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From conventional to contemporary

What is conventional change? What is contemporary change?

What is a conventional company? What is a contemporary company?

Are these mutually exclusive?


The answer is quite simply no. Organisations and programmes have too many variables for them to be one or the other. We find that in most of the businesses that we work with that the most successful business change comes when we use a blend of both, using knowledge of a variety of conventional and contemporary approaches to apply the right tool to the job.

At this year’s Business Change and Transformation Conference Marlowe’s Annette Andresen and the Home Office’s Siobhan Martin were talking about a recent governmental transformation programme, and the tools needed to make transformation a success. As with many other projects it started with the discovery phase which identified what business change was needed, why it was needed and what the outcomes would achieve. This stage is an essential (and conventional) part of any programme. Undertaking an independent assurance review at the start of any project enables the team to create clear terms of reference to achieve the strategic objectives of the change.

The review also helped to create a pragmatic framework from which all stakeholders could use to deliver the business change. Frameworks can provide a practical rather than theoretical change which is useful for more junior change teams or people who are not involved in the change – often the end user. The framework is underpinned by a business change hub and playbook, which is now being used by multiple programmes.

Then there was the governance. Traditional workstream-based programmes often rely on multiple boards and committees who keep track on the actions taken and decisions that need to be made, but can result in unclear decision-making and siloed working.

And finally there’s leadership. Ensuring leaders are on board with the change and equipped effectively to lead the changes can make all the difference between success and failure.

So far, so good. But it’s rare that programmes run exactly to the plans set out at the start. Maybe that new technology solution is not as effective as once thought; what if the budget needs to be reduced or the Executive demand to see results sooner? Maybe a new programme director comes on board and wants to run things differently? At the Home Office, there was a realisation that the original programme was delivering multiple new processes and approaches through a disparate set of workstreams, but true ‘change’ couldn’t be seen or felt yet.

What contemporary options do we have in our armour that can help us? And what helped the Home Office?

Siobhan Martin (Home Office) and Annette Andresen (Marlowe Consulting) speaking at the Business Change and Transformation Conference.


More tools in the toolkit – a contemporary approach


Whilst board meetings and committees have their place we have found that with transformation programmes it can be effective to place the ownership of the transformation into the hands of the organisation, in effect the end-recipient of the change. Having conversations with people impacted by the change can help to simplify and clarify decision making. This was certainly the case on the government transformation that Siobhan has been leading, so she worked with Marlowe to define a streamlined and simplified governance approach consisting of just two formal meetings. These are supplemented by robust, but occasionally time-consuming, stakeholder engagement and socialisation that allow the difficult conversations to happen.


Effective programme, project, and portfolio leads know it is essential to have business change at the heart of a programme and with that, we know that different leadership skills are required throughout the lifecycle of that change. Setting up new structures and policies require different leadership skills to actually driving the transformation through the organisation.

Whilst storytelling may be the oldest approach when it comes to communicating change, it has been revitalised as a contemporary approach to engaging stakeholders at all levels in an organisation. We know that it has a hugely positive impact. When leading a transformation, Siobhan noted that it’s essential that leaders have ‘skin in the game’ and feel ownership of the transformation. Leaders need to have a clarity of vision and focus on the ‘end state’ in order to keep the transformation on track. Transformation leadership skill-building and storytelling are essential for successful embedding of change.

At Marlowe our approach aims to embed ways of working and behaviours that ensure consistent and effective leadership of transformation.


Organisations often use the traditional and linear approach known as Waterfall to move their programmes forward. Whilst this has its benefits, namely it’s a straightforward process where phases are completed in order so that programme teams know in advance what they need to do, it does have its limitations. Siloed working; inflexibility; and a lack of customer involvement are all downfalls of the Waterfall approach. For the Home Office programme we helped them to pivot to Agile ‘test-learn-scale’ principles which involved team-based activities, more face-to-face communication with stakeholders (thus not just relying on Board meetings) and importantly moving at pace which allows the Home Office to work in sprints and address the deliverables prioritised by business value.

The programme’s business change team needed to respond to the change in approach. Agility in business change was delivered through a hub and spoke framework. The change hub focused on delivering value, oversight, and assurance. From the hub a series of spokes were created within the work streams that ensured that the people within the organisation were ready, willing, and able to receive the change. This approach meant that the spoke could explain the scope of the business change whilst the hub maintained consistency, centralised engagement, and communications. The programme was set up to enable agility which meant the framework could be adapted to a more agile and ambitious transformation as time went on.

Transferring skills

Business change management capability is essential to achieving your strategy but that shouldn’t remain the skillset of the consultancy you work with. To maintain the continuity of the programme or to ensure its continued use in ‘BAU’, organisations should work with their consultancy to ensure skills and knowledge are transferred. At Marlowe we offer elements such as bitesize learning and mentoring on the project which can make a huge difference when transferring skills and capability, and proactively plan transition of skills from the start.

At Marlowe we’ve worked with many organisations to create capability roadmaps which aid the long-term skills transfer through the organisation.

When it comes to change there isn’t a one size fits all answer. Organisations don’t just work in a conventional way or a contemporary way and neither do the projects within them. Both options have their benefits and the blend of both can make the perfect outcome.


About Marlowe

Marlowe Consulting specialises in business change and change communications to support organisations who are undergoing transformational, technological, and cultural change. With over 30 years of business change experience, we are adept at adapting! Please contact us if you would like to know more about delivering exceptional business change.

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