A change management framework that secured success for a major oil company.

What were our big risks when we announced to a 300 seater operation in Cape Town that all activities are planned to be relocated to other centres?

The wellbeing of people, possible deterioration of service to customers and a high attrition rate all sat at the top of our risk matrix.

With that, how did we secure high engagement, exceptional delivery and 0% attrition for a complex delivery like this?

The foundation to our success story were committed and deeply caring senior executives and a global leadership team. The clearly articulated business case, early planning and considerate dedication to getting this change journey right for everyone involved was paramount to our success.

Informing 300 people that their jobs have an end date is a big responsibility. It has a huge impact on them directly, on their families and even their communities.

So with care for the people at heart and with a focus on the business outcomes, here are four simple systemic principles that held this complex change management framework on course.

1. Communication and the flow of information:

Information is the most valuable asset for successful change management, and so ensuring that communication channels are planned for, open, and actively utilised is key.

One the one hand, sharing what is planned and when and how it is going to happen and who communicates what must be planned. On the other hand, there is a need to constantly tap into how people are feeling, provide opportunities to hear what their concerns are and keeping the conversations going is just as important.

Continuously make adjustments to ensure optimal information flow.

Wherever information is not easily made available, where there is a communication gap, information will be randomly created by those who are not informed.

Anticipating this ‘self-generating’ source of information is essential in the management plan, especially considering the high levels of anxiety created by such an announcement.

This first thing to consider carefully is how the new information about the planned change will be introduced to the staff.

The initial communication immediately disrupts the status quo for everyone impacted and thus took a huge amount of consideration, as well as planning on how to support staff after they heard the news.

Careful consideration was given to view the communications plan from the perspective of the impacted staff.

To be able to support staff effectively, the local leadership team was called together for an upfront engagement with the necessary support.

This provided them with the time they needed to digest the new information and adjust before being asked to support their respective teams.

2. Encourage hearing all voices, views and feelings:

Continuing with the aspect of information flow and communication, the change journey included careful planning and consideration of how everyone that is impacted is heard. A change initiative of this nature can only be effective, or even survive, if everyone becomes part of the journey.

Change management needs to happen with everyone, rather than to them.


A simple, yet very powerful act, that space must be created for. It cannot be done partially or haphazardly.

We created many opportunities via open dialogue forums and also nurtured informal channels to listen to people’s thoughts and feelings as we progressed through the year-long change plan.

An essential aspect that assisted me as a leader was to be acutely aware of the emotional field.

What were the feelings behind the conversations and what was the atmosphere of the place?

Articulating this and probing for the right feeling words, allowing emotions to be expressed, freed up the capacity for the teams to then focus on the demanding work that was at hand.

In fact, I strongly believe that organisations can build high-performance teams with an entirely new approach to leadership, a systemic approach that deeply understands and appreciates the power of this emotional field.

To find out more, download my eBook 👉 here.

Thinking together:

Creating the right conditions for people to come together and express their concerns and think of alternate ways of solving challenges was very helpful to the team members.

We had an effective staff representative council that was very active in supporting everyone to think together about how to make the change as effective as possible and what corrective actions were needed.

Working with uncertainty:

Actively acknowledging and working with the feeling of uncertainty helped contextualise all communication as well as the reactions and concerns along the way.

3. There is a clear and transparent decision-making process:

While we actively encouraged input along the way, and especially in the early stages, we also provided a clearly communicated process for final decision-making for the project.

This gave the inclusive forums for open conversations and active listening a strong context and backing to manage expectations.

It enabled staff to speak freely and provide valuable input while knowing that their input will go through a process of review and consideration without any guarantee of their concerns would be met.

For all considered input we provided feedback with rationale to why the project team did or did not take certain input into account.

Honesty about how things will be done built trust in the system and strengthened relationships.

4. Excellently coordinated project management team

The project plan involved the coordination between 5 global hubs that were involved in supporting each other for a seamless overall project delivery.

While the Cape Town centre was taking the steps to ready itself to train the new receiving centres (while in parallel handling day to day customer queries), the receiving centres had to get everything in order to hire new staff, coordinate training classes and then to transition to handling the live customer queries.

The variables were immense and were handled by the global project management with absolute dedication and professionalism.

Did we have hiccups? YES!

Did we have misunderstandings and different views on things? Definitely yes!

And with the support of the above 3 principles, the effect of these challenges and tensions were minimised.

The Outcome?

This project was designed to take 13 months and was completed in 12.

The Cape Town operation managed to achieve:

  • High engagement throughout the journey with staff being commended for creating excellent training material and being dedicated to effective training for the receiving centres.

  • 0% attrition which meant that we secured our experienced and knowledgeable staff to support customers and the receiving centres up until the last day.

The biggest focus for me as the senior leader in the operation was to put people in the centre of everything. When people feel that they are considered and heard, are communicated to respectively, openly and honestly, and that their feelings and experiences matter and are acknowledged, the work gets done.

With the support of the global and local leadership teams, we continuously created space and consideration for a diverse set of responses along the way. We continued to listen and keep the communication channels open, even in, and especially in tough times.

Life, all of life, insists on participation

Margaret Wheatley

If you’re looking to set the conditions for a successful and engaged change journey, or strengthen the relationships to build agility and resilience in your team or organisation, simply click 👉 here to get in touch with me. I’d love to have a conversation!

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