Are you a fox or a cat… can you keep coaching simple?

What is coaching? What does it entail? Is it necessarily complicated? Or can you keep coaching simple?

As professional coaches, we have studied coaching and we continue to study it to enhance our practice and professional development.

What is coaching?

As such, we encounter many techniques and approaches. Here’s a few that come to mind: clean language, balance, life coaching, goal planning, self-belief, neuro-linguistic programming, transactional analysis, co-active coaching, GROW, OSKAR, SIMPLE, the differences between executive coaching and life coaching, business coaching and performance coaching, career coaching, evoking choice, generating responsibility, provocative coaching, Theory U, The Wheel of Life, being a thinking partner, the reality check, well-formed outcomes, neurological levels, parallel processes, projection, transference, resilience, incisive questioning, Level III listening, mirroring, reflecting, mindfulness, paradoxical intentions, therapy, Street Wisdom, the Gestalt cycle of experience, MBIT, Mindfulness, Total Dutch Coaching, …

Okay I made that last one up, but you see my point? There’s potentially a lot to consider.

Also, whilst deliberating all these choices that might inform the killer coaching question to ask next, the coach must also remain humble, calm and highly self-aware; a curious, focused, expert helper who models aspects of what she is coaching (performance, life balance, resilience, etc).


It’s no wonder coaches are still and reflective. They are sitting there processing all of that!

Oh yes, and remember coaches are usually highly experienced professionals who have mountains of advice, anecdotes and experience to share, but No! You aren’t allowed to do that as it would be directive and might cross a professional boundary into counselling, consulting or management. Nor can you become a crutch or a buddy or friend.

Have you stopped to consider these challenges recently? Do we need to have all these choices in our heads or should we focus on one approach, one type of coaching? Perhaps listening is enough.

I am reminded of Aesop’s fable The Fox and The Cat: A fox and a cat are discussing their approach for evading danger. The fox, known for his cunning, boasts of having hundreds of tricks and deceptions, whereas the cat confesses to having only one. When the hunters and hounds arrive, the cat quickly runs up a tree. The fox is caught out deliberating which of his clever strategies to pursue and falls prey to the dogs.

Perhaps, like the fox, you have many techniques in your coaching kitbag; perhaps our challenge as coaches is to “be more cat”, and rely on ourselves in-the-moment?

Methinks there is a lot to be said for keeping things simple.

The A to Z of OD: S is for Supervision

In coaching and in certain regulated professions such as clinical practice and social care, the concept of supervision is well-established. However in OD consulting, it is in its infancy.

If you are an OD practitioner employed within an organisation, maybe you have a line manager who provides this role. However, many in-house OD practitioners are lone rangers reporting to a generalist HR Director who may not have the experience or deep understanding of OD as they do themselves.

Many external OD practitioners work for larger consulting firms and may well have line managers who provide a supervisory role. As with internal OD practitioners, this may not always be the case. Perhaps you are the OD/change expert in a larger firm that has a broader offer? Who do you turn to when you need professional guidance and support?

As professional OD practitioners – internal or external – our challenges are to consult flawlessly through the five stages of the consulting cycle, respect client confidentiality and boundaries and hold an appropriate ethical attitude. Supervision is there to help us solve dilemmas, support us through emotional challenges and provide fresh perspectives so we understand ourselves and our clients better and develop into the consultants we want to be.

If you feel like a lone-agent OD practitioner, how are you getting the support you need?

There are several ways you can get the support you need. You might join an OD networking or other peer support group, seek a mentor or hire a coach, or even hire a qualified consultancy supervisor. There are a few of us* out there.

OD thought leader: Ed Schein (b. 1928)

It would be hard to overestimate Ed Schein’s contribution to the field of OD. As former professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, Schein won several awards for his work in organisational culture, individual motivation and career development and the process of consulting.


These days, it is commonly accepted that organisation’s culture is concerned with the shared meanings that members give to past and present organisational experiences. Ed Schein pioneered this thinking in the 1980s, suggesting culture is a layered model of symbolic artefacts, behavioural norms, espoused values and underlying tacit assumptions.

Motivation (‘career anchors’)

As part of his career anchors model, Schein argued there are three core factors (economic, social and self-actualising) that motivate individuals in organisations. Many OD practitioners – me included – believe organisations must make the complex assumption that motivation is a combination of economic, social and self-actualising factors. Managers’ behaviours, e.g. more participative management styles, communication, recognition/rewards and encouraging personal development, both symbolise and enact the organisational culture.

Implications for OD

OD is partly about good diagnosis of the current and desired culture and influencing the role of leaders to develop appropriate culture through symbolic means.

We can enhance organisational effectiveness whilst stimulating the self-actualising element of individual motivation by creating linkages between the organisation and the employee – a sense of belonging.

The benefit of observing organisations through their cultures is that the OD practitioner is attuned to the human side of the organisation, not just its functional subsystems. The key to successful organisation change is to view it as complementary: culture change and functional change in harmony.

Process consultation

Schein’s interpreted collaborative consulting as ‘process consultation’. For him, this is about helping others understand the importance of adherence to the social rules surrounding human relationships. His “ultimate dilemma … is how to produce change in the client system without people losing face”. Referring to Lewin’s ice cube theory of change, he sets out three elements that must be present during unfreezing, i.e. where motivation for change is created:

  1. Disconfirmation (or lack of confirmation);
  2. Creation of guilt or anxiety;
  3. Provision of psychological safety.


One of the main reasons the unfreezing stage of change fails is that people resist change and hence pervert the change effort. There are many reasons people resist change: they don’t want to lose something of value; lack trust in management; hold a belief that change doesn’t make sense for the organisation; have a low tolerance for change; or exhibit passive resistance to change by complying with the change without real commitment.

OD practitioners must find ways to value resistance to change; a healthy tension during unfreezing helps to ensure the change plan is robust. This requires the OD practitioner to recognise resistance as trapped energy, and engage the resistors in dialogue – they may be sensitive to flaws in the plan, or be able to identify unintended consequences of the change. The OD practitioner must beware of low tolerance to change and not require people to change too much too quickly.

I suggest participative change through process consultation is the most appropriate approach to ensure change targets are involved in setting the change agenda. Process consultation is also the best approach to overcome passive resistance, where people are only accepting change to save face; adopting anything other than process consultation models here “increases the risk that the client will feel humiliated and will lose face”.

Resistance can also be at play in the refreezing stage. Even when an individual has refrozen new concepts, these changes may violate the expectations of ‘significant others’ such as bosses, peers and team members. Schein suggests the initial change target may need to implement a programme of change for these others with them as targets. Ultimately a strategy for change should identify likely sources of resistance and ensure methods for dealing with it are consistent with the overall strategy.

Recommended reading:

SCHEIN, Edgar H., (1981). Coming to a New Awareness of Organizational Culture. Sloan Management Review (winter), pp3-16.

SCHEIN, Edgar H., (1988). Organizational Psychology (3rd Ed). Englewood Cliffs, NJ., Prentice Hall.

SCHEIN, Edgar H., (1987). Process Consultation Volume II: Lessons for Managers and Consultants. Reading, MA., Addison-Wesley.


*Self-interest alert: I have just graduated as a Supervisor for Coaching and Consultancy with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations.

The A to Z of OD: N is for Nudge Theory

What is Nudge Theory?

Let’s suppose your organisation is trying to recycle more of its waste. You might write a new policy and lay down some rules for employees to use recycling bins. Then, you might inform them of this policy through briefings that explain why you are introducing recycling bins. You might even engage your employees in deciding where the bins will be located, what to do about confidential waste, and other matters they may be concerned about.

Or you could simply ‘nudge’ your employees into doing what you want them to do.

According to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (‘Nudge’, 2008), most people choose the default option. They walk down the stairs but take the escalator up; they stick with the same energy provider; they us the bins provided.

A branch of behavioural economics, a nudge is a friendly push in the right direction. Footsteps stencilled up the stairs encourage people to walk; including average annual costs for a typical family on an energy statement encourages people to consider switching supplier; providing a range of bins encourages people to recycle appropriately.

How can Nudge Theory help with OD?

The right nudge in the right context can help employees choose a new default option that supports the organisation’s goals. And this can be done without policies, rules, briefings and staff engagement. In other words, it can be done more cheaply and more effectively than traditional approaches to introducing change.

Does it work for more substantive change than introducing recycling bins? You betcha! In one example, using positive feedback, targets and small charitable donations, an airline saved over £3m in fuel costs by nudging employees to use it more efficiently.

Why would I choose to use Nudge Theory?

Some say nudges are manipulative. However, a crucial aspect of being influenced by a nudge is that it is voluntary. The choice to be nudged rests with the individual. However, social norms can significantly help to lock in the new nudged behaviour. For example, a sign above the new recycling bins that says something along the lines of “Join 70% of your colleagues in recycling office waste!” will have significantly more success than “Help us recycle our waste.” In behavioural economics, this category of nudge is called ‘social proof’.

Another category is ‘status quo bias’. People stay with what is already in place. Therefore, the UK Government moved from employees having to opt in to a workplace pension to automatically enrolling all employees into workplace pensions, so they must elect to opt out if they do not want to be enrolled. This was a deliberate use of nudge theory and has resulted in only around 10% of workers opting out and an estimated £17bn more money per annum invested in pensions in the UK. And they are at it again with opting everyone into organ donorship.

So, next time you’re planning to change something in the workplace, think about how nudging behaviour might help you achieve that change and make it stick.

OD thought leader: Edwin Nevis (1926 – 2011)

Ed Nevis was a Gestalt therapist who worked with clients in an experiential way, not just from a therapeutic perspective. He was faculty member at MI Sloan School of Management and co-founded the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland.

His major contribution to OD consulting was in applying the use of the Gestalt Cycle of Experience to the role of consultant.

What is the Gestalt Cycle of Experience?

The Gestalt Cycle of Experience was formulated by Fritz Perls in the 1940s. It describes the intrapsychic experience of an object, from initial sensation and awareness, through to full contact, resolution (closure) and withdrawal of attention. The full cycle is sensation; awareness; energy mobilisation; action; contact; resolution; withdrawal of attention.  The object move from being part of the background noise of our lives (in Gestalt, this is called the Ground), to being in uncosciously in the forefront of our minds; we become uncosciously pre-occupied with the object.  Gestalt calls this ‘Figure’.

As a very simple example, it explains why I now know what a Skoda Roomster looks like. My wife was thinking about buying a replacement car. “I quite like the Skoda Roomster,” she noted one morning over breakfast. I had no awareness of this vehicle. Later that day, she pointed one out on the road. It was then in my awareness. They suddenly appeared everywhere! I had (unconsciously) put energy and action into spotting them on the road.

I (consciously) made full contact when we visited a showroom and explored the features of this car. I achieved resolution when she decided it was not the model for her and I could then withdraw my attention. Oddly enough, I hardly ever see these cars anymore, although I know they must be out there, just like I know they were out there before I became aware of them.  In Gestalt language, they had moved from ‘Figure’ back to ‘Ground’.

Too many open loops

This intrapsychic process happens whenever we mobilise our energy into making contact with any object. You have probably heard people say they have ‘too many open loops’. They are referring – probably unconsciously – to the Gestalt Cycle of Experience. If we have an incomplete cycle, we are unable to be fully present with others in-the-moment. This is because we are psychologically distracted by something other than the person present that we need to make full contact with in order to get closure and withdraw our attention. It is why we feel a sense of satisfaction when we put a significant piece of work ‘to bed’.

How does this apply to organisational change?

Nevis applied the thinking to organisations, associating the stages of the cycle to consulting interventions.  See also J is for Joint DiagnosisHis seminal work details how the consultant uses himself as an instrument to effect change: “using the cycle as orientation, the [Gestalt consultant] acts as an instrument that observes and monitors the decision-making process of the client system to see that each phase is carried out well.” In this way, the consultant educates the client system “in how to improve its awareness of its functioning.”

Recommended reading: Nevis, Edwin, C. (1987), Organizational Consulting: A Gestalt Approach, The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland Press, Cambridge, MA.

Next time: O is for Open Space


The A to Z of OD: K is for Kindness

The level of our success is limited only by our imagination and no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted. (Aesop)

The definition of organisational change can vary from ruthless mergers, downsizing and outsourcing that can and has adversely affected millions of workers’ lives, to fluffy learning conferences that amount to nothing more than getting your ticket punched on a jolly out of the office.

Do either of these extremes define or produce organisational success?  Well that depends on what you define as success – be it short-term profit focus or commissioning corporate entertainment to reward high-flyers.  Long-term organisational success?  I suspect not.

OD is neither of these extremes.  It is relentlessly focused on the change goal, considers the impact on the whole organisational system and is necessarily humanistic.  A colleague of mine often says you must be, “tough on the issues and gentle on the people.”  I think this defines what I mean by kindness in an OD context.

Believing in Kindness in OD (as I do), requires we pay deep attention to our clients’ wants and needs, enter equal partnerships with our clients, encourage them to go to the edge of their imagination, access their feelings, dig to uncover the information that will enable change and appreciate them when they make progress.  And that applies at the individual, team and organisational levels.  Attention, Equality, Encouragement, Feelings, Appreciation.  Curiously, these just happen to be five key components of another framework – a coaching framework based on Gestalt psychotherapy.  I wonder if there are things to be learned in our OD practice from that framework?  See OD Thought Leader: Nancy Kline.

OD Thought Leader: Nancy Kline

Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment is a Gestalt framework and method to help coaches act as their client’s thinking partner.  She outlines ten components that make for a good thinking environment.  I believe many of these are relevant to OD, so I shall introduce them here in that context.  What do you think?


Kline outlines that paying attention means listening without interruption, being interested in what your client says next in order to ignite their thinking.  As a thinking partner, “You understand that, as the catalyst for this fine thinking, you are both essential and irrelevant”.


The OD consultant simply must have an equal relationship with their client.  For external OD consultants, this is achieved by contracting well so that the boundaries of both the task and the relationship are well defined.  See OD Thought Leader: Peter Block, Flawless Consulting.  For internal OD practitioners, this can be harder to achieve, as it can be for any internal partnering relationship (e.g. Finance, HR).  The roles of servant and master are all too readily established.  Such relationships lead to a suboptimal delivery, a lack of fulfilment and often – in my experience – the closing down of internal change functions.


This is linked the paradoxical nature of change: if you try too hard to force it, it will not happen.  Our role as OD practitioners is to do less so that our clients do more.  To be the spark that ignites their thinking.  This can only happen if we are paying attention and in an equal partnering relationship. If not, then – for me at least – it’s not OD!


Kline asserts “people do their best thinking in the presence of Appreciation.  And they stop thinking in the presence of criticism”.  And I agree.  She also suggests Appreciation should be succinct, sincere and specific.  I do not believe in criticism.  I believe in appropriate challenge, which is done by discomforting the client’s worldview, checking for anxiety and offering psychological support (see The A to Z of OD: I is for Ice Cube Theory of Change).


There is Encouragement in the form of appreciating.  And then there is Encouragement in the form of emboldening, to spur others onto be more courageous.  Our role is to build courage to “go to the unexplored edge of ideas”.  “Courageous thinking needs freedom from pre-occupation with what others are thinking of our thinking.  It needs trust.  It needs Ease”.


Kline believes fear constricts thinking and allowing appropriate emotional release restores thinking.  This means change agents must tap into Feelings and I believe this is a core part of OD.  The act of making change work necessarily unlocks emotional, mental, physical and creative energy: the heart, mind, body and soul of our clients.


OD often surrounds generating a new understanding of our client’s situation.  The role of the helper is to balance challenge and support to jointly uncover this information, acting as a mirror to reflect information back to the client.

Kline suggests this information may include data such as facts and figures, but also includes the dismantling of denial, because “facing what you have been denying frees you to think clearly”.

I’m also reminded of Claes Janssen’s Four Rooms of Change (see OD Thought Leader Claes Janssen).  In the Denial room, the helper’s role is to give information and help the client into the Confusion Room.  Confusion is good because it generates choice, and choice liberates people.


Kline suggests the mind works best in the presence of reality and that reality is diverse.  She encourages thinking partners to encourage divergent thinking.  Important for successful OD.  People are diverse.  OD is humanistic.  if you believe in people, you’ll be just fine.

Incisive questions

Kline has a formulaic approach to constructing powerful questions to help people unlock their thinking.  Considered more generally, it is important for OD practitioners to consider the words they use carefully avoiding value-laden words and words that infer one has more (or indeed less) power then one’s client.  Remaining open and curious, assuming the ‘beginner’s mind’ and adopting the ’and’ stance (as in “and, what more is there to this?”) are good tips.


Kline recommends creating a physical environment that says to people, “You matter.”  When the physical environment affirms their importance, people think at their best.

Suggested reading: Nancy Kline (2015), More Time to Think, 2nd Ed., London, Octopus.


Next time: The A to Z of OD: L is for Leadership

The A to Z of OD: J is for Joint Diagnosis


I’d like to thank David D’Souza for suggesting Diagnosis, Perry Timms for suggesting Analysis, Russell Harvey for suggesting Collaboration (“You have to do OD with others”, he says.  “OD can’t be done alone!”), Inji Duducu and Francis Lake for suggesting Systems Thinking and Simon Daisley for suggesting Uniqueness as topics for the A to Z of OD.  I have attempted to draw these seemingly disparate topics together, along with my own musings on Consulting, Contracting and Whole-system events under the auspice of conducting robust diagnosis before enacting change.  J is for Joint diagnosis.

OD by another name

We have already seen that the terms OD, Change and Consulting are somewhat interchangeable.  I have at time acted as an OD consultant, change agent, change manager and OD manager.  Peter Block suggests consulting flawlessly requires the consultant complete the work of a five-stage consulting cycle.  These stages are: (1) Contracting; (2) Discovery and data collection; (3) Feedback and the decision to act; (4) Engagement and implementation and (5) Results.  At each stage, he recommends the work is done jointly between the consultant and client.

Joint diagnosis

Joint diagnosis is undertaken in stages 1-3.  Meeting a prospective client or internal change sponsor and contracting for what OD can achieve is an act of joint diagnosis and discovery.  It is also the moment the OD practitioner can acknowledge the uniqueness of the situation, whilst seeking commonalities with other systems and hence suggesting she is able to help.  Specifying and then collecting the data required is also a joint diagnosis exercise, which can be undertaken as a series of whole-system events.  Such events engage representatives from right across and up and down the organisation.

Feeding back the findings so client and consultant can both decide what to do is best undertaken as a joint decision.  In this way, the OD practitioner role models working in collaboration and establishes a ‘partnering of equals’ working relationship.  I go so far as to say, “If it ain’t collaborative, then it ain’t OD.”

Diagnose the whole system

Furthermore, I am firmly of the opinion that you are undertaking OD only if the scope of your diagnosis considers the whole client system.  And that means diagnosing the current system and likely impact of the change on the overall organisational system.  Anything else is just tinkering and is likely to have unforeseen impacts on other areas of the system.

There are many whole system thinking models out there.  Allow me to outline the thinking behind below my version – the Whole System Leadership Model – in the diagram below:

  • Firstly, there are three main levers leaders can pull to make change happen: Strategy; Business process and People
  • These are interconnected by three further systemic elements: (1) Organisation (things like structures, policies and planning and performance management routines) links your Business Processes to your Strategy; (2) Engagement links your People to your Strategy; and (3) Team culture links your People to your Business Processes
  • Leadership is right at the heart of the model. Leaders must hold all the other elements together in some sort of alignment.  They are the both glue and the lubrication that allow the whole system to function effectively.
Whole System Leadership

© CMdeltaConsulting 2018

You might also spot that the top half of the model is outward-facing (towards customers and other stakeholders) and the bottom half faces inwards (staff and internal workings), so the leaders must balance the tension between the two.  Equally, the left of the model represents rational, design-led thinking (the organisation led by the ‘Head’), whereas the right of the model represents the emotional connection to the organisation (the organisation led by the ‘Heart’).  For a system to be effective, leaders must find a way to balance the head and the heart.

Joint diagnosis at this depth of systemic understanding can yield insights into the mindset and emotional capability of the whole system, and the overall culture, and yields a joined-up OD plan. The plan is fed into the following phases: decision to act and implementation.  The results that follow positively impact the whole system and lead to the change sticking.

While we are here, it is worth mentioning the implementation phase can also be enacted as a series of whole-system events.

OD thought leader: Claes Janssen

I’d like to share a story.  Recently, I was driving home from Bristol after a long day delivering a facilitated learning session (incidentally, the topic was ‘leading change’).  This was some 225-mile trip.  I had just stopped about halfway home to get something to eat, fill up with fuel and grab a takeaway coffee to keep me going, after which I returned to the motorway, filled with a sense of Contentment.

A few miles up the road and unexpectedly, an amber warning light illuminated my dashboard against the rapidly-darkening evening sky.  This warning light was shaped like an engine!  “I wonder what that means?” I mused.  “Well, I’m not stopping again…I’m sure I’ll get home okay.”  And on I went, in Denial as to the possible ramificationsAs I drove on, uncertainty and Confusion entered my head.  “What if the engine suddenly packs in, or if I do more damage to it by driving on?”  I thought.  “Perhaps I should stop and look up in the manual what it means?”

And so I bargained with myself, oscillating from the childish denial of “it will be okay… press on… I wanna get home” to the more grown-up response of stopping and at least knowing what the problem might be and perhaps even following the manual’s recommended course of action.

I did not stop.

I drove home in this state of somewhere-in-between Denial and Confusion.

Thankfully, I made it home.

It was only the next morning, when I referred to the manual to seek guidance, “Stop immediately.  Seek diagnostics from your dealer.” it said. Or something like that.  “NOTE: you may experience significant loss of power if you continue to drive; your vehicle may enter ‘limp home’ mode.”  This made me chuckle as I imagined a cartoonish version of my car limping home like a scene from Roger Rabbit.  Anyway, I set myself on the path to Renewal by phoning the garage and booking the car in for diagnostics.  It was a fault on a sensor with the engine, by the way.  Nothing serious, but it did need fixing.

These are Swedish psychologist Claes Janseen’s Four Rooms of Change: Contentment, Denial, Confusion and Renewal.  He suggests we all live in one of these rooms at any one time, and there really is only one path from contentment (before change happens) to renewal (when we have found the way to internalise and survive/thrive following the change).  And that path goes through Denial and Confusion.  How long we spend in each room is about our energy for change, our resilience and our experience of coping with and leading change.  It is also worth noting there are many doors out of the Confusion room, and many of them lead back to denial.

It is a simple model – much simpler than a detailed change curve – and it is one that has many practical uses.  These include monitoring your own state and spotting the signs in others, so you can help them through change.  Curiously, I had referred to this model in the learning workshop in Bristol earlier that day.  Oh, sweet irony!

Recommended reading: Four Rooms is a copy of chapter 1 of his book The Four Rooms of Change, Förändringens fyra rum (Wahlström & Widstrand, 1996)

A to Z of OD: I is for the Ice Cube Theory of Change

The Ice Cube Theory of Change is a deceptively simple metaphor.  Some might say it is too simple and that change is more complex.  Perhaps it is, and yet there is deep learning to be gained from the practical application of this idea.  And as it’s creator, Kurt Lewin – the Godfather of Action Science – once said, “There is nothing more practical than a good theory.”

In Lewin’s metaphor, there are three stages to effecting change: Unfreezing, Movement, and Refreezing.  Think of an ice cube.  It can be unfrozen, moved into any other shape that its volume will allow (this is the limit of it capability) and refrozen in that new shape.  Lewin argued that before people can change, they must unfreeze.  By this he means unfreezing their ways of being and doing.  This starts with unfreezing their mindset.  The changes in the way they then do things are then locked in or ‘refrozen’ into new ways doing.  And so, we have new ways of being and doing.

But, are people like ice cubes?


Lewin suggest there are three things a change agent can do to check that somebody they are trying to help change is unfrozen:

  1. Disconfirm their world view – this is about providing hard evidence that they their mindset is not in the right place to take on the change, indeed that it is fixated in the wrong place
  2. Check for anxiety – here you are seeking to confirm they are feeling anxious about the facts you have just provided.  If there is no anxiety, then there is no discomfort.  If there is no discomfort, they are not unfrozen.  They are literally frozen within their comfort zone and hence have not yet acknowledged the need to change, i.e. they still hold their existing world view that things are okay as they are
  3. Provide a psychological safety net – this is where the change agent offers to help them through the change, so they do not feel alone.  Isolation is not the right environment for change.  So, you must provoke anxiety and then offer to provide support to soothe it.

This has profound practical implications for managing change.  Think, if you will, of a relatively commonplace change that people face in their working lives: a manager’s message to them that they must improve their performance.  Yes, it’s the dreaded difficult conversation during a performance appraisal.

If you follow the unfreezing process, you are far more likely to achieve a change in performance than following any other method of having such a conversation.  Re-read it carefully.  It is NOT the oft-mooted sh*t sandwich – whereby difficult feedback is sandwiched between two good bits of feedback.  This does not work.  Unfreezing does!

And the principle applies to more transformational change too.


I often say that leading change is about getting three things right – clarity, support and consequences.  Unfreezing is about clarity of expectations and agreeing the support required.  The change itself comes from the change targets (managers, teams, organisations, whatever), with the support as agreed from the change agent (leader).  Again, this is profound.  The change agent is not there to drive change, rather she is there to remove blockages so that the people who are going to live with the change find it for themselves.  The ice cube metaphor suggests that people can take on any change that is within their existing capability.  Perhaps this is where the theory falters as we know, people can learn new things too!  Or perhaps, we can extend the metaphor by pouring a little more water into the ice tray before we refreeze it?


Consequences must be put in place to freeze the changes in place.  These include making it harder for people to revert to old ways of working (policies, business processes, etc), positive reinforcement, and negative consequences for those choosing not to take on the changes.

You will find many richer models of change and thousands of more complex tips, tools and techniques for managing change.  Yet in most if not all of these, there is something simple at the core, and that is the ice cube metaphor.

OD Thought Leader: Ikujiro Nonaka (May 10, 1935 – )

Okay, I cheated a little.  Ikujiro is his first name.  Nonaka is a Japanese organisational theorist, who, along with Hirotaka Tekeuchi, proposed speedier and more flexible product development processes.  These led to Japan’s rapid rise to technological product supremacy following the Second Word War and are the foundations of Agile and Scrum methods widely used in IT development (and beyond) today.

He also proposed a model of spiralling organisational knowledge accumulation that demonstrates the movement from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge.  This proceeds as knowledge accumulation through socialisation (e.g. apprenticeships), that is then formalised and externalised through explicit process design, embedded as organisational routines and learnt individually to become deeper tacit knowledge.  And so the spiral deepens trough individual and organisational learning.

“As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good men, are going to have ideas of their own, and are going to want to do their jobs in their own way.“

Recommended reading: Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi (1995) The Knowledge-creating Company (1995), Oxford University Press, Oxford.