easily.

People who are willing to be vulnerable will open up and be ‘real’ about their situation. This is a gift and they are investing in you.

The second question is – why is the client building trust? There can be various reasons why clients might want a trusting relationship with you. Perhaps they are looking for an ally to take their side and agree with them. Perhaps they are looking for a sympathiser to feel sorry for them, or an someone to help them move forward. Try to work out what they want and think about what you want to get into.


Some clients are clear about where they want to go and how you can help them get there. And they are willing to do whatever it takes to make it work. We all love these clients. But many clients are not like that.

You need to define the purpose of the coaching and build engagement. What purpose is the client ready for right now? They might want a thriving business, a dream job, or a loving relationship, but what are they ready to do right now?

Going to a coach is not the same as changing. Turning up to a coaching session is not all they must do. People who think it is are all talk and no follow through. They must understand that nothing changes if they don’t engage.


There’s nothing wrong with a bit of anxiety. We want to do our best job and be effective. But there’s no guarantee it will work out like that.

Anxiety can be adaptive because it can make you alert and in tune with what is happening. You don’t want to become desensitised to a bit of anxiety. But you don’t want panic. Panic means you’re not coping. If you experience panic, you need some help.


There are two points to make here. First, getting coach training doesn’t mean you’re cut out for coaching. If you’re cut out for coaching, you’ll love doing it, you’ll be effective, and people will love having you as their coach. Your identity as a coach shouldn’t depend on your training, or even how long you’ve been doing it. You’ll know if you’re a coach.

Second, if you know you’re cut out for coaching, don’t worry too much about ‘failures’. You will have clients who make no progress and who complain about you. It’s easy to blame your coach if you’re not prepared to do anything. Your job as a coach is to help them, not to do it for them. Do the best you can; accept that some clients make fantastic progress, and some don’t.

I trust these ideas are of some help in your coaching career.

Steve Barlow is a Director at The Change Gym. He formerly spent 7 years as an anger management coach in a maximum-security correctional facility. You can contact him on steve@thechangegym.com.

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