Models for Change

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Change models, frameworks and processes help people and organisations to diagnose situations and then make change happen

Three major subheadings are used, with the first of these sub-divided, to summarise ways of making change happen:

Change models


  1. Human reactions to change, especially dramatic change, often go through similar stages. Think about bereavement or redundancy and consider these stages: denial, blaming others, blaming self, acceptance of the new situation, and creative problem solving for the future. Now consider how people react after an industrial accident, a serious pollution incident, a major product failure or a business being struck off an approved supplier list. The reactions are often as follows:
  1. Denial: "it can't be true!"  or  "I don't believe it!"
  2. Blaming others: "they should not have done that" or simply "it's their fault"
  3. Blaming self: "I should have known" or "it's my fault"
  4. Accepting the new situation: "it's happened and I/we must go on from here"
  5. Commitment to change: "I'm going to do something about this!"
  6. Creative problem solving: "what can I/we do about it? What are our/my options?"
  7. Perseverance: overcoming obstacles through persistence and more creative problem solving

Sometimes people pass through these stages very quickly, but there are also examples of people being stuck at one of the early stages for a long time. How can these stages be better understood and used creatively to manage the rapid changes that sustainable development strategies create?

  1. "People resist change" is often said but seldom true! What is true is that "people resist imposed change". Test this by asking questions like "so, there's absolutely nothing that can be improved?" However, remember that how others' experience your behaviour depends on what you say, how you say it and the way you look - some call this "words, music and dance". The 'music' and 'dance' often carry more weight than the 'words' and reveal true intentions. See also overcoming obstacles.
  2. Assess an individual's readiness for change before introducing change. Consider both personal circumstances and organisational context. If an individual is facing difficulties in his or her personal situation and works for a department that is held in low esteem, change will be seen as threatening and new ideas unwelcome. Likewise, a few people feel really confident because things are going well and their organisation is highly regarded, so why change? Readiness for change is highest when people are at neither extreme. Those in the middle ground of self-confidence and organisational reputation are best able to cope with change.

Build readiness for change by taking appropriate action. It is easy to make matters worse for a person feeling overwhelmed. Try to 'read' the signs correctly. For those with low esteem, involve them in  visions and future possibilities that are appealing. Help them see a future that is so attractive that it becomes irresistible. For those who exude unwarranted confidence use facts, information and reality testing to confront them with valid data to reduce their high esteem. In both cases the aim is to move people to the middle ground where change will be more welcome and can be accommodated, leading to success. However, beware that some people display confidence in a brash way to mask their uncertainty. They have low esteem but try to hide it and for them the first approach of vision building is much more likely to succeed.

  1. What is the best way to achieve behaviour change? We can change our own behaviour but usually have little success in changing the behaviour of others .... unless they want to change. However, it is possible to help people to review their current behaviour, consider other options and learn skills that enable them to behave differently. Once the new behaviours are seen to work attitudes, beliefs and values also change. Some would argue that changes in values can be achieved and that when this happens attitudes change and new behaviour results. Following this sequence leads to more profound changes but can also be more traumatic. Behaviour change is a less traumatic way to bring about change. However, the appropriate approach for a particular situation may vary, so both approaches can be summarised as follows:
Changed behaviour AG00092_.gif (502 bytes) new attitudes AG00092_.gif (502 bytes) new values
New values AG00092_.gif (502 bytes) new attitudes AG00092_.gif (502 bytes) changed behaviour
  1. The Miracle Question. There are two main approaches to creating change. The first and most popular is the problem-focused approach. This involves identifying what is wrong with the current situation (i.e. identifying the problem), analysing the current situation, exploring possible solutions, and then taking action. Whilst this approach can be effective, all too often not only does it fail to solve the problem but it actually sustains it - energy and attention get focused on what isn't working and the problem has to be maintained so that the focus on solving it can continue! The second and rarer approach to creating change is to be solution-focused.

Instead of looking at what isn't working, we search out examples of where the change has already happened. If we can't find any, we imagine instances of the changes we want to have happen. We focus on these, encourage people to enact them, promote their occurrence, value and appreciate the behaviours we want and so on. In practical terms we shift from prohibition ("Don't do that" or, as Basil Fawlty so ineffectively said "Don't mention the war") to encouragement ("Do more of this").

One way to use this solution-focused approach in working with individuals is through the Miracle Question. So say something like this to the mentee "Suppose that whilst you are asleep tonight a miracle occurs and you have all the changes you wanted to get from mentoring. Because you are asleep, you don't know that the miracle has happened. What would be the first sign for you after you wake up which will tell you that the miracle has happened?"

The key to using this successfully is to help the person you are working with to be extremely precise about the specific changes they will notice in their feelings, thoughts, internal images, sensations, and so on. Do this by asking them questions about the details of their experience. To answer these questions they will have to create for themselves the experience of already having made the changes they are seeking - and so the "miracle" occurs! [The Miracle Question was submitted by Mike Turner.]

  1. Foundation for Business and Sustainable Development has devised an exam on sustainable development that be used by other organisations under licensing arrangements. The exam is a 50-question multiple choice test that is already gaining a good reputation. More information is available from the Foundation's web site at


  1. Appreciative Enquiry is a useful and effective approach, rather than a model, for bringing about commitment to a new vision among a group of people.
  2. Effective meetings when people come together to discuss an important topic need to be managed at three levels:

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  1. Resolving conflict is an important skill when dealing with sustainability issues because people often feel strongly about the subject and have different perspectives that can be hard to reconcile. It is helpful to separate three things:

    The positions people take are informed by their interests and needs. However, they often state their positions more readily than their interests or needs. As mutual trust develops the readiness to describe interests and in due course to share information about needs becomes easier. The more that can be shared about needs the more likely it is that common ground will be found and mutually agreed conclusions achieved. This is the essence of joint problem solving and effective negotiation towards win-win outcomes. Consider topical struggles with negotiated change such as the middle East or northern Ireland to bring this model to life. You may also know of local examples in your community.

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  2. The Gibb Model for group development is a useful framework for understanding the typical dynamics that occur when a group first comes together.
Stages of evolving needs Evidence of unmet needs Evidence of needs having been met Group capability

Seeking acceptance

Feeling inadequate, lacking confidence, suspicious, reluctant to cooperate Accepting self and others, gaining confidence, mutual trust, cooperation emerges

Cohesion & belonging

Wishing to communicate Superficial contribution, poor listening, polite exchanges, ideas withheld Openness, good listening, ideas expressed,  willing to challenge others

Problem-solving and decision-making

Need for goal clarity Apathy, competitiveness and focus on own goals Commitment, cooperation and goal integration

Productive work outcomes defined

Who is 'in charge'? Dependence on others or attacks on 'leaders' Interdependence, role differentiation and self-regulation

Organised working mode

Individual needs tend to evolve in the sequence shown in the left column from top to bottom. Many organisations tend to be formed working up from the bottom of the right hand column. To help new groups 'get up to speed' quickly it is desirable to allow time for the stages to evolve in the sequence set out in the left hand column - working with the 'natural' evolution of human needs. The typical way of setting up a group, stating who the leader will be, imposing the desired outcomes, setting decision-making procedures and selecting those who will join the group is often produces poor results and discontented groups.


  1. From current to desired situation. One of the best known and most widely used models to understand how to make change happen uses three elements, the current situation, the desired situation and the change programme. The starting point is to define the present situation (including business performance, organisation culture and social & environmental impact), then describe the desired situation in similar terms and conclude with the key elements of the strategy for moving from one to the other.
  1. When no progress is being made with a problem in an organisation it helps to ask and answer four questions:

    Answers to these questions indicate where the problem lies, who recognises it, and where to find support and opposition.

  1. The "change equation" or "change formula" is explained well. It is a powerful analytical tool for assessing a situation that needs to change and to identify where effort is most likely to be effective.
  2. Type of organisation. Some organisations see the world in terms of maintaining a legal business (L), with profit as the only important yardstick of achievement (P) and continuing with 'business as usual' (B). Others are seeing it in terms of ethical standards (E), enlightened self-interest (S) and innovation (I). Are you involved in a LPB or an ESI business?

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Transition from LPB to ESI involves fundamental change of values (see below), with commitment and understanding. For more information see Building to Last (p69 onwards).

  1. The Environment Council, or more specifically the Sustainable Business Forum, established by them, have devised a model for corporate environmental sustainability. This is based on the RIV model of three overlapping circles representing Resources (the resources a company depends on such as infrastructure and sinks to absorb pollution and wastes), Innovation (such as new technology and ideas that render an existing technology obsolete) and Values (including formal systems, public concerns, and managerial values). They also make use of SWOT Analysis - identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and lead on to a more extensive model for managing an environmentally sustainable business. [Source: Beyond the Twilight Zone and the Sustainable Business Forum: Case Study on Eastern Group]
  2. Many organisations are finding that "top down" change is less effective than "whole systems change". The approach adopted in the former is self-evident but in the latter involves people at all levels within the organisation and/or can also involve other "stakeholders". Fortunately new methodology is available to use with large groups. These include "Open Space Technology", "Real Time Strategic Change" and "Future Search Conferences". More about these three approaches is available from Martin Leith or Romy Shovelton.
  3. Many organisations are now working on their vision and values. They recognise the need to have a vision of the how business might be in the future and the values that will be required to operate effectively in a different world. (See also item 6 below)
  4. Management by values enables businesses to align their vision, goals, strategies and policies for optimum performance. Values are reflected in the priorities we choose, the decisions we make and the actions we take. Successful organisations recognise that shared values, visions and goals enable their people to appreciate the "larger picture" and build commitment that leads to high performance. The values map provides the framework and includes surviving, belonging, self-initiating and interdepending. Management by values is an approach used by Dr Mike Turner who can be contacted by email or visit his web site. See also the Values web site.
  5. Colin Tierney has designed a dedicated model to support organisation culture change based on his experience of group facilitation. An example of his work is described in Organisations & People, Vol 6, No 1, February 1999 and the processes he uses are posted to his web site. The web site includes a 29 slide presentation of Colin's approach to culture change and the models he uses.
  6. Values re-think. A useful approach involves asking everyone in an organisation to identify three sets of values:

    Overlaying these three value sets leads to 'electrifying' effects and debate. The challenge is then to agree the desired set of values for the organisation in the future. The closer these come to shared individual values the greater likelihood of more straightforward implementation of business strategy - as experienced by Shell in its recent work. [Source: John Elkington, From the Top, Guardian, 7 August 1999, quoting Richard Barrett, once Values Coordinator, World Bank]

Societal change

  1. E. O Wilson in his brilliant book Consilience (Little, Brown & Company, UK, 1998) describes a four-quadrant model, illustrated below:



    ethics These four domains are closely connected in our mind so enquiry in one leads to reasoning in the other three, but academically each is distinct with its own practitioners, language and models. This leads to confusion especially at the boundaries between disciplines.


    biology A series of circles can be drawn moving out from the centre of the quadrant to denote crossing between the quadrants. Near the centre of the quadrant the level of confusion increases creating instability but in the real world problems need to be solved at this intersection..

    Wilson goes on to develop the idea that we need a consilience (jumping together) of reasoning or a more integrated approach to education and problem solving in order to come to terms with the problems that exist in the real world. Wilson's book is favourably reviewed by Sir Crispin Tickell in Resurgence No 192]

  1. A model, or equation, invented by Paul Ehrlich has value because it helps to clarify the magnitude of change required worldwide. In fact the model has particular significance for developed countries where consumption is high and technological innovation is greatest. The model or equation is

    I = P x C x T (originally I=PxAxT, where 'A' stands for affluence)

    where I = impact, P = number of people, C = consumption per capita (GDP per capita) and T = technology. Population reduction in the short term is not feasible, reducing consumption is difficult, but technological change is feasible and practical and is already taking place. Estimates suggest that we need to use resources 90% more efficiently, but if this enormous change has been achieved in many areas.


  1. If you are looking for a whole toolkit of ideas to help with transformational processes you might find it online. Try this web site. [This idea contributed by Jessica Levant - email]
  2. Personal development tools for transformation are described in a helpful way on this web site
  3. CMC offers a range of methods for the cross-fertilisation of ideas on their helpful web site
  4. wpe2.gif (941 bytes) e3 is an interactive computer program (CD-ROM with user guide) designed to take the user step-by-step through an environmental effects evaluation. It has been developed by a team with extensive environmental management experience with major British companies. Key features include a system to hold data on both direct and indirect effects of your business, methodology to assess the significance of these effects, a database of regulatory information and identification of production and process effects on the environment. It costs 595 plus VAT, ISBN: 0 11 312275 6. {Source: Enviroscope No 2, p1]


Reframing problems

  1. The dispute between those who favour incineration of waste and those who advocate reuse and recycling can become so immersed in this dichotomy that they ignore the potential for cutting waste at source. By cutting waste at source it is sometimes possible to eliminate the need for another incinerator or landfill site, or at least postpone the need by many years.
  2. Attempts to curb car use can become focused on incentives and penalties that encourage people to use their car less. This can easily miss the importance of providing alternatives such as cycle paths, better public transport and safer streets, to encourage people to cycle, go by bus or walk - at least for shorter journeys.
  3. The widespread use of pesticides in agriculture and gardening fails to stimulate understanding about other ways to deal with pests. For example instead of looking for the best pesticide to kill black fly and aphids find out about the plants that encourage insects that devour these pests. Learn more from organisations such as the Soil Association (by email) and the Henry Doubleday Research Association (by email) or their web site.
  4. Instead of always having a meeting, often difficult to arrange and expensive to attend, why not use electronic mail to replace some meetings and experiment with teleconferencing.
  5. wpe2.gif (941 bytes) LA21 groups sometimes get bored or 'run out of steam'. Why not let the groups disband and invite those wishing to remain active to join the Steering Group. Some of these people will have interests wider than a single specialist group. The Steering group, working together as a team, can then identify new topics which could be tackled and short term sub groups can be formed to develop the ideas, calling in other specialists as required. This more flexible way of working is often more suitable for a fast changing subject like sustainable development.

Effective processes for bringing about change

  1. See the summary of secrets of successful change and learning from the past on Profound Changes page.

Return to top of page or visit challenging situations, agenda for change, threats and opportunities

Last modified 25 November 1999