Inevitable - Interview with Costa Coffee's Change Programme Manager


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In our teens we believe we can conquer the world no matter what. We think we are ready, ready to go, no change needed. Little do we realise that change will actually be the making of us. Life brings change, no matter what. It is our ability to manage the change thrown at us which will determine where we go.

David Graham, Change Programme Manager for Costa Coffee, has seen much of this change in his own life. As a young person he did not much enjoy the academic side of life and at an early age decided to leave school and join the Royal Airforce. Quickly maturing from a 17- year-old boy into a man, learning key life skills like teamwork, discipline, passion and drive along with an HND in aircraft refinishing.

He was keen to pursue new experiences and spent three years living and working in Germany and two years in Turkey.  On return to the UK, he went from being a Regional Manager for Mitchell’s and Butlers to setting up his own pub business; running six businesses, a hotel, a number of restaurants and a bar. David loved life as an entrepreneur, growing the business, managing people and creating real success and even had an £1 million investment offer on the table by Marston’s Breweries.

It was at this time that David got married and became a Dad with two new babies. This proved to be one of those life changing moments with David deciding to balance family and work commitments, by giving each of his previous managers the opportunity to own a business and he then moved back into corporate life.

David moved back into the corporate world as a regional manager of a Scottish high-end restaurant business, looking after bars, hotels, a cinema and double-rosette restaurants.

David joined Costa Coffee following an approach from a senior Director. Since then, the chain has grown from 400 cafes to over 6,000 points of service. David was originally their Regional Manager for the North and Scotland and has since held positions leading national accounts, leading operations, communications and strategy planning.

When you meet David now, you can see his unquenchable drive, an incredibly positive attitude and determination. His attitude to learning has completely been transformed. He holds a postgraduate qualification in Business Administration and Project Management and studies every day, either through reading or listening to audio books and podcasts. He does that at double audio speed to learn faster!

Change has shaped David personally and is now at the heart of what he does.

We met up with David and asked him to tell us a bit more about what changes means to him. 

How long have you been involved in change management?

Directly 5 years, indirectly 11 years. What I mean by that is, that I have created momentum in my career through spotting change opportunities.

If you could pinpoint the number one issue why organisations fail to manage change well, what would that be? 

There is a myriad of reasons and we could call all of them the number one reason. To pinpoint one, however, I would say that it is businesses rushing to the results phase, so people feel pressured to go straight to the end and skip process. It means that people and businesses do not have enough grounding to bring about the desired effect. It is often self-imposed pressure. Doing a good job is results-based. People are constantly striving to get the result without the bigger picture perspective. In the end, this will be more costly, more time-consuming. Change simply requires a vision, a strong plan, time and effort. 

In your experience, which type of leader is able to bring about change positively? 

It is a bit of a buzz-word, but really it is a transformational leader. This is the opposite of a demand and control leader, by being able to adapt their style for the situation. The traits of a good change leader are, that he or she can articulate the vision, inspire his or her team towards that vision and encourage them to define the journey and empower them to do so without sanctioning every single thing.

What tips would you give leaders in terms of taking their teams and organisations through the change process?

Change is a process, whether we care to admit it or not. Any leader that chooses to skip any part of the process is doomed to fail. An analogy - shallow roots require continuous watering - dig the roots deep and grow the trees strong to ensure that you have the foundations for success.

What type of communication is the most effective during the various stages? 

Any business change initiative is doomed if there is not a robust communications plan around it. I have seen too many businesses spotting a problem and throwing a training programme at it. Culture will inevitably take back control and people often default back to the norm. Include a mix into your communication, aim to influence changes to behaviours, think about a new bonus structure that rewards the right behaviours and not just short-term results, use visual communication like posters, use emails and verbal communication. Most of all, leaders must set the tone. The broader leadership group needs to have bought into the vision. Any conversation needs to go hand in hand with that vision. Anything that goes against the vision will be counter-productive. Cultural change is at the end of the change process. You cannot just try and do cultural change; you need the foundations in place first. 

In your experience, what have you learned about change that might have surprised you?

Every touch-point in the process has to be followed through to conclusion and be consistent with the vision or the human element will have the ability to default to ‘the way we have always done it’ and derail the plan. It is astonishing. Even though all the change evidence points to a glorious future, people generally have the attitude: “If it ain’t broke, don't fix it.” It drives me mad!

Which mistakes have you seen change managers make?

Declaring victory too early, rather than being brave enough to say: “not just yet”. 

If you were to write a book on change what would you call it?


David lives in Whitehaven, Cumbria, with his wife and two children.

His favourite book: Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed.

To connect with David, go to:

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For Change Communications strategy & Leadership training contact Jutta Devenish on 07824 897976.


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