How Senior Managers Can Take 5,000 People on a Journey

3 September 2007 David Williams

Organisational change is always a big upheaval, but it often hits senior management harder than other employees. This is because it falls down on them to guide employees successfully through change, whilst they themselves are sometimes caught up within the uncertain midst of it. David Williams explains all.

Change is not one journey, it's multiple journeys. If you've ever looked in the pocket in front of you on a plane, there's always a map that shows all the routes that the airline runs. Company changes are like this; there are multiple employees starting from different places, who are all required to end up at the same destination.

The aeroplane provides a good example for another factor of change: the captain can influence the behaviour of everyone on his plane. People entrust reaching their destination and even their lives to him. Therefore one man can potentially influence, say 200 people.

"Organisational changes do not just affect the way a business is run, they affect each member of staff individually."

Consequently, senior managers need to think, not how to move 5,000 people, but how to train up to 25 captains and their crew to successfully take their passengers on this journey.

Senior managers are responsible for ensuring they have everything they need for the journey and are agreed upon how they want things done. So first of all, when initialising change, have they identified their 25 captains? Do these captains know where they are going? And have they been trained up so they know how to fly their plane and deal with all eventualities?


Organisational changes do not just affect the way a business is run, they affect each member of staff individually and real change is about the individual and their influence upon others.

Managers actually pose the biggest resistance to change, because they have the most to lose by the changing status quo. What is essential is that those in managerial positions do not let their personal feelings and anxieties affect their leadership skills – they are in the position they are for a reason after all. Staff need to be able to look to their seniors to create conditions where change poses the least upheaval possible, and where ideas and innovations to enhance change fall on fertile ground.

If management fail to do this, they could unfortunately find themselves losing a lot more than they bargained for.


For senior management, one of the most important things is that they make sure the organisation works together in effective teams. Effective teams operate in an environment in which two-way trust and open, honest communications exist.

In order to visualise a high-performing team, The Red Arrows provide an excellent example. They demonstrate complete trust in one another through mutual accountability and a shared way of working.

Effective teams mean structure and unity – staff must not be left to their own devices. Managers may initially think that by doing this they are making employees working lives easier, but staff need boundaries, the same as everyone does in all areas of our lives. Lack of parameters can only lead to chaos.


Leaders need to ask themselves 'how do my staff deal with everyday dilemmas'? When this has been worked out, a decision-making framework then needs to be put together, dependant upon the company's values and visions. The Disney company illustrate this brilliantly, by putting in order of importance the behaviours they want to see.

"The species that survived were not the most intelligent, they were the most adaptable."

Disney's overarching vision is to make people happy, but this is tied in with safety being of prime importance. For example, if Mickey Mouse is part of a Disneyland parade and sees a lost family in distress, it is absolutely OK to go and help them out, because although the show is important, courtesy is more so.

Customer satisfaction ultimately comes first, because let's face it; customers are the livelihood of any company. However, many employers miss the vital link between satisfied employees and satisfied customers.

Managing employees and managing customers are one and the same. Commitment to a brand needs to come from both sides of the fence in order for you to run a successful business. You can't make customers passionate about you, unless you yourselves are passionate about everything you do everyday.

For senior managers to successfully lead their teams through change, they need to have strength of character, the power to lead an effective team, and inherently know the company's values and visions. And finally, remember Charles Darwin's famous quote – "The species that survived were not the most intelligent, they were the most adaptable to change."