On Friday afternoon at the Paris conference, we sat captivated while David Jestaz, Director of the Corporate University of Management,  told his story of change in a business unit of EDF (EDRF).  David had created an award-winning training programme to support a major culture change – the business needed to compete in a market where they had previously held a monopoly.  This needed a different approach from people at all levels.  His  story added detail to the award report and supplemented the already interesting case with layers and texture that allowed us to build an even deeper understanding of his Change Program challenges and successes.

At the completion of his story, after questions had been asked, and answered, we were divided into groups and given time to compile some feedback about David’s approach and process.  David sat on a chair in the middle of the room, listening attentively, responding to comments and jotting notes as each group presented their observations.

We appreciated  David’s open mind and curiosity. Even though the program was over – and had been more successful than imagined – he was interested in mining the group for more ideas and perceptions and to test where he could have improved his process. He was already thinking about, and planning for, the next big change program.

This feedback (or post-surgery) session was as rich for the participants as it was for David. As well as anchoring some fundamental concepts and beliefs about how we frame Change so that the client/sponsor understands its urgency, it led to some interesting discussions about recognizing the different levels of Change (for example: “Wicked”  vs Simple). In a matter of a few hours, we peeled back various layers and considered ways to program change resilience into a workforce that was being rocked by the evolving landscape of its industry.

The group specifically picked out the following strengths in David’s approach:

  • How he created ownership with sponsors a step at a time
  • The design of the programme round a concrete “transitional object” – helping people to understand the difference between a business and a public service by thinking as business owners
  • How he orchestrated several specialist suppliers to deliver a seamless programme

The case provided a platform for further discussion that evening and throughout the weekend. What other ways were there to approach “chaotic” and / or “complex change”; how to recognize emergent issues and engage the organization productively to move forward; when was enough change, enough?

David’s note of thanks was validation that the session had been a valuable interchange of ideas and concepts for him, with a link back to the relevant theoretical backgrounds, as well as sharing of practical ideas. The participants left the weekend with rich ideas and were more in tune with current issues faced by industries going through wide- and large-scale change. David’s story was an intense reminder of the challenges that change agents face, occasionally alone, when they know the difficult path – sometimes the unknown path – is the only path to take.

David told us after the conference: “I never got such a smart and friendly feed back from a group. I learned a lot and took good note of what I got”. We, in turn, appreciated the opportunity to analyse the case, and more importantly, the privilege of working with such an  open-minded Executive.

Post by Lisa Francis-Jennings, with support of Jane Lewis, Roberto Saco and Cécile Demailly. Photos by Cécile Demailly.