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The change Ninja: Fearless change

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Fearless change – taking your people with you on the journey
APM Conference jointly organised by People SIG and Enabling change SIG
London, 8 March 2023

The change Ninja
Tammy Watchorn


Tammy based her presentation on her book ‘The Change Ninja’ and the 7 key ‘moves’ that are needed to effect sustainable and supported change.
Tammy started the meeting by checking in with the audience to understand their ‘fears’ (for example – standing up and actively participating!) and ‘wants’ (a good understanding of application of the ‘change ninja’ principles) for the session.

She said that it was important to do this at the beginning of any meeting that means to address change with stakeholders (and again at the end) to ensure Alignment (of approach to the audiences wants and needs), Engagement and Action by them.
Tammy explained that the ‘Change Ninja’ principles are developed with ‘people’ rather than a ‘process’ focus in mind. She referenced the morning session by Carole Osterweil and ‘keeping people on-line’ and in thinking mode, rather than inhibited by an emotional response. This is because change is principally effected by ‘fully engaged people’ and not plans or schedules.

She said her book encourages a focus on those people who will actively make the change happen. This is not necessarily the same as key stakeholders from a formal analysis but reflects those who have an active role in ensuring that the change succeeds, and who must believe that it is the right thing to do. It is about encouraging change leaders to spend more time with these people to positively influence their thinking and opinion of the change.

Move 1 – This is about the use of stories to ‘socialise and normalise’ the change and set it in a familiar or relatable context. Tammy used an ‘arm folding’ exercise to emphasise how we are more comfortable with the familiar, and the use of familiar stories can make it easier to relate to a proposed change. Tammy referenced her book where she uses stories based on her time in the NHS, and where the reader is given an opportunity to decide what happens next (to reinforce the learning).

Move 2 – Is about the techniques that are most likely to succeed in selling change ideas. Tammy explained that there are some specific tools that can be used to help with a focus on the required changes. There was specific reference to the ‘You’, ‘us’ and ‘me’ techniques for focusing on the wants and needs of the consultee first, before moving this back to your own wants and needs as the change agent.

Move 3 – Is making the ‘future familiar’. This is about extending the first two moves into a more associative description of the change –‘this change is just like ‘x’, but with (or without) ‘y’. It is also about explaining and describing the change in a way that reduces the perceived scale of the challenge to something which is then perceived as quite small part of something much bigger which is stable and enduring. Associative statements could include ‘The change is just like ‘z’ and we know this will work because ‘z’ did’.

Move 4 – Is recognising that ‘change spells danger’ for many people. Tammy gave some current examples of scary ‘macro’ changes in society like ‘climate change’, ‘war in Ukraine’, ‘cost of living crisis’ etc that are obviously scary – but which might also be perceived as opportunities for change. She discussed the importance of recognising when stakeholders might be blocking change because of unaddressed fear.

Move 5 – Is about not ‘being the sabre-toothed tiger’. As the change agent, you should be reducing people’s fear of the change, and not amplifying it. This includes increasing the choice and options available in making the change. Tammy told a really insightful story about how she had taken her children for an ice cream, but the restaurant didn’t have any. She described how she defused the situation by developing alternative dessert options and offering these to the children to make a decision on what they wanted to do. This ensured their acceptance of the change.

Move 6 – Tammy described the use of tools to ‘reduce resistance to change’, including the QUBE tool IDQB

Issue – Description of the problem/opportunity
Data - Example to make it clear and un-ambiguous what you’re talking about
Question - To trigger engagement
Build Solution Together – To develop a dialogue

She emphasised the need for natural language and communication whilst doing this, and to avoid the use of any buzzwords. In particular, ‘transformative’ change should be limited to e.g., organisations fundamentally changing their line of business – i.e., Whitbread moving from brewing to hotel operations is genuinely ‘transformative’.

Tammy then ran an on-line video to support one of the stories from her book which described a scenario where the observer had been created change manager and needed to convince a senior leader of the need to create an innovative office space to support innovative thinking in a drab office. She used the IDQB model to support the options for making a case for this, addressing pushback, and for keeping such conversations rational.

Move 7 – Is about ‘invisible leadership’. This is ensuring that change actually happens and sticks, even if the work you do to achieve it is not always obvious or visible, or perhaps you don’t even receive direct credit for it.


Robert Blakemore
APM People SIG committee member


Read the conference overview and view other presentation reviews.


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