Our principles of change management

Our principles of change management

A better approach to change management

Many organisations still work in silos. Individual functions pursue individual agendas, with a lack of aligned leadership on strategic priorities. That, combined with poor coordination of delivery across business units, can lead to confused and conflicting employee experiences. This is a particular problem when it comes to change or transformation programmes. The lack of aligned leadership means there’s often no clear vision or direction around change. The lack of coordination can lead to duplication, wasted effort, and inconsistency. It’s a problem that’s compounded when an organisation has limited change management skills. As a result, individuals can resist change, and many organisations have a history of failed change attempts or examples of where the benefits of a change programme weren’t fully realised. 

AstraZeneca has always been careful not to work in silos. When they started a huge transformation programme, the team were also keen to use a better approach to change management. They needed an approach that works across the organisation, puts people as well as process at its heart and sees better returns as a result. The project will shorten drug development cycles, save thousands of lives and improve the patient experience, so getting it right is crucial.

We started working with AstraZeneca a year ago, to deliver a new change approach, alongside its in-house teams. We pulled together a small team of experts, each one carefully selected because they have the specific skills and experience AstraZeneca needs to deliver the change. 

Handpicked Society member, Nikki Thomas, is the Change Management Lead for the programme. She comments: “The transformation programme is hugely exciting, introducing cutting-edge technology across AstraZeneca’s R&D teams. The leadership team knew that to be successful, the programme needed to be viewed as more than just another technology implementation. It needed people to embrace behavioural change, for example, to not just adopt a new system, but to put their trust in the data from the new system.” 

The project uses the Handpicked Society approach to change management that puts people at the centre of the change. It has six principles, each of which are critical to success.

Our 6 change principles

Our 6 change principles


We made sure we designed the right people journeys by looking at the bigger picture and how everyone involved would be affected. Nikki reflects on what this means in practice: “Our first step was to agree the change management strategy and the plan for the programme. How should it be set up? How do we get it operating in the right way? What are the tools and methodologies we’re going to use across the programme?” 


It’s vital to make sure the people who will be affected by the change are involved from the earliest stages so you can bring them on the journey with you. In the case of AstraZeneca, we have established a network of colleagues across the organisation who evangelise about the changes and also monitor feedback and resistance at a local level. Nikki sums up the benefits of this approach: “People listen to people who are similar to them. So, by having this network across the organisation we have a powerful way to encourage people to change.”

Delivery plans

Delivery plans should focus on people, as well as technology and process. In the case of AstraZeneca, the technical project plans have been designed to include change and engagement activities and allow enough time for the change to become normalised. Nikki highlights the importance of this by saying: “By embedding activities to effect behaviour and mindset change in technical project plans, they aren’t seen as an afterthought but as integral to delivering success.”

Change management

In a traditional approach to change management, change is often seen as a skill that’s owned and driven by a select few. In this project with AstraZeneca, change is embedded throughout the programme. Nikki says: “We have got a solid foundation for how we approach change management on a programme that is this big and complex. We have a central change management centre of excellence within the programme, but we also have change managers supporting our biggest work-streams and working with the functions to drive change. 

Change leadership

Building ownership and commitment to the change needs to be a strategic priority for leaders so they become role models for the entire organisation. Nikki highlights: “When you’ve got real vision and passion about change, you’re building trust, you’re reinforcing and role modelling the right behaviours with your team. For some people this is intuitive, but they might not have discussed it as a team with their fellow leaders. For others, it may be something they haven’t thought about in detail before.” To support leaders, we ran change leadership coaching sessions for self-selecting teams around the organisation. Nikki comments: “The sessions have started to get leadership teams thinking about the psychological skills around successful change and some of the practical things that they could be doing collectively to support their teams.” 

Insight and action

The only thing you can be certain about is nothing is certain. We have drawn up detailed change plans but we’re not afraid to adapt these when we need to. The programme at AstraZeneca is taking an Agile approach to delivery. This means that the team is constantly testing, refining and updating the technology and processes, which has implications for the change management effort. Nikki says “We treat our change deliverables as live and active. Our change plans are designed to be flexible so that we can sense and respond to feedback quickly and effectively.” 

The results so far

It’s a huge programme with multiple workstreams. But our work to date has set a solid foundation that will support the programme team to deliver the change AstraZeneca wants to see. The feedback has been positive and there are already clear signs of success. Our change network is encouraging collaboration between functions and we are partnering with the business to drive end user adoption. When it’s a project that’s as important as this one, this is hugely exciting to see.