successful man leading change

Much of the language around change management has to do with power. In this article I want to challenge you to rethink the nature of this power and to consider the role of change fitness.

Power over change

What words do we often hear when people talk of managing change? How about these: influence, leverage, reengineer, redirect, mandate, restructure, convince, get onboard, enlist, persuade, manage, reorganise. What kind of power do these words suggest to you?

I suggest these words suggest power over change. They express the idea that managing change is about controlling variables and making certain things happen. In other words, change presents challenges and the role of management is to overcome these challenges to create successful outcomes.

The military connection

These ideas have a history. The command and control mindset emerged from the military –the word ‘strategy’ derives from the ancient Greek word for ‘general’ and relates to the proper control of military resources, particularly during battle. Given that only one army typically emerges victorious, military strategies have only a 50% chance of success. This is better than the chances of success with organisational change strategies, that typically only have a 30% chance of success.

The command and control thinking is evident in Lewin’s famous Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze change model, the 8-Step process of Kotter, and many variations on these themes. They are all based on the idea that, by doing the right things, you can control the outcomes. But is this idea reasonable? Is it even possible?

Levels of complexity

The Cynefin Framework categorises organisations according to their level of complexity. Increasingly, modern organisations are highly complex. They’re not complicated; they’re complex. They are characteristically VUCA contexts: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. And so is the world of which they are part. Such complexity adds challenges that cannot be foreseen or anticipated. You can’t plan for them and their ambiguity makes them dangerous.

The power to respond

The idea that managers can have control over the challenges of the change process is flawed, and if that’s the only power you’ve got, you really don’t have much power. But there is a power you can have, and it’s completely under your control. You can have real power over how you respond to the challenges of change.

Your ability to respond in effective and powerful ways to the change process is what we call ‘change fitness’. Your change fitness isn’t something you do; it’s something you have. Change-fit people have developed their capacity to respond to change in positive ways that makes change more likely to succeed. This is not about having control over change but having control over yourself and how you respond to change.

Not the holy grail

I’m not saying that having strategies isn’t important or that approaches like Kotter’s don’t matter. Of course they do, but don’t fall for the illusion that these are the holy grail. They’re not. Learn about them, for sure, but more importantly, develop your capacity to respond to change. How can you do that?

I’m glad you asked. How to do that is at the heart of what I and my team do. In just 12 weeks, you could significantly improve on where you are now. You could be more competent and feel more confident around change and become a much better change leader. Is that what you want? If so, why not find out more. Get in touch with me and we’ll have a chat. No obligations – you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Written by Dr Steve Barlow

Steve Barlow
Author: Steve Barlow

Steve heads up The Change Gym. He is a change readiness specialist. You can contact him at