Change management is a dolphin, not a whale

Change management is a dolphin, not a whale

Change management is a dolphin, not a whale

Change management should be like a dolphin, not a whale

Change management is a dolphin, not a whale. What? Wait. Dolphins and whales? Whales and dolphins are marine animals and they live in oceans around the world. Whales and dolphins come from the same family and both breath from a blowhole located at the top of their head.

But what have dolphins and whales to do with change management? It sounds odd, but put into context:

Dolphins surface frequently to take short breaths, communicate and ensure contact with the rest of the pod. The level of effort required for each breath is small.  Whales, on the other hand, tend to take long breaths, dive deep and stay submerged for long periods of time.  The level of effort to surface for another breath is significant.

Change management is a process, not an event

One of the biggest roadblocks to a successful implementation of change in a business is getting the people “in the trenches” to not only understand what is coming but also to agree with what’s happening.

When applied to organizational change, the “whales vs. dolphins” concept involves dividing change into a series of short steps or phases – similar to how dolphins breathe.  That’s why change management is a process, not an event! Transformation doesn’t happen overnight!

Change management is a dolphin not a whale. Change management is a process, not an event

So how does a company ensure breaths are kept short?


Communication is extremely important when it comes to making change stick. It takes time for people to hear, understand, and believe the message. And if they don‘t particularly like what they hear, then it takes even more time for them to come to terms with the concept of change.

Leaders should make it clear why, how, and when a change is being instituted, not just to employees but to anybody else who might be affected by it as well. It keeps employees informed of progress, reinforces the change benefits, answers the “what’s in it for me?” question and sets expectations.

Celebrate – Pour champagne on it!

When it comes to change management, people don‘t believe in a new direction because they suspend their disbelief. They believe because they‘re actually seeing behaviour, action, and results that lead them to conclude that the program works.

Change initiatives can be frustrating and take a long time. It is therefore critical to celebrate milestones once they have been reached. When it comes to organizational change – Pour champagne on it!

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About The Author

Torben Rick

Experienced senior executive, both at a strategic and operational level, with strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement, development and change management. International experience from management positions in Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

Blog Comments

Torben, good article and I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments, just one thing I heard a few years ago:

Business is a marathon but we should treat it as a series of 100m sprints!

Dear Rick,

Well written blog, should be read by all CM’s.
Related to this:
Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: Piece by piece, bit by bit.

The biggest mistakes I see in change management systems are:

1. The process not reflecting the way the business works or satisying the need that the process was implemented for
2. People managing / designing the process or authorising within the process not having any experience in the area the change is managing

Oh, and most importantly, the process taking too long or being unnecessarily convoluted.

We wax dolphins which helps them become more agile and adaptable in ever changing waters … as orgs must overcome, adapt and become more agile through the change management evolutions.

I use this analogy on an ongoing basis and is the final slide of any presentation or update I do. I ask the group what the slide means to them and why it would be important from a business change perspective. After a short discussion, you start to hear the ‘aha’s around the room and you know the ‘penny has dropped.’
I think this is really great visual explanation which has/will resonate with people – let’s face it “who doesn’t love a dolphin?”
Thanks for sharing – you ‘nailed’ this one!

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