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 [email protected]

How to Create Successful Change

By |2019-09-19T18:14:37+10:00September 19th, 2019|Categories: Change Readiness, Leadership, Managing Change, Programs, Resistance|

In 2010, McKinsey reported the findings of a huge study involving more than 315,000 respondents. They found that 75% of organisations were experiencing change and that 70% of change initiatives were regarded as unsuccessful.

Hundreds of other studies corroborate the 70% failure rate statistic. This statistic is often cited in the change management community as a reason to engage change management professionals as change leaders. But the problem is that the 70% statistic has remained stable for decades, even though change management principles form part of many graduate and post-graduate leadership programs. Maybe the message is not getting through to the right people. Or, in our view, there’s something wrong with the message itself.

Others totally debunk the 70% statistic. Claiming to be ‘superior’ change managers, they apparently experience success in most of the change initiatives they lead. This could, possibly, be realistic – theirs may be among the 30% of change projects that succeed. But it could also be a matter of pride: we all like to think we are successful.

But let’s not get too hung up on the 70% statistic. It is probably dependent on how things are measured and how reasonable initial expectations were. My interest in this article is not on the 70% figure, but on the perceptions of why organisational change fails or succeeds. I want to outline three reasons that are often cited.

The employees are the issue

McKinsey found that employee resistance to change was identified as the single biggest cause of change failure. If change fails, management often blames employees for having bad attitudes, for resisting change, and for disengaging from the process. Just when they should have been involved, they got negative and didn’t want to play ball.

Sometimes this is true and sometimes it isn’t. Maybe employees resisted for good reasons. But here’s the point – change leadership shouldn’t be about obedience – forcing people to do what they’re told.  It should be about developing readiness for change.

And let’s not just focus on failure. Employees are an organisation’s greatest asset and any change that succeeds does so, in large part, because of support from employees.

The leaders are the issue

Change managers may be delighted with or disappointed with the level of support they receive from senior leaders. Unfortunately, change can fail even though employees support it and skilled change managers lead it. It can fail if senior management pulls back their support for the change – they lose motivation or incentive, or simply under-resource it. Strong and continued support from senior leaders is essential for the success of any change initiative.

The change managers are the issue

Professionally trained change managers rightly take pride in the knowledge and skills they have worked hard to develop over many years. Many change projects underperform due to a lack of such leadership.

But as important as change management is, success requires more than good management. Management can only take you so far – managers can’t make the changes only the employees can make. So, there needs to be a readiness on the part of employees to support the change and engage with the process from beginning to end. And there also needs to be cultural readiness to support and sustain the change.

The landscape

Let’s look at the organisational landscape so far. It is a challenging landscape that offers many opportunities to fall short. Will the employees support the change, and do they have to capacity to succeed at every step of the change process? Will senior leaders maintain a strong commitment for the change at every step of the process? Do change managers have the knowledge and skills to deliver a successful outcome? And will the culture support and sustain the change long-term?

Look at those questions. Some relate to support and commitment – the enactment of the will to support rather than oppose change. And some relate to capacity. Even if people willingly support and engage in the change project, they also need the psychological capacity to meet the challenging demands of every step of the change process – the capacity to keep going when they are tired and confused and everything inside them wants to quit.  And they also relate to the capacity of change managers to follow an evidence-based process, to unlock the potential of the team, and to manage risks posed by the team’s limitations. This mix of will and capacity are aspects of an organisation’s change readiness. And there are other important ingredients in that mix as well.

Readiness incorporates power, capacity, and will. Organisations are not ready for change if their people are not willing to exercise their power to support change and if they don’t have the capacity to succeed at the change process. Change readiness is readiness to succeed at the change process – not just readiness to begin. Sure, that’s important too, but what’s the value of being ready to start if you’re not also ready to succeed?

The 70% failure statistic carries a serious warning – 100% of organisations surveyed started a change project, but only 30% were ready to succeed. I am reminded of the 2015 Optus study that found just 27% of Australian businesses are ready for change. Look, who wants to be one of the 70% of businesses that are ready to fail at change? Where’s the honour in that? And why would you even want that when you can do so much to become ready to succeed?

How to create successful change

Change is inherently risky because it’s easier to fail at things than to succeed. Success depends on doing a few things right but there are many roads that lead to failure. So, why should people expect to succeed when they’re not ready to succeed? That’s not being positive, that’s being unrealistic.

Here’s the point of this article – the real power of change leaders lies in their power to create change readiness. Organisations that are ready to succeed are much more successful than others that aren’t ready. That’s not rocket science; that’s common sense.

So, if you want to learn how to create change readiness in your organisation, the easiest way is to join one of our 1-day, online training programs. We specialise in personal change fitness and organisational change readiness and we can lead you into greater awareness of what’s involved. Start with our ‘From Resistance to Readiness’ training. You can learn more about it here.

There’s a lot you can do to get ready for success. And that road begins with knowledge. So, join in the training and let’s build some readiness for change.

Written by Dr Steve Barlow

Move Beyond Your Comfort Zone

By |2019-09-03T16:22:05+10:00September 3rd, 2019|Categories: Change Fitness|

Flames pushed at the cold and dark as they eagerly devoured the campfire. In a ring around the fire, I sat with a group of friends. Behind us, the blackness stretched into the unknown. But in the midst of this circle of light and warmth, we shared a place of safety.

Across the circle, the fire danced on the shadowy outline of my friends. We shared this common moment, warmed by the fire and reassured by the light.

But then, from somewhere out there, in the blackness, came a blood-curdling shriek. Eyes quickly turned and a dark fear fell on the circle. Then, out of nowhere, something large and black swooped over our heads and disappeared back into the night. Time for bed.

This story is true; it happened to me when I was young. But a similar story happens to people all the time. It has probably even happened to you too.

I want to show you a picture. Here it is.

comfort zone

This is a picture of that campfire, only this time you are at the centre. The blue circle represents your comfort zone. In our story, this is the circle of friends who faced the warmth and light of the fire, with the darkness at their backs.

This comfort zone is a place of relative ease and security. It represents all those things in your world that are familiar to you. To some extent, you know how to navigate this area. There is a degree of warmth here, and you can see where you are.

But there is another zone behind you, or perhaps in front of you. This is your zone of potential (shown here in magenta). In our story, this zone is represented by the darkness at your back.

This zone of potential is a dark and foreboding place, and it takes courage to venture out there. Many people never do venture into this zone. It is a place of fear. It is the unknown – the concealed. The unexplored. The yet-to-be-discovered.

But, in various ways, it beckons. Sometimes it reaches into your comfort zone, swooping for your attention. It calls you to face your fear and to explore. Because, in some fearful way, you belong there.

These are times when your potential makes itself known. You get a momentary glimpse of what is possible for you. It coaxes you to come and follow, to explore, and to uncover.

But this is a call into darkness, away from the warmth and light of the fire. And it’s a call that, sadly, many people never heed.

I know something about you. You have lots of potential – far more than you realise. But to claim it, you must move out of your zone of comfort and into your zone of potential. And you must stay there. Gradually, your comfort zone will expand, but then your zone of potential may expand along with it.

I’ll tell you one reason why so many people never venture into their zone of potential. It’s because their change fitness isn’t what it should be. The limit of their comfort zone represents the limit of their change fitness.

So, if you ever stare out into the darkness and wonder who might be out there, I’ll tell you. It’s you. It’s the you you have the potential to become. It’s waiting for you to come and find it. Do you have to courage to do that?

Build your change fitness and discover a bigger you.

Written by Dr Steve Barlow

A Difficult Change

By |2019-08-29T17:10:45+10:00August 28th, 2019|Categories: Change Fitness|


I want to tell you about one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.

I created a website. 

That might not sound like much but hang in there – there’s an important message I want to get across.

First a little background. I grew up in an age when web sites were only associated with spiders.  And I have spent a long period of my life as a student. I am used to getting my head around modern languages, criminology, psychology, and philosophy.

But when I started a business, I had to hire people to make websites for me. I hadn’t learnt how to do that. So, in the end, I decided it was time to learn how to do it myself.

Now, many people know how to develop a website and now that I know how to do it, it’s relatively easy. But getting to relatively easy was a really hard road for me.

So, let me tell you how the process went; I will break it down into 3 parts.

Getting information

YouTube is my friend. I learnt how to create a website from watching YouTube videos. But be careful: it’s not plain sailing. I found that many instructional videos show older versions of the CMS that the one I was working with. In such cases, instructor may tell you to do something you can’t do anymore. This is frustrating and time-consuming, but it’s far from the worst part.

Understanding the jargon

A more challenging hurdle is learning the lingo. There is a lot of jargon used in website creation and some online instructors don’t account for dummies who are unfamiliar with the right words. It becomes very confusing and you long for some plain English. I found this to be a barrier to learning. But again, not the hardest part.

Learning to think differently

By far the hardest challenge for me was learning how to think differently. I was not a website developer and I didn’t think like one. But I had to learn how to think like a website designer and an online marketer. For me, that was the hardest part of the entire process. Not because that kind of thinking was so difficult; but because it was so different to how I was thinking.

Just like change

Change is often like that. Learning the processes may not be that difficult, but changing your thinking is that difficult.

It was difficult for me to let go of my old ways of thinking. In fact, it was agony. And I blamed lots of people for it – all those YouTube gurus who couldn’t speak plain English and those two-year-old videos. But the truth was, the problem was with me.

If the hardest part of change is learning new processes, it’s not a very challenging change. The much bigger challenge is learning how to think differently. It’s letting go of old ways of thinking and being willing to start at the beginning. In this, I was a beginner and I needed to take baby steps.

And this is where I talk about change fitness because I so wanted to give up. When change becomes painfully difficult and you feel like quitting, it’s your change fitness that will keep you going – or not.  Not if you don’t have enough.

For someone who works in the change business, it’s a good reminder of how difficult change can be. Even simple change, like creating a website. And how much harder when your job may be at stake!

Anyway, that’s my website story and I hope it helps in some way. Love to know what you think.

Written by Dr Steve Barlowa

Tackle the Right Problem the Right Way

By |2019-08-24T15:08:54+10:00August 24th, 2019|Categories: Coaching|


John was new to business. He’d been a plumber all his working life but got sick of it and wanted to do something else. So, he decided to set up a handyman business in his local area.

He didn’t know how to get started so he sought out a business coach.

In their first meeting together, John admitted he didn’t know how to get clients. The coach quickly recognised that John had a marketing problem. So, he decided to try a simple solution.

“John, here’s a book about marketing you should read. And check out this YouTube channel.” John went away feeling optimistic.

A month later, John had his second coaching session. He appeared to be discouraged. “I read that book and watched the videos, but I still haven’t got any clients. What can I do?”

The coach realised the simple approach wasn’t enough. John needed expert help. “I’m referring you to Denise. She’s a marketing guru and she has helped hundreds of people just like you. Go see her.”

Denise asked lots of questions about who the ideal client is, the range of services offered, how John is different from other providers, and how he wants to work. In the end, she said, “You need a website. Here’s a guy who can help you build the kind of site that will attract the clients you want. You also need to attend networking meetings and get your name out there. Join one and see if you can get a speaking spot.”

John left encouraged, but also a little nervous.

John didn’t come back to coaching for 3 months. When he finally came back, he looked very stressed. He was very disappointed about the advice Denise gave him: it didn’t work.

The coach wanted to explore this further. “Tell me, John, what happened when you went to the website guy.”

“Well, he was supposed to be an expert, but I didn’t like the approach he wanted to take. So, I told him what I want the website to say and how I want it to look. After all, I’m the customer and I know what kind of business I want. Turns out he wasn’t much good at website design. Waste of money really.”

The coach thought what you’re probably thinking right now – John thinks he knows best and is unwilling to take advice.

“Okay John, what happened at the networking meeting?”

“Not much good there, either. The people were really unfriendly, and it was hard to get into conversations with anyone. I went a few times, but it’s not worth going if people aren’t interested in talking to me.”

The coach recognised that John didn’t really have a marketing problem. John had a personal problem, but he could not see it.

John’s real problem was that he didn’t trust people. He didn’t trust their advice. He didn’t trust their motives. And he didn’t particularly like to be in their presence.

John’s coaching journey didn’t need to be about marketing – at least not initially. It needed to be about why he found it hard to trust – why he was closed to receiving good advice, why he thought he knew best, why he couldn’t relate to people. What beliefs drove these behaviours? How can John come to see his beliefs when he has no awareness of them?


Identify the real problem

Real problems are often unseen by the people who have them. We are all like that. There are things about you and me that cause us problems in life – and they probably cause other people problems too. But we can’t see what they are. We see their effects all around us: broken relationships, unmet dreams, or failed attempts. And it’s easy to point the finger at others and blame them for our misery.

But all the while we are blind to how our own weaknesses – the same weaknesses that have caused our disasters.

And as long as we remain unaware of them, we can’t do anything about them. The problems will keep on happening. That was John’s problem. He didn’t feel safe trusting people; the problem was not with the people; it was with him. Why didn’t he feel safe to trust? What happened to him in the past? What does he believe deep down about people?

That’s where John’s coaching needs to go. Because John’s hidden beliefs are impacting his marketing problems (and lots of other areas too).

Tackle the real problem at the right level

John’s coach played a good tactical game. At the start, he didn’t know what John needed. Perhaps John’s problem had a simple solution – read a book and watch some marketing videos. If that tactic had worked, the coaching would have been effective, and John could have moved on to tackle other issues.

And when the simple approach didn’t work, the coach moved to a more complicated tactic. Get in an expert. Maybe a marketing guru could tailor advice to John’s exact situation.

But the complicated approach didn’t work either. John needed something much deeper. The problem wasn’t about what John didn’t know. The problem was about what John did know. Somewhere deep down inside his mind, John knew it wasn’t safe to trust people. He didn’t know he knew it, but he knew he felt it. John felt uncomfortable taking advice and he felt uncomfortable being with people he didn’t know.

In coaching, you need to tackle the real problem at the right level. If the problem can be solved by a simple approach (giving some general information or advice) then don’t make things more complex than they need to be. But if the problem is like John’s problem, don’t treat it like it is a simple problem with a simple solution.

Explore and remain open

John’s story tells us something important about people – they don’t know what they don’t know. And neither do you. You don’t know what is really causing the problems or issues your clients have when they come to you. You need to explore, try out various approaches and see what you find. Don’t go in with your mind made up. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t reduce everything to simple problems and simple solutions. And don’t make it more complex than it needs to be.

Get good at working with beliefs

Much of the time, though, the issues that bring people to coaches are not simple issues. In the modern world, it’s not all that hard to solve simple issues. You can google the answer or look on YouTube. If the problem had a simple solution, your client would probably have already solved it by now. Not always true, but that’s often the way it is.

Our maladaptive beliefs manifest as problems. We see the effects, but we can’t see the beliefs. And what’s worse, we try to protect the same beliefs that cause us trouble. So, here’s something that might help you. Though people can’t see their maladaptive beliefs, they can often feel them.

These maladaptive beliefs make people feel bad. John felt anxious when Denise suggested he go to a website designer and a networking group. He felt uncomfortable when working with the website guy. He felt awkward and out of place when at the networking group. He felt he didn’t belong.

Of course, John didn’t think the problem was with him. He thought it was with the other people. Why? Because he couldn’t see his problem. He could only feel it.

But until he can see it, he can’t change it.

So that’s where you can help. Lead your John to get in touch with his feelings. Get him to talk about how he felt at those important touchpoints. And then follow the feelings deeper. Ask why the feelings arose. What beliefs gave rise to those feelings. Help your John to see.

Change fitness coaching

John’s problem is actually a change fitness problem. He couldn’t change because he lacked the fitness to change. Specifically, he lacked trust and insight. Change fitness coaching works at the level of beliefs and provides a structured way of helping people develop see their maladaptive beliefs, build capacity for change, and overcome blockages.

If you’re interested to learn more about change fitness coaching, or to experience it yourself, please reach out and let’s have a chat about it.

Dr Steve Barlow

[email protected]

Where does change fitness coaching fit in?

By |2019-05-23T10:37:15+10:00May 23rd, 2019|Categories: Change Fitness, Coaching, Managing Change|

We base a lot of what we do and teach on the model shown below.

You get coaching clients because they have a change project. This is the problem they want to overcome or the opportunity they want to grasp, and they want your help to get there.

But there are 4 areas you both must pay attention to.

Four key areas

The first is the change process. Your client will only succeed if they progress successfully through every step of the […]

The Challenge of Organisational Change

By |2019-05-20T10:21:06+10:00May 20th, 2019|Categories: Leadership, Managing Change|

Some years ago, a yachtsman competing in the BOC challenge pulled into Sydney harbour. He and his fellow competitors were sailing solo around the world. They were competing against each other, but also against themselves. In a real sense, the challenge of the race is facing the fear of the unknown and the limits of one’s personal capacity and endurance.

Notwithstanding the dangers, most sailors succeeded – not in winning the race, but in facing the challenge and giving all […]

How should we understand change fitness coaching?

By |2019-05-15T14:10:07+10:00May 15th, 2019|Categories: Change Fitness, Coaching|

We know there are different types of coaches: business coaches, life coaches, executive coaches, career coaches, etc.

So, what’s a change fitness coach? Is it a new type of coaching, or is it something else? This is what we consider in this article.

The real goal

Before we go any further, we must discuss something very important. As coaches, we all have our preferences and our individual pathways through life. Some of us choose to become life coaches, some business coaches, and […]

What is a change readiness assessment?

By |2019-04-09T12:53:11+10:00April 9th, 2019|Categories: Change Readiness, Managing Change, Resistance|

You might not know why you would even need a change readiness assessment if you don’t understand what it is. In this article, I want to give you a general understanding of what a change readiness assessment is.

Readiness for what?

First, it is important to understand what we are talking about. When we say readiness to change, what are we talking about? Are we talking about readiness to begin a change project? Is it like being prepared to get started?

No, […]

How much change is ‘too much’?

By |2019-03-21T16:17:29+10:00March 28th, 2019|Categories: Change Fitness, Managing Change|

In this article we examine the perceptions people have of how much change occurs in a workplace, and how those perceptions affect behaviours.

In a 2017 article in the British Journal of Management*, Rafferty and Jimmieson comment on this issue. Let’s examine what they say.

A subjective matter

How much is too much? How much is just right? How much is not much? How you answer questions like these would vary from person to person.

It’s similar when we talk about organisational […]

Change fatigue – the hidden killer

By |2019-03-30T10:52:30+10:00March 28th, 2019|Categories: Change Fitness, Managing Change, Resistance|

Managers are often aware when employees resist change. Resistance is usually a visible thing – people complain, tell negative stories, or get annoyed.

But change fatigue is hidden and managers often fail to recognise it. According to McMillan & Perron (2013), “staff experiencing change fatigue simply shut off and become withdrawn, taking no steps to address issues relating to change initiatives.”

Contributing factors

Here are some factors that contribute to change fatigue:

  • Perceived lack of control – employees feel they have no […]