The Effective Change Manager's Handbook: An Interview with Dan Skelsey


In this interview, Dan Skelsey, one of the editors for The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook, talks about all things change management, why it's important to focus on what is not changing, and where a good place to start is for your inevitable changes.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Today we are joined by Dan Skelsey, one of the editors of The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook: Essential Guidance to the Change Management Body of Knowledge. He’s going to be speaking to us today about change management. First off, let me thank you for joining us today.

Dan Skelsey: You’re welcome.

Cameron: Can you also tell us a little bit about yourself?

Dan: I’m currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but I was brought up in the U.K., in London. I went to university and studied engineering at Cambridge. From there, I moved into the software business. Like a lot of people involved in software and IT, I got involved in projects almost from the very beginning and rapidly became a project manager. And then project management just naturally led to change management.

Change management is a relatively new concept, but it’s been going on for a long time. I think I was doing change management as a project manager long before it was called change management. While I still do project management and I teach it as well, I consider myself perhaps more of a change manager than a project manager now.

Cameron: You have a pretty interesting program at Project Laneways, correct?

Dan: Yes, we do. Project Laneways is a company I started about eight or nine years ago. We have offices in Melbourne, Australia, and Auckland, New Zealand, and provide services across both countries, and occasionally internationally as well. We essentially provide education, consultancy, support in project management and change management, and some of the skills and competencies around that, such as facilitation, building business cases, and that kind of thing.

Cameron: You talked about change management and how it’s a newer discipline. In your own words, can you describe exactly what is change management?

Dan: It’s interesting, if you Google “change management” you’ll get nearly a billion definitions of change management. They all boil down to taking people on a journey, so that if an organization (and we’re usually talking organizations, but sometimes it’s communities) is trying to introduce or change something [they can bring those people with them]. Change management is about bringing people along on that journey.

I’ve seen many formal definitions and they’re all a bit of a mouthful, so I tend to fall back on the phrase that change management is about helping people to be ready, willing, and able to take on new things. “Ready, willing, and able” is my go-to phrase when I talk about change management.

Cameron: I like that. That’s a very good definition. Who should be interested in change management and why?

Dan: There’s a number of people, really. First of all, anyone who wants to become a change manager would obviously be interested, but change management is a fundamental competency for all organizations.

Most organizations introduce change to make something better. They’re either trying to provide better services, lower their costs, or improve their revenue. Even government bodies are trying to do more for less. All organizations are trying to introduce change to make things better. To get the benefits from that change, to actually realize the intended savings, intended efficiencies, and to realize all the things you hope for when you started that change, you need change management.

To tell you a very simple example, you can go out and spend millions of dollars on some brand-new computer system that’s whiz-bang and makes everyone’s breakfast for them, but unless people are actually willing to use it, are able to use it (and use it well) then you won’t get the cost savings [and] you won’t get the value out of it that you were hoping for. So, I think all organizations need to be looking at change management to build up their competency.

Then down at the individual level, I think anyone who’s involved in organizations making changes, such as program managers, project managers, communication specialists, and learning and development specialists—they all need to know about it. The more you know about change management, the more flexible you become and the more you are able to analyze yourself and actually see how you are, in fact, resisting change yourself.

Cameron: What factors should be considered when you’re considering change and change management?

Dan: That’s a big question. I’m tempted to say, “The answer is read the book.”

Cameron: That’s a good answer.

Dan: I’ve got a copy of the book here, but it’s heavy. It’s 600 pages. It’s a lot of very good stuff in here, actually. If I had to try and boil it down into some of the factors, I think you need to think about the context of your change, why you’re doing it, the background to the change, the speed and scope of the change, is it small, is it just a little bit, or is it big and organization-wide.

I think one of the most important things actually is to focus on what is not changing, because when you focus on what is not changing, it provides an anchor for a lot of people. Take the Kindle example. When I moved to the Kindle, what was not changing was the authors I like to read. The actual text was still the actual text [and only the platform changed].

I think it’s also important to understand the culture and style of the organization. Change is generally easier in organizations where there’s a culture of trust and respect and strong and transparent communication. It’s harder in more hierarchical organizations or in organizations where there’s not so much trust. If the organization has got a poor history of making change in the past, that looms over you a bit.

One of the things that often gets in the way of change, one of the blockers to change is reward systems, KPI systems that are not appropriate to what you want. To take a very simple example of if you want to bring in a culture of developing a relationship: If the culture is you want your call center to develop is to develop relationships with their customers and then you measure them on how many calls an hour they make, it’s sending out a mixed message. You need to be sure that you’re measuring people on what you say you want, not on what you used to want or just because you can measure it.

Cameron: That makes sense. Now, along with Richard Smith, David King and Ranjit Sidhu, and some other contributors, you’ve written a book called The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook: Essential Guidance to the Change Management Body of Knowledge that came out at the end of 2014. What led you guys to this book?

Dan: We four were involved with a change management qualification for an organization called the APMG, which is based in the U.K. but has branches worldwide. We have been developing syllabuses and exams for their qualification and three of us were actually delivering training for their qualification. It was quite good. It’s based on quite a good book. The problem was that there was a feeling that it needed to be linked to a more respected institute, and the book that it was based on were the views of two quite well-respected academics, but [only] just two of them.

The APMG formed an alliance with the Change Management Institute, which again is an international organization. It was founded in Sydney but it has offices around the world. The APMG and the Change Management Institute collectively put together a book. We four worked on that book and it’s now owned by the Change Management Institute and it’s The Change Management Body of Knowledge.

So, in 2013, the Change Management Institute launched the first Change Management Body of Knowledge [and] we were the authors of that. I think that was a significant milestone for the change management profession. It was a body of knowledge that had been contributed to by about fifty reviewers. We had fifty reviewers internationally poking in, making suggestions, criticizing it, so it wasn’t the work of just three or four people, it was the collective work of fifty-odd people, and in turn had been based on previous work done by the Change Management Institute into what competencies you need.

That came out in October 2013. I haven’t even answered your question yet. The thing about The Change Management Body of Knowledge is it says what you need to know, but it doesn’t explain it. For instance, it says you need to know how to facilitate workshops, but it doesn’t tell you how to facilitate workshops.

The APMG saw the need for a book that did that, that explained it, so The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook, the book that we’re here to talk about, mirrors The Change Management Body of Knowledge chapter by chapter, almost virtually section by section, and if The Change Management of Body of Knowledge says you need to know about this, this handbook tells you about this.

That’s how it came about. We four had worked together for several years and we acted as the editors. Richard was the lead editor. Each of us wrote at least one chapter in the book but we also brought in, I’ve lost track of the number, about fifteen other authors from around the world.

Cameron: What were some of the challenges with putting this book together?

Dan: The first one was the deadline. We went from not having all the authors identified in January to finalizing the proofs with the publisher to I think it was in July.

Cameron: Wow. That’s pretty quick.

Dan: It was in that six-to-eight-month timeframe. I haven’t got the dates just in front of me. That was only possible because we had fifteen authors working on different bits of the book.

Initially I was a bit concerned about that, but then I thought to myself, if you’re at a university and you study a topic at university, so you might study business, you’re going to have one lecturer who’s going to talk to you about finance and another lecturer who’s going to talk to you about logistics and another lecturer who’s going to talk to you about organizational psychology, you get the best person for the job.

Cameron: Right.

Dan: I feel that analogy works quite well with this book. Each of the authors is highly respected in the field that they write about in this book. You do notice as you go through the book every now and then the tone and the style changes, but that’s because you are now talking to one of the best people in the world on that topic.

Cameron: Right, and having that change in style and tone helps keep readers enthused because it does give that refreshing new look and aspect that also gives it credibility.

Dan: Yeah, no, I think you’re right. It keeps it fresh and it gives it credibility, yeah.

Cameron: Who is the target audience for this book? Is it for people who are new to change management? Is it for people who are experienced change managers looking to improve? Or is it for everyone?

Dan: I think it’s all of the above, really. I know a lot of experienced change managers who’ve started reading it or have read it who find a lot of value in it. That applies to myself. Even as I was editing this book, I learned quite a lot of stuff.

I think if you’re an aspiring change manager, if you want to become a change manager, I cannot think of a better book than this. I realize that’s a bit self-serving...

Cameron: No, it’s fine.

Dan: ...But I cannot find any other book that has such breadth and scope and detail as this one. I like the fact that it’s underpinned by the Change Management Institute’s competencies that they established for change managers. So, aspiring change managers, existing change managers, people who work in aspects of change, so that’s project managers, program managers, educators, and I think also just general senior managers in organizations.

These days, change is pretty much inevitable. It’s pretty much constant. If you want your organization or your part of the organization to work effectively, one of the things you’ve got to be able to do is absorb change, and there’s a lot of really good information in this book about how to do that.

Cameron: Then I’m going to ask why is it worth reading?

Dan: I think it’s worth reading for a number of reasons. First of all, as we discussed earlier, the varied tones and styles makes it readable. Most of the authors have gone out of their way to make their chapters highly readable. There’s a lot of really interesting examples and case studies in the book.

The nature of the book is such you can read a chapter at a time. It is 600 pages, and you might pick it up and think, ‘Oh, this is a bit of a challenge,’ but you can read it a chapter at a time, put it away and read another chapter. You can dip into it, go to the bits that take your fancy. Although each chapter refers to the other chapters, each chapter is fairly self-contained.

To be honest, I just don’t know a better way of picking up a subject in change management.

Cameron: So beyond being very comprehensive and extensive, it’s also very digestible.

Dan: Yeah, and it’s friendly. It’s approachable.

Cameron: That’s good. All right, now part of your contribution to the book is a section on facilitation. In brief, what is facilitation in relation to change management and why does it deserve to be focused on?

Dan: First of all, what we mean by facilitation is being able to get a group of people in a room, anywhere from two or three up to fifty or 100 or more sometimes, and enabling that group of people to work together and come to some conclusions. It’s understanding the objectives, setting up an agenda, setting up a process, managing conflict, and just making sure that the group work effectively together. Years ago, the Change Management Institute identified this as a core competency for change managers, and years ago, independently, I was teaching this.

In fact, I actually think it’s a core competency for almost anyone who wants to be a manager in an organization. The ability to get people together and tackle a problem, whatever the problem is, collectively, is a very powerful tool, and it is something that can be learned. Some people have assumed in the past or have said to me, “I think you either are born knowing how to do this or not,” and that’s not true. It is a very learnable, very trainable skill and competency. It’s the sort of thing where just knowing a little will make you so much better, to be quite honest.

Have I answered your question?

Cameron: Yes. What factors help contribute to good facilitation, in brief, without giving away too much of the chapter?

Dan: I think it’s about understanding the objectives that you’re trying to reach and preparing for that. Preparation is a big part of good facilitation, really thinking through how you’re going to do it, what stakeholders are available to you, what resources are available to you, and perhaps most importantly, what time is available to you. Sometimes these things have to be done quite quickly.

Cameron: Now facilitation is just one of the chapters in the book, and as you said, each of the chapters is written by people who are very well-respected in their field. What are some of the other chapter focuses that we can look forward to?

Dan: It’s a bit of a difficult question. They’re all good, to be honest. I actually do have favorites, and I know that all the other editors have favorites as well, and sometimes we overlap and sometimes we don’t. I think if you want a concentrated digest, a model change management theory, chapter one is excellent. I think the advice in chapters four and five on stakeholder engagement and communication are excellent.

I’m a big fan of chapter seven, which is about preparing for change. There’s a lot of, I think, really good practical information and techniques in there. I’m a bit of a fan of chapter eleven as well, which is all about the other end. Chapter seven is before the change starts. Chapter eleven is sort of at the end. When change has finished, how do you maintain the change? How do you sustain it?

There’s a lot of other good stuff in the between.

Cameron: So basically, all the chapters are really good; it’s just a matter of what you’re interested in and what you’re looking to get out of it.

Dan: Yeah, absolutely, although I have to say, on a personal note, I’m a big fan of my own chapter.

Cameron: All right. Fantastic. Now, to wrap things up here with one last question, you’ve led a career in change management that has taken place across five different continents, that has offered you a wide variety of experiences; how do the differences in culture and geography play into change management?

Dan: It’s a good question, that, and I think the first thing I need to do is fess up a little bit. Most of the time I’ve been working with Anglo, Western, English-speaking cultures, so the British, Americans, and even when I was in South America, I was to a large extent working with Americans, and of course Australians and New Zealanders. Although each of those cultures are different, they have a huge number of similarities and there’s no real language barrier.

I was actually reflecting on some work I did in Thailand many years ago. It is interesting how different cultures approach different things. I think, in each culture, the expectations from the staff, from the organization they’re in can vary quite a lot, and there’s a thing called the psychological contract which is the unwritten agreement that you have with your employer, and it will be in the form of something like, “If I work hard, you will be nice to me,” kind of.

Some of the details of the psychological contract I think vary from culture to culture quite a lot, and so does, and there’s a good book about this, so does the attitude to time. Now a lot of change management takes place in the context of deadlines, and some cultures work with deadlines a lot better than others. The Thais don’t really like deadlines. The Germans love them.

I know we’re here to talk about my book, but there is a great book about this called When Cultures Collide by Richard Lewis. It’s been a bit of a go-to reference to me when I’m starting to think about change in other cultures.

Cameron: All right. Fantastic. That actually wraps up our interview today. Once again, this was Dan Skelsey. He is one of the editors, along with Richard Smith, David King and Ranjit Sidhu. The book is titled The Effective Change Manager’s Handbook: Essential Guidance to the Change Management Body of Knowledge.

Thank you so much, Dan.

Dan: Thank you very much, Cameron.


Dan Skelsey Change ManagementDan's career as a program manager, change manager, and educator has spanned five continents. He has used facilitation as a tool in every role, and realized that this was a learnable and vital skill for all forms of management. In 2007, he established Project Laneways with a mission to provide quality learning experiences in Change Management, Project Management and related topics. He was the first to offer the APMG Facilitation Practitioner certification training in Australasia. Dan is an examiner for the APMG change management qualifications, and was one of four authors for the first global Change Management Body of Knowledge. He has a masters from Cambridge and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

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