The Jamie Oliver approach to change management and how you can use it as a consultant

By James. September 10th, 2010. Posted in On assignment 1 Comment »

A few years ago Mr Jamie Oliver, the chirpy Chef from Essex, had a TV series in which he tried to change school dinners in the UK ( He wanted to feed the children of Britain better, healthier more nutritious food that would give them a better start in life and, so it proved in many cases, help them concentrate and learn at school.

As change programs go this was huge. Not unlike a lot of the change programs management consultants are asked to design, manage and run daily. If anything it was probably an even bigger task than most consultants will ever take on.

The TV show documented the ups and downs of his endeavour, including trying to convince school dinner ladies who were underpaid, over worked and reluctant to change a thing to come round to having to change their entire approach to cooking.

Over the course of the show he managed to convince hundreds of dinner ladies to change their menus and cooking style. He managed to change the government’s budget for school dinners. He managed to convince catering companies, schools, parents, children and councils all over the country to back his campaign and serve our children healthier, more nutritious food.

Such a massive achievement, such a huge change. All achieved by a Chef. So how did he do it?

There were three key elements to his approach that any consultant would be wise to adopt in their own change management work:

  1. Piloting the project
  2. Engaging with and converting his biggest critics
  3. Having an unwavering, infectious belief in what he was doing.

We’ll look at each of them in turn.

Piloting the project

To prove his concept Mr Oliver designed, developed and tested a new healthier menu in a real school. Just the one to start with. He piloted the idea to see if it would work. When elements of the plan didn’t he tried again, tweaking the design until they did.

Piloting, testing, trialling, whatever you want to call it, is possibly the best way to start implementing any change project. A pilot allows you to test assumptions that will have inevitably crept into your plan. They allow you to confirm that what you plan to do will work, and to adapt the plan if for some reason it doesn’t. They also allow you to show early benefits and build momentum and belief in the change program.

Engaging with and converting his biggest critics

The second technique that Jamie Oliver employed was to identify, engage with and convert his biggest critic into an ally. During his first pilot one of the dinner ladies at the school he was testing in was very vocal in her disapproval of the changes he was suggesting. Instead of ignoring her, or forcing his changes on her, he engaged with her and listened to her concerns.

More importantly, he involved her in the evaluation and redesigns of his ideas. This involvement in the process, and part ownership of the outcome lead to the dinner lady becoming one of the biggest advocates for change and one that Jamie was able to roll out when other dinner ladies were resistant to the changes he proposed. For the other dinner ladies around the country it was a lot harder to protest when one of their own was in favour of the changes.

Any change management expert will tell you that engaging and listening to the concerns of those effected by change is important, and most will also tell you that giving them some sort of ownership in the process will help to make the change happen, but it is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve and one that a lot of people don’t manage.

Having an unwavering, infectious belief in what he was doing

The final technique that Jamie Oliver used was one that is often over looked, under valued and rarely seen: he had an unwavering belief in what he was doing. He wasn’t trying to change things for the sake of it, or to just make a TV program, he truly believed that something had to be done to change how children in the UK were being feed and that his changes would help make things better. His enthusiasm and belief was infectious and through the course of the program could be seen to influence, convince and convert even the most stubborn of those against the change.

As a consultant it’s sometimes hard to hold such strong enthusiasm when working on a project. But it’s worth remembering; if you are not sold on the idea, the solution or the change that you’re asking of your clients how can you expect them to be sold on it?

So there you have it; three change management techniques perfectly demonstrated by a TV Chef. Three techniques that you may used on your own projects, or that may be new to you. Either way, I hope this article will serve as an example of how the techniques that management consultants often talk about can be used in real world situations and in your own projects, even if you’re not a celebrity chef.

This article was written by: James

James is a freelance web consultant and designer living and working in London. He specialises in User Experience and interface design for web sites and applications. Before going freelance James worked for 5 years for a large consultancy firm in London where he helped numerous start ups and large organisations improve their product's design.

James's website

Comments (1)

To-the-point article, I must say. The industry of management consulting is a strange animal all together. I’ve seen in some publication that professors from the Univercities of Denver and Dublin did a research to examine how the fact of hiring management consultants affects the success of the business. Collected by them information made me smile. They had conversations wih approximetely 120 listed firms that publicly announced hiring a management consulting firm, and statistically analyzed whether this announcement increased or decreased the firm’s share price. The answer was … guess what. Share price increased with an average of 1.5% or so by the hiring of such firm. And that’s before consultants even did their work. So go figure, we might be in the wrong business apparently 🙂


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