It turns out you can take a horse to water and get it to drink…

I’ve just met a truly inspiring Process Excellence / LEAN / Six Sigma expert who made some sound points so thought I’d capture a few of them in a blog whilst they were fresh in my mind.

The difference between ‘change’ and ‘transformation’  is people!

For any Programme or Project to succeed your project / programme directors need to do three things:

  • Validate;
  • Qualify;
  • Make Changes

But without contribution, ownership and engagement from the people already in the business these changes won’t stick.

Sadly, I have seen big programmes fail, time and time again, whether it be a system implementation, or a people or process change! Time, Money (£m’s) and effort invested only for the project to potentially be delivered on time but be the wrong iteration of the system, process or structure for that business.  One simple reason – the people!

Project Managers and Directors should not be judged on their ability to land a solution but on how well that solution is received, understood and embedded into the business.

Last year a large successful professional business implemented an exciting company-wide change that was 100% backed by the executive board, well-funded, and lead by a renowned consultancy business. It had all the right elements to succeed. The consultancy business made its recommendations on the right solution for the business, the board and SLT were fully engaged and digging deep to get the right change in. They brought in professional interims to deliver the changes and conduct more technical roles – all in all a best-in-class team. Fast forward 18 months and the programme was delivered – against the odds it was on time, almost on budget – and was a massive ……DISASTER!


Because the whole team that was hired in to make this change for the business had forgotten one major factor – THE PEOPLE!  The mechanics of any business is its people!  Not just the Exec and the SLT and a few reluctant employees who had been ‘seconded’ to work on this project and told what to do.  A major change programme needs a multi-functional, multi-cultural intricate mix of people that really understand the impact of the change to the business. Whether you’re running the programme or just contributing to the delivery – you can’t apply a one size fits all approach to change.

The people in the business need to shape the change.  Yes, a PM needs to understand the symptoms, yes, they need to validate and qualify and yes, they need to direct and deliver the change – but it should never predetermine ‘how’ that is shaped and ‘how’ that is delivered before they have taken their lead from the people in the business.

As the gent I met this afternoon said to me – technically he knows his onions – he’s been leading business excellence programmes for well over a decade – there’s not a lot more he can learn about process improvement and process excellence.  But, what he never professes to know, is what is right for any business, nor will he be drawn on it – only the people within will know that.  His skill is helping them get to that and then deliver it.

That brings me on to his second point that resonated with me…he said that he heard on several occasions board members blaming the people and the culture for not embedding or embracing change, to coin the phrase – ‘you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’

His philosophy on this was that if the objective is to get the horse to drink – why not leave the water with the horse and let the horse decide how they drink the water! 

The trap that a lot of consultants / contractors and interims fall into is that they think that they need to provide all the answers and so come to a project with the solution already determined. When in fact any complex change programme requires a layered working-group made up of diverse skill-sets, different pay graded individuals, applicable to all the different work-streams, prepared to contribute to the ‘how’.

Simple stuff – rarely executed well though.

Anna Chenery, September 2018

It turns out you can take a horse to water and get it to drink…