Sometimes a Big Idea gets inflated beyond its carrying capacity. People latch onto it without fully understanding it. It becomes over-used and, despite its validity, it becomes devalued. Such is the fate of Thomas Kuhn’s idea of the Paradigm Shift.
How many times in your life have you noticed that, somehow, there has been a substantial change in the way you – and others around you – think about something important? It seems to happen more and more often. Is this a real effect or what getting older feels like?
Or is it just because we have a label for these changes? We call them paradigm shifts. In the 1980s we might have called them quantum leaps, with even less justification. No, they are just changes.
So, what then is a paradigm shift, and how do they come about?
Seth Godin is a marketer and a communicator. His stream of valuable ideas about 21st century marketing is something we’ve written about before. And we’ve featured his idea of Permission Marketing in a previous Big Ideas article. But perhaps the most resonant of his ideas is that of Tribes. This is the idea that marketers need to lead change. And we do that by building a coalition of the willing: a tribe of like-minded people who share our vision.
What I like best about Godin’s idea of Tribes is that it works well on two totally different levels. And different managers in our readership will find greatest resonance in one or the other. The idea of tribes can be about:
leading change to build a better future
creating demand for a new product, idea, or service
So, Tribes is a big idea about change leadership or about marketing… or maybe about both.
The One Minute Manager series is a landmark in book publishing and popular management education. We’ve covered it already in our assessment of one of its two authors, Ken Blanchard.
But the series began with a book co-authored by two equally prolific thinkers and writers, and it’s time to redress the balance. This article started life with the title Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson: One Minute Manager.
But that just won’t do.
As author of books with sales claimed at over 50 million copies, Spencer Johnson deserves his own article in full, so here it is.
Spencer Johnson was born in 1940, in South Dakota. His undergraduate degree was at the University of Southern California, where he got his BA degree in Psychology in1963 (avgy). He then went on to study medicine in Dublin, at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
From there, he worked at the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School, before joining Medtronic as their Director of Communications.
Through the 1970s, Johnson was writing a series of books called ‘Value Tales’. These drew lessons from famous lives, like Elizabeth Fry, Louis Pasteur, and the Mayo brothers, who founded the Mayo Clinic, where Johnson had worked.
Johnson and Blanchard began their collaboration with The One Minute Manager, published in1982. This was to lead to both of them writing a clutch of other titles, sometimes with other co-authors.
However, Johnson’s other biggest sellers were not One Minute books, but:
For managers, it is Who Moved My Cheese that you will want to be aware of.
Who Moved My Cheese?
Like many of Johnson’s books, Who Moved My Cheese is written as a parable: a simple tale that encapsulates the message Johnson wants to communicate.
In this case, it is about the choice to fight or embrace change. And the tale concerns four characters, who respond differently to finding their cheese has been moved.
In Johnson’s parable, cheese represents what we want in life – or perhaps what we think we want. Because two characters, ‘littlepeople’ called Hem and Haw, turn up at the cheese station every morning, much as many bigpeople turn up to work.
Hem and Haw are resistant to change, fearing its impacts, and only learn how to adapt when the benefits are proven.
Their counterparts are two mice called Sniff and Scurry, who sniff out opportunities and scurry into action when they find them.
It’s a short book that you can read quickly, or absorb slowly.
Yes, to some readers it is ‘cheesy’ in the sense of corny, homey, and lacking in sophistication. But my opinion is that it is well worth the time to read and absorb it. Like all parables, the wrapper is far less important than the message.
The messages in Who Moved My Cheese
Who Moved My Cheese has simple but relevant messages for organisational life:
Change happens – all the time. Tomorrow, your cheese won’t be where it was yesterday.
You can either anticipate and engage with this, or you can fight it. But the faster you adapt to the change, the sooner you’ll feel comfortable.
Embracing and enjoying change will be the best way to thrive
The simplicity of style coupled with the precision of its message has led to many abuses. Because in organisations where change occurs, there is often resistance. Managers promoting the change see that resistance as hem and haw behaviours. Who Moved My Cheese is too often seen as a simple antidote to a complex problem of resistance.
At its worst, a client once told me of a manager who, exasperated by the resistant behaviour of a team member, simply left a copy of Cheese on their desk. I don’t know how well that worked.
The best time to read and understand Cheese is not in the throes of change. Read it when you are comfortable, or on the edge of change. And take the time to think about it carefully. It is worth the effort.
Chip and Dan Heath have a writing style that turns important ideas into simple formulations, and illustrates them with compelling case studies. Their three books (to date) are all best-sellers and each is well-worth reading for any manager, professional, or entrepreneur.
Of the three, the first is not only the one that made their name, but the one that, for me, has the stickiest ideas: Made to Stick.
Chip Heath is a graduate of Texas A&M University where he studied Industrial Engineering. He went on to do a PhD in psychology at Stanford University. He is there today, as Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Graduate School of Business, having also held academic posts at The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (1991 to 97) and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University (1997-2000).
Dan Heath has a BA from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has been a researcher for the Harvard Business School and also co-founded an innovative academic publisher, Thinkwell, whch provides school level textbooks. He now works at Duke University, as a Senior Fellow at The Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), where he also founded the Change Academy.
The Heath Brothers’ Books
Chip and Dan Heath have written three books together:
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007)
Each of them describes a series of steps for being effective in doing something – communicating ideas, making change, and taking decisions. I strongly recommend you to read these books – I have gained a lot from each of them. Here, all I’ll do is summarise the main content.
Made to Stick
Why is it that some ideas circulate easily? People like to share them and, when they do, the ideas are memorable, compelling and soon become pervasive. They seem to be almost made to stick.
If we can understand the answer, perhaps we can also make our own ideas sticky. This is the substance of the Heath’s ideas, which they present in a handy acronym: SUCCESs.
Simple: We need to simplify our ideas by whittling away every superfluous detail to find their core, which we can then communicate to others.
Unexpected: One way to get attention is with surprise, and then we can hold that attention by stimulating curiosity.
Concrete: Real stories and examples make our ideas solid. Abstract theory is the enemy of engagement with your ideas.
Credible: People need to believe your idea for it to stick, which means giving them examples they can relate to, demonstrating your authority, and providing ways they can access proof for themselves.
Emotional: We make choices and remember ideas, when they trigger powerful emotions, so you need to demonstrate what’s in it for your audience, in terms of self-interest and emotional payback.
Stories: We are story-telling creatures, and we use stories to guide us in how to respond to situations. They make things real and inspire us.
One of the key roles for managers is to make changes in our organisations. But it is fiendishly difficult. The Heaths argue that the reason is a conflict that’s built into our brains, between our rational mind and our emotional mind. This idea will be familiar to readers of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking: Fast and Slow.
The Heaths use the metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The elephant is the powerful emotional aspect of our brain, which can easily take us where it’s going anyway, while the rider is our rational side that needs to motivate the elephant to go in the right direction. They offer a three way prescription to:
Direct the rider
Motivate the elephant
Shape the path
Direct the Rider
Here, we have to find out what works and repeat it, discover specific steps that will get people where you need them to go, and create a direction to go and a reason to go there.
Motivate the Elephant
We don’t do things because we know they are right, we do them because they feel right. So we need to appeal to people’s emotions as well as their reason. We also need to make change easy, by presenting small, simple steps. Finally, they advocate instilling a growth mindset.
Shape the Path
Change people’s environment to shift behaviours and make the changes feel easier. Then turn the new behaviours into habits, by making repetition easy. Finally, use successes to spread the ideas and engage others.
Back to Kahneman! Our decisions are disrupted by an array of biases and irrationalities. We jump to conclusions and then become overconfident that we’re right. We look for confirming evidence and disregard other information that conflicts with our prejudices. We’re distracted by emotions – which make emotionally resonant ideas sticky.
In short, we’re rubbish at making good decisions!
And knowing it doesn’t help, ‘any more than knowing that we are nearsighted helps us to see’, say the Heaths. But luckily they also give us a four-step framework to help us make better decisions: WRAP.
Widen Your Options
Yes or no, this or that, big or small. Narrow choices make bad decisions, so the first step is to explore a wider space of options. And the book shows you how.
Reality-test Your Assumptions
Stop trying to show you’re right and start trying to prove you’re wrong. Only if you fail, then you can start to be confident in your assumptions.
Attain Distance Before Deciding
Shift your perspective in time, place or emotion. How will this decision look in five years, what do people do somewhere different, what would you tell your friend to do?
Prepare to be Wrong
Overconfidence hides the flaws in your thinking, so look for the things that can go wrong and find ways to alert yourself when events mean you need to shift decision.
What? You want more of a summary than summarising three chunky books in a thousand words. Just go out and read them!
By the way, there are lots of great resources linked to their books, on the Heath Brothers website.
Cynthia Scott and Dennis Jaffe developed the model that often bears their names, as consultants, in the 1980s. Their Change Grid is one of the most widely used models to explain and anticipate how people will respond to organisational change. They published it in Training and Development Journal in April 1988. The article was called Survive and Thrive in Times of Change.
Cynthia Scott had a varied academic career, studying Anthropology, then Health Education and Administration, before gaining a PhD in Psychology from The Fielding Institute, in 1983. From there she became a co-founder (along with Dennis Jaffe) of ChangeWorks Global, in 1983. She remained there until 2001.
Scott’s career remained in the private sector in a wide range of consulting roles, with academic appointments running alongside. Today, she leads ChangeWorksLab, a change management consultancy that she founded, and is a professor at the Presidio Graduate School.
Scott has written 14 books. Five were with Dennis Jaffe, all of which are out of print and available only as used copies.
Dennis Jaffe likewise studied various subjects: philosophy, management and (for his PhD in 1973) sociology – all at Yale. In 1980 he joined Saybrook University as professor of Organizational Systems and Psychology. He remains an emeritus professor there.
He co-founded ChangeWorks Global with Scott, and now specialises in matters relating to family businesses: governance, relationships, and leadership. He also consults with the financial advisors who serve those businesses.
Jaffe has written a large number of books. Five were with Cynthia Scott, all of them out of print and available only as used copies.
The Change Grid
Their model owes much to the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who had researched the way people deal with tragedy, bereavement and grief. Her five-stage grief model is widely used:
Our evolution did not take place among shifting organisational structures and operational processes. The changes our ancestors encountered were often life threatening. So the responses that Dr Kübler-Ross described served them well.
Now, the same underlying physiology and brain chemistry has to cope with serious emotional trauma and trivial organisational changes alike. So, that when Scott and Jaffe researched responses to organisational change, they found a similar pattern to Kübler-Ross.
Four Stages of Change
Scott and Jaffe’s model describes a progression through four stages.
Initially, the meaning of the change fails to sink in: we act as if nothing has happened.
Once we start to recognise that change will happen, we start to Resist it. We do this at an emotional level; we show anger, anxiety, bitterness or fear, for example. But we also oppose the change rationally, and often take active steps to frustrate it. Organisations tend to see increases in sickness, absenteeism, and turnover, along with more general drops in efficiency and quality.
When the organisation faces up to the inevitable resistance, and engages with it in a positive way, then people can start to focus on their future. They will Explore the implications of the change for them, and look for ways to move forward. This can be a chaotic time. But it can also be exhilarating for the change leaders. This is especially so when the benefits of the change are significant.
Eventually people start to turn their attention outward as they Commit to their new future.
I have used my own variant on this model, and found it powerful as a predictor of change. Like all models, it is not ‘true’. Yet it does offer us valuable insights. When we use it with care, these insights can enhance the process of facilitating change.
You may be wondering why the Management Pocketblog would take a look at a woman whose principal contribution was in the field of social work, relationships, and family therapy. The answer is that others have found in her work valuable tools that can help you in your leadership and communication roles.
Virginia Pagenkopf was born in 1916, in Wisconsin, and went to high school in Milwaukee. She graduated from the Milwaukee State Teachers college in 1932, with a degree in teaching and started started work as a teacher. There, she started visiting students in their homes, and meeting families.
A few years later, she retrained as a social worker at University of Chicago and received her masters degree in 1948. Satir went into private practice, conducting her first family session in 1951. Towards the end of the decade she moved to California, and co-founded the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo Alto, California, where she became the Training Director, and started the first formal family therapy training program.
Satir’s innovation and eminence as a family therapist are well documented elsewhere. There is a thorough biography and much additional material on the Virginia Satir Global Network site.
Satir died in September 1988.
Three Aspects of Satir’s Work that Managers can Benefit from
At the heart of Satir’s family therapy was powerful listening and questioning. It therefore came to the attention of the founders of Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), John Grinder and Richard Bandler. They studied Satir, documented her process, and co-wrote a book, Changing with Families, with her.
The model they created by observing Satir’s questioning is one of the foundation stones of NLP. Whilst it comes in and out of fashion, popular books about NLP are widely used by managers and professionals looking to be more influential.
NLP also receives mixed reviews for its efficacy, but the meta-model, as a codification of Satir’s questioning approach, is one of its stronger aspects. In the model, practitioners listen for clues in what people say and the way they say it, to help understand the presuppositions that may be in their minds. These filters come in three types:
Generalisations, in which we take an event or situation, and presuppose it is more widely applicable, or applies in a specific circumstance, for which there is no evidence.
Deletions, in which we unwittingly ignore some of the facts, feelings, or evidence and therefore place too much reliance on one part of what we observe, so biasing our beliefs and behaviours.
Distortions, in which we make assumptions that are not founded in the evidence. These are the most insidious of the filters, because they cause us to assign meanings or causes to actions and events, which are unhelpful and not accurate.
The Satir Categories
These are five types of behaviour that communicate to others non-verbally. Originally Satir categorised these behaviours for their effect on family dynamics and, in particular, on disputes. For managers, if you understand the postures that go with these attitudes, then you can deploy them to better assist your communication, by supporting your message with congruent non-verbal behaviours. The five categories are:
A dominance posture that asserts power and authority. It can be aggressive, even offensive, and signals that the other person has done something wrong and is being called to account. It is characterised by a square-on posture, leaning in to the accused person and often supported by a pointy finger.
This is almost the opposite – a submissive, maybe even pleading posture. It signals weakness, so only use it when you intend to be confrontational. The weaker your true position or status, the less you should use it. It is characterised by a direct appeal to the other person, with palms upwards.
This behaviour suggests rational thought, and people therefore often use it to disguise emotion. Also use it to slow a discussion down, by signalling you are considering what you have heard. The vital postural clue is that one hand supports the chin, with the other supporting it, crossed over the body. The hand supporting the chin often has a finger pointed upwards to the temple.
Use this posture to attract attention, and create a non-threatening, humorous mood. But be careful, because it can undermine a serious message, and also signal lack of candidness – even untruths. The key to this posture is asymmetry – often very marked.
Use this posture to calmly assert control. Slow down, stand to your full height, and face your audience. This posture convey honesty, integrity and openness. Gently move your hands downwards, together, with your hands open, palms downwards.
Virginia Satir’s Model of Change
The last model is the one I find most useful.
People expect, when they plan organisational change that, at the point of change, things will start to get better, and settle rapidly into a new, improved equilibrium. Satir said no. She identified five stages of change:
Late Status Quo
This stage is marked by established norms of behaviour. The situation may not perform as well as it should, but everyone feels comfortable. Encourage people to test their assumptions and seek ideas from outside the group.
The perceived threat of change triggers resistance, as people feel their power and their control challenged. Help people to evaluate their feelings and overcome their instinct to deny, avoid or blame.
Now that things are changing, the group is distracted from the day-to-day, and performance dips. Create a safe environment that enables people to acknowledge and explore their concerns. Avoid the temptation to rush this stage with instant solutions.
Gradually the new ways of working bed in, and people start to feel back in control. The group will start to iron out problems, and find new norms of behaviour. Be supportive and focus on recognising and celebrating successes.
New Status Quo
All is well again (until next time) and people feel energized by their success. Help people feel safe in continuing to learn and improve their performance.
What will work be like in the future, and how will we respond to it? These are big questions being asked by the influential and much respected Professor of Management Practice at the London Business School, Lynda Gratton. The answers she is uncovering are both obvious and important. We won’t know if her work is ‘right’ until the future arrives, but for now, we would be wise to understand the trends Gratton is uncovering, and respond to them.
Lynda Gratton was born in 1955 and, grew up, and was educated in the north west of England, in Liverpool. She gained her BSc in Psychology from Liverpool University in 1976 and started work there on her PhD. In 1979, she started work with British Airways as Chief Psychologist, while continuing her doctoral studies into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. She was awarded her PhD in 1981 and, in the following year moved to management consulting firm PA Consulting.
She stayed at PA until 1989, becoming their youngest Director at age 32. But Gratton valued the autonomy to create time to read, think, and be with her family above the high salary. So she took a post as an Assistant Professor at the London Business School in 1989.
We need to start our summary of Gratton’s most important thinking with the forces she identifies as driving change in the world. I think each of us might add one or two of our own, but it is hard to dispute that each of these five will have a big impact. What gives her list credibility is the wide range of big name organisations that collaborated in her research.
Some of the big developments she points out that will affect us (and some of the other forces, below) are:
Cognitive assistants (advanced knowledge systems moving towards artificial intelligence)
Cloud and distributed computing – especially linked to mobile devices
Digitisation of knowledge
At some point she projects (as do many computer scientists) connected computers will start to become capable of creating knowledge without human help. (Note that this is not the same as the potential ‘singularity event’ of computers gaining consciousness, which is at another tier of speculation)
Here we can see trends like labour force mobility, especially in the direction of mega cities that are, increasingly, in the East. This is feeling and fuelled by the emergence of the new economies; the so called BRIC and MINT nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey – along with other less acronymed nations like South Korea and Egypt). Many of the new dominant player will bring new cultural and societal norms to the world of work.
Demographic Changes (and increasing longevity)
The biggest changes will be shifts in life expectancy and the struggles of Western nations in particular to meet expectations around retirement. But as populations age and birth rates decline in the presently less developed nations, the same effect could have far greater implications.
There are so many trends here – many linked intimately with technology, globalisation and demographics. Women’s social and economic power cannot (and should not) do anything but rise. Freelance work will increase to take advantage of technology and meet the caring needs of people with ageing relatives. Predictions of the demise of family life or the increase in attention given to families from home-based workers seem the most confused – but then the future may not yield neat categories.
The need to shift to a low Carbon economy to protect the world from rising atmospheric CO2 levels and the inevitable devastating consequences of the global climate changes it will drive will increasingly dominate our futures. This will have complex economic impacts – but nothing compared to what will happen if oceans rise substantially and crops fail around the world. I’d like to see Gratton give more attention to the consequences of water stress and the geopolitical impacts of large mismatches of water availability and need that we can readily predict.
The Three Shifts we can Expect to See in our Lives
These are big forces and Gratton envisages three big shifts in our lives.
There are too many generalists, so the law of supply and demand will crush their economic value. This will drive a shift to in-depth mastery and narrow specialisation of workers. We can easily see how she comes to this conclusion, as the five forces combine to drive and facilitate this shift.
Linked to this is the need and increasing ability for workers to connect with one another globally. She thinks our work lives will become less competitive and more collaborative. Gratton coins two interesting concepts:
Your narrow group of close collaborators, whom she calls ‘the Posse’
Your wider group of loosely connected working relationships, which she refers to as ‘the Big Ideas Crowd’
Quality of Experience
From my point of view, her third shift is the most parochial: a move from focusing on standard of living to the quality of our experiences. In Gratton’s timeframe of now to 2025, I doubt this will be a major trend outside the wealthiest parts of the world (and, even here, it may only apply to the wealthy middle and affluent classes). The displacement of work by machines has been heralded for over 100 years and the rise of hedonistic society for many hundreds. I’d like to buy into this one, but it feels most like a consumer business driven rehash of an old trope (Sorry Lynda).
The Five Impacts this will have on Organisations
What I do one hundred per cent buy into is Gratton’s assessment of the big impacts these shifts and forces will have on global-scale organisations. Small, local organisations will lag behind, but even they will need eventually to bow to some of these changes.
Connectivity will drive the need for more transparent leadership of our corporations (while many will fight it, fearing the impact of consumer reactions). This will need a more authentic style of leadership from individuals throughout those organisations.
Cross border, cross timezone working has grown up over the last 20 years, and will increase. From my perspective, real, empirical research in how to drive high performance from virtual teams is still lagging this trend. This is a hard question, because we evolved to co-operate in small, intimate, and geographically contained teams. We need to find ways to optimise our reactions to an alien environment.
Cross Business Networks
‘Social Capital’is not just something we acquire as individuals, Gratton suggests. Corporations need connectivity to drive innovation and profitability. I predict that these wider eco-systems may yet morph into the dystopian mega-corporations and global cartels of science fiction.
Partnering with consumers and entrepreneurs
As more workers become independent freelancers, and consumers become more savvy about what they want, corporations will increasingly need to extend their relationships to more fully engage with them.
You didn’t see this one coming, did you? (Joke) If social, demographic, and lifestyle preferences are shifting, then so too will work patterns. And this will require flexibility from employers.
Lynda Gratton at TEDx
Hear Lynda Gratton talking about how to be ready for the future now, at a TEDx event at the London business School in 2012.
Robert Owen is often referred to as a social reformer. So what is he doing in a blog about management?
In fact, in his espousal of management over pure command and control, we can see in Owen the first shining of the light of humanistic management, that was not to become the norm in his home country of the UK for nearly two centuries.
Robert Owen was born in 1771, in Newtown, in Wales. After working in several drapery businesses around England, in 1790, he became the joint owner of a textile factory in Manchester. Because he had little experience of manufacturing, he started off wth a rigorous regime of intense observation of how his employees worked. Through this, he said, ‘I maintained order and regularity throughout the establishment’. Could this be an early variant on ‘Management by Walking About’: Management by Observation?
Along with other investors, Owen bought a Mill in New Lanark in 1799. The realities of what was then regarded as enlightened mill ownership were that he inherited a workforce where 5 and 6 year olds were expected to work up to 15 hours a day. His first act was to stop taking children from the local poorhouse, to raise the minimum age of children he employed to 10, and to ban the use of corporal punishment.
This was the start of a series of reforms that led to Owen being labelled variously as a social reformer, a socialist, an educational reformer, and a utopian (by Marx and Engels!) But at this time, certainly, Owen justified all of his changes on purely economic grounds. He used profits to fund social improvements for his workers and found that productivity subsequently increased. Eventually, the New Lanark Mill showed a 50% Return on Investment (ROI).
Eventually, his reforms were to include taking no children into the mill, creating the first night school in the world, for his workers, starting what became the basis of the British Co-operative movement, and founding the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834 – sadly, it did not survive the year. He also tried in 1815 and failed to introduce new legislation to improve working conditions nationally.
It may shock us now that his aim of increasing the minimum working age to 10, reducing the maximum daily working hours to 10½, and requiring a minimum of half an hour a day of education for all children was seen as a serious risk to the wellbeing of business. Lesser legislation was passed in 1819 and we still hear the same arguments about potential legislation around worker’s rights today.
Consult other sources…
If you want to learn more about his social reforms, educational work, or attempts to create trades unions and co-operatives, there is plenty of good material. I would like to focus on the things Owen did in management, that were almost a century ahead of his time, to only really be formalised by the likes of Mary Parker Follett and George Eastman, and the later humanistic management leaders, like Elton Mayo and Douglas McGregor.
Five Visionary Approaches
Owen recognised that, in his rapidly mechanising industry, machines would never attain a greater importance than the people who worked them
Abandoning Command and Control
Owen preferred to manage his workers, rather than issue commands. And to help him, he started selecting his managers on merit and giving them training.
Okay, so he would never have used this modern buzzword, but he firmly believed in the value of giving his managers real autonomy.
Not only did Owen understand the value of winning trust from his workers before trying to impose change; he actively sought out influential individuals among them to help build and disseminate his case: what we call ‘change champions’.
Every day, supervisors would assess the work of their workers, and award a colour code (from poor, black to blue to yellow to white – best), which would be displayed on a wooden block (his ‘silent monitor’) for all to see. Peer pressure and pride are powerful motivators!
Fiona Reynolds may have little profile internationally. She may even be little known in her home country of the United Kingdom. But her contribution has been hugely valuable and her approach to change offers a simple lesson we can all learn from.
Fiona Reynolds was born in Cumbria, in the North West of England, in 1958. She studied Geography and Land Economy at Cambridge University, graduating in 1979. She then took an MPhil in Land Economy, before taking her first job at the Council for National Parks. This is an umbrella organisation for a range of campaigning conservation organisations and amenity-holding organisations (now called Campaign for National Parks). She rose to Secretary to the Council, before moving, in 1987 to The Campaign to Protect Rural England, where she remained until 1998.
It was, perhaps, a surprising move, when Reynolds left the conservation sector and joined the UK Cabinet Office (serving Government) in 1998. There she took the role of Director of the Women’s Unit. Of her time as a senior Civil Servant, Reynolds say she found it frustrating. But she did learn how to make things happen without authority, by working with and around people. This was to serve her well in her next – and most important – role. She was honoured with a CBE for services to conservation, in 1998.
In 2001, Reynolds took up the post of Director General of The National Trust, where she stayed until 2012. She felt she had been brought in to make changes and indeed she did. At the end of her tenure, in 2012, she handed over a very different organisation to her successor. In 2008, she was awarded a DCBE and became a Dame.
In 2012, she became the Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge – one of the oldest educational institutions in the UK, some of whose alumni founded Harvard University. Around the same time, she also accepted a number of non-executive directorships including Wessex Water and, most notably, the BBC. In 2014, she became Chair of the Green Alliance, and in 2015, became Chair of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England.
Changing the National Trust
When Fiona Reynolds took over as Director General of the National Trust, it was a much loved institution that felt like a club for those who loved it most. For the majority of visitors, the experience of visiting one of its buildings was very much of their being privileged to be allowed in. There was a sense that the Trust tried to hold its assets in a vacuum and visitors were, at best, a necessary source of funds and often, were seen as a distraction and a nuisance.
But the Trust’s role is to hold its land and property assets in Trust for future generations – and our own. Reynolds set about reforming the Trust to create more visitor friendly and engaging experiences. She sought to involve families with ‘open arms conservation’. She restructured the Board, allocated funds for developing renewable energy sources, and placed children at the heart of visitor experiences. Easter egg hunts, Santa trails, craft and dressing up all came to the Trusts properties, and so, increasingly, did visitors.
At the heart of her conservation philosophy was localism, so the cafes and restaurants at attractions featured local produce, and more of this was grown on the properties’ own land and in their gardens. The Trust is now a thriving institution with full car parks for many weekends, and a real influence over Government policy, that comes from over 4 million members (membership almost doubled during Reynolds’ tenure).
Reynolds has said little publicly about how she led the changes at the National Trust. However, what seems clear is that she did so by recognising that people and conservation are mutually interdependent. She is a gregarious person, who has become comfortable and adept at persuasion and negotiation, as well as deploying strong, evidence-based arguments.
While her role as Master of Emmanuel is not explicitly as a change agent, this ancient institution needs to continue to change, as it has done for hundreds of years. And it seems that Reynolds is an ideal person to lead this. Her management style looks simple, but never confuse simple for easy. She simply likes people and enjoys working with them. And if you want to understand how to make change happen, there is little more you really need.