Seven ways to close the gap between internal and external change

4 minute read
Eliminating, or at least minimising, the gap between external and internal change is key if organisations are to succeed, says Harvard Business School professor John P Kotter. The People Space asked seven experts how they would do this
Sian Harrington

Emily Mei Carter

  1. Build your organisation from the foundation up

Think of your organisation as the house that you live in. While all houses have similar components – bathrooms, kitchens, etc – a house that your ancestors built 200+ years ago was based on inherently different materials, technologies and trends from those which are available now. If you inherited this house you’d probably make some small changes, maybe even larger renovations, but it would never be exactly the house you would build if you started from scratch. Think about the materials and technologies that you have available for you now and then build your organisation from the foundation up rather than simply tweaking systems you’ve inherited from others.

Emily Mei Carter is an organisational identity and future of work strategist at Ecosphere Consulting who believes in a future where no system causes harm through bad design

Michael Alexis

  1. Recognise failures in a positive way

Two of the biggest factors limiting organisational change are inertia and risk aversion. For the former, we've all heard the rationale that we continue with outdated systems ‘because it's the way we've always done it’. Risk aversion provides a more interesting case study. For example, you can start to ask questions like ‘why might our people be afraid of change?’ and ‘are there ways we can make change less risky for our team?’ At our company we are constantly navigating and adapting to market shifts. One way we've been able to close the gap between internal and external change is by recognising failures in a positive way. At a small level we have a process for celebrating small mistakes or nitpicks by reframing them as an opportunity to make everything we do just a little bit better. At a larger scale we have a #you-are-awesome channel for peer-to-peer praise. This outlet provides feedback and recognition for day-to-day contributions that managers and leadership might miss, which is another way to encourage progress and change. The result of these positive feedback mechanisms is that there is less risk associated with change, and so our team is happy to continue adapting with the market.

Michael Alexis is CEO and owner at


  1. Facilitate resilience and adaptability

External change is a given. It’s easy to forget that organisations are a collection of people. Regardless of  ‘a world long gone’ the human condition endures. People within organisations can be the creators and drivers of change, while at other times they are having to respond to change beyond their control. Either way, the key is to facilitate both resilience and adaptability as attributes. This means helping people to remove barriers both psychologically and in terms of process. I am a great believer in using tools routed in science and psychology to recruit people with the right mindset, then in leading them well, and finally in using quality coaching to help achieve a clarity of mind unencumbered by the psychological barriers that so often hold people back from having the courage to innovate, solve problems quickly and adapt to change.

Amanda Menahem is a consultant and coach and former HR director at Hastings Direct

Susy Roberts

  1. Don’t digitise without rethinking your future business model

Don’t rush into digitalisation without re-thinking the future business model of the organisation. Too many organisations digitalise processes without  developing sustainable business models – they have to be introduced concurrently and support each other. Business strategies and goals should be future-proofed so that the new processes that are being implemented won’t be obsolete in three years’ time – it’s not as simple as just migrating to new platforms and leaving everything else the way it is.

Susy Roberts is executive coach and founder of people development consultancy Hunter Roberts 

Helen Ashton

  1. Create an agile culture

An agile culture within an organisation is the number one enabler of internal change. And to have an agile culture you must have a purpose, a guiding light for why people come to work every day and why customers continue to support your business. Every business I have worked with thinks that their culture is agile but clearly this is not the case as we see the demise of many household names which have just not kept in step with the changing world around them. But there are real examples of highly successful businesses out there that are powered by purpose and agile cultures. It is easy to change technology, collect more data and refresh a target operating model, but without an agile culture change will not be self-sustaining and will quickly wither away to nothing.

Helen Ashton is CEO of challenger management consultancy Shape Beyond and former CFO of ASOS plc

Gill Brabner

  1. Take a compassionate approach

    Being in a VUCA environment with constant change can be stressful.  Therefore it is essential that managers take a compassionate approach.  Being compassionate, experiencing compassion and even witnessing compassion has a positive impact on us.  When we experience compassion at work, we view the organisation as caring.  It also increases our feelings of competence and capability. We feel valued and have a sense of dignity. Here is an easy way to bring compassion into your everyday interactions:
    • Show empathy by listening to their perspective

    • Show you care by knowing what matters to them
    • Take action that is appropriate and timely.

Gill Brabner is director at Resound Training and Development 

Melissa Dain

  1. Adopt the mindset that employees are ‘consumers of work’

    To attract, motivate and retain the best talent, employers need to implement the idea that employees are ‘consumers of work' by applying a customer-centric lens to employee touchpoints. Delightfully frictionless experiences, best-in-class technologies, career planning flexibility, and inviting working environments are fundamental to support employees adapting to and keeping pace with the external change and volatility affecting us all.

    Melissa Dain is director of culture & strategy at Integral
Published 24 November 2021
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