Afiniti Profile: Nick Smith, Business Change Director

With over 30 years’ consulting and industry experience under his belt, there’s much to learn from Nick Smith, Business Change Director at Afiniti, so we sat down for a chat and I asked Nick some questions about his career to date.

How did you get into consulting?

“I got into consulting in 1985 – a very long time ago! Before consulting I worked for a major IT supplier in a pretty focused role. I felt I wanted a role which would stretch me in areas that I really enjoyed, such as problem solving and solution building, and consultancy gave me the opportunity to do just that.

“I’ve worked in a range of different consulting settings over the years, from the ‘Big Four’ to smaller niche firms, and I’ve been a Business Change Director with Afiniti for five years now. I’ve also had breaks from consulting where I’ve gone back to industry, as I believe that part of being a good consultant comes from experience of working on the other side – spending time experiencing first-hand the operational and strategic challenges and opportunities that our clients face.”

Which project most stands out to you and why?

“My first major consulting project, around 30 years ago was with an IT vendor looking to transform their sales and marketing approach from being product-based to a more consultative way of working.

“The Marketing lead chose not to target his spend on promotion, but recognised the importance of investing in the people aspect of change. As such, we planned and delivered three-day change workshops to over 300 marketing and sales professionals. Now this was a really innovative way of thinking back then, and it taught me a really important lesson: to truly embed change and make it stick, you need to take people on the change journey – to merely change the systems and processes really isn’t enough.

“Another important lesson I learned from this project was around collaboration and client centricity. The client engaged not just my organisation, but another two consultancies also. I found that the ability to collaborate and keep the client at the heart varied widely among the firms. What stood out for me as we collaborated was that being generous-spirited and open to working in different and / or new ways always yielded the best outcome not only for the client, but the consultancies too.”

What other important lessons have you learned over the years?

“I’m also persuaded that a client who stretches you in terms of your capability and who wants to learn with you, rather than looking to be dependent on you or constantly finding fault, is going to get a better outcome. And, on the flip side, any consultant who feels they need their client to be less smart than they are, or to completely depend on them is going to find themselves in trouble – you’re not going to innovate, grow together and form a true partnership that way.”

What do you see as the main challenges and opportunities for business in the coming years, and why is change management so important to these?

“For those of us working in business change and change management, culture becomes very important and equipping people to be ‘able’ to change and adapt becomes vital too.”

“I’d highlight a couple of factors in play at the moment which could impact across industries and sectors. First we’ve got Brexit creating great uncertainty, and second we’ve got a lot of people retiring and exiting the workforce with millennials coming in to take their place. Millennials have different expectations of the workplace, and the implicit contract between them and their employers will be much more fluid.

“If you put these together, then it’s really important to understand that what matters for organisations isn’t necessarily ‘what’ people are doing but ‘how’ they are able to do it. So a workforce that is able to reskill rapidly, displaying versatility and flexibility in order to respond to new situations seems to me to be more important than being good at any one thing. So, equipping people for change is absolutely fundamental. For those of us working in business change and change management, culture becomes very important and equipping people to be ‘able’ to change and adapt becomes vital too.”

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

“It’s certainly the client work that I enjoy most – seeing the client execute and deliver, and realise their business outcomes, knowing that we made a significant contribution to doing that – that’s what I find most exciting.”


I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick delve into Nick’s career, if you’d like to learn more about Nick’s, and indeed Afiniti’s approach and experience of business change, then do get in touch!


We frequently post ideas and tips on: change management, learning and communications, PMO/CMO, employee engagement and culture.

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Afiniti receives LPI Gold Standard for 14th year

Afiniti is proud to have been accredited as a Gold Standard learning provider for the 14th year in a row by the Learning and Performance Institute (LPI).

LPI accreditation is the globally-recognised quality mark for providers of learning products, technologies, services and facilities. The accreditation process is rigorous, with providers being required to demonstrate a KPI score of 75% or greater across all sections, including client-endorsed case studies and telephone-based references.

Being awarded the gold standard for so many consecutive years is testament to the innovative approach Afiniti takes in order to design and deliver tailored learning solutions which ultimately help our clients make change stick.

At Afiniti we tackle each client’s challenge or opportunity with a clean sheet of paper – partnering with them to design, deliver and embed sustainable change using the right blend of: learning, communications and engagement, PMO/CMO, and change management, that’s just right for their programme and their people.

“It’s encouraging to see Afiniti in a strengthening positon, and their evolving focus on culture change…”

Doug Shaw, LPI Accreditation Mentor, commented, “It’s encouraging to see Afiniti in a strengthening positon, and their evolving focus on culture change, backed up by a clear Practice Applications Framemwork, is a useful way for Afiniti to differentiate in the L&D market.”

Nick Smith, Partner, Afiniti explained, “It’s not easy to consistently achieve the LPI Gold Standard and yet we’ve done so now for over a decade. This really is a huge achievement and testament to the ongoing commitment and dedication of Afiniti colleagues. We’re especially proud to have received 100% KPI scores for Corporate Integrity and CSR, Learning Consultancy, Self Study Content, People Development, and Business Stability.”

If you’d like to learn more about how Afiniti can help your business design and deliver training and learning, or other aspects of your change management projects and programmes, get in touch and we’ll get straight back to you.

Keep up to date with the latest insights, hints and tips from the change experts at Afiniti by subscribing to our Insights Blog and Quarterly Insights Digest.

February Business Change Digest

In this edition:


What is organisational culture, and why does it matter?


We’ve been ranked among the UK’s leading management consultants by the FT.


Following the success of our autumn event we’re re-running our culture change event in April.


The latest from the Afiniti Insights Blog.


Spotlight by Nick Smith

What is organisational Culture, and why does it matter? The second in our three-part blog series on culture change.

In the previous blog in this series we highlighted five reasons why organisations should pay more attention to culture in change initiatives.  But what do we actually mean by culture – or, perhaps more usefully, how can we think about culture in a way that lets us address it?

So, culture – what is it?

Frankly, we’ve yet to come across a definition we really like.  Some just plainly don’t seem to work: for example, ‘the set of processes in an organization that affects the total motivation of its people’.  Are there some processes that don’t affect motivation one way or the other?  Is culture really reducible to processes – so that identical processes would drive identical cultures in different organisations?  We don’t think so.

Other definitions seem to get closer: ‘Culture is the organization’s immune system’ and ‘Culture is how organizations ‘do things’’ say Michael Watkins and Robbie Katanga respectively.  The idea of toxic organisational culture as an auto-immune disease is attractive, but cultural immunologies and immunologists seem few and far between.  And, what are the metrics for ‘how’ organisations ‘do things’: does that actually come down to fine levels of ‘what’ organisations do, in any case?

The quest for a definition that satisfies ultimately seems misguided. At Afiniti we agree that culture is something to do with the ‘feel’ of an organisation, underpinning the motivations of its people and ultimately the performance of the business. We concluded that it was more important to know how to ‘shift’ a particular culture than to be able to define organisational culture per se.  We looked around for models, and in Edgar Schien’s work, and in its application by other organisations, we found something that resonated and offered real potential as an actionable framework.

In summary, we’re working with a framework of four interacting levers:

Afiniti 4 levers of organisational culture

  • Core values: these are the mostly unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs and assumptions at the heart of the organisation’s culture.
  • Promoted values: in contrast, these are the values an organisation claims to hold or temporarily promotes, but which have not yet truly become a part of its culture. We think of these as descriptions of how the organisation wants to be.
  • Artefacts: these are what we can observe – including organisational structures, processes and systems, office layout, dress codes, status symbols, rewards and recognition. As such, artefacts make a culture tangible.
  • Behaviours: these are not as visible as artefacts, but nevertheless are observable. As ‘the way we do things around here’, they both demonstrate and re-inforce an organisation’s culture.  When modelled by leaders and other influencers they can establish new norms.


The little things leaders do have far more impact than the big things they say.


The four ‘levers’ need to work together

Core values can develop and change slowly over time, but if promoted values are in serious conflict with them, a culture change initiative will almost certainly run into the sand.  If values are promoted in isolation of artefacts and behaviours they will become ‘shelfware’.  Changes to artefacts or behaviours with no aligned and explanatory promoted values can seem random and will confuse.  And if visible behaviours (especially leadership behaviours at all levels) don’t change to align with promoted values, then nobody will take the intended change seriously.  One of our mantras is that the little things leaders do have far more impact than the big things they say.

The advice we give to our clients is that to shift a culture means working with all four levers: recognising core values, and integrating activity involving the other three.

The final blog in this series will unpack some of the ‘how’ of working with the levers. 

As ever, we’d love to hear from you with your thoughts and experiences around the topics covered here, so send us a comment or an email – we’re always ready to talk ‘business change’!


Afiniti News

In the recent, inaugural, UK’s Leading Management Consultants 2018 report, published by Statista in partnership with the Financial Times, Afiniti has been ranked among the best in the UK.

Read the full article


Afiniti Culture Change Spring Event

Following the success of our culture change event  which we held last November in London, we’ll be re-running the event on Thursday 26 April.

The event, Does Culture Matter? And, do our organisational cultures enable or constrain business success? will explore and debate these critical questions in a forum where delegates can share their own experiences with like minded professionals while deepening their understanding of how to develop the culture their organisations want and need.

To register your interest for the event and for more information please click here


The latest from Afiniti insights blog

compelling communications


Compelling communications – the Key to Successful Business Change




Culture Change Series: 5 Reasons Why Culture is Integral to Business Change



Change Management to Help You Win The Battle Against Shadow IT




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Afiniti ranked among the UK’s Leading Management Consultants 2018

In the recent, inaugural, UK’s Leading Management Consultants 2018 report, published by Statista in partnership with the Financial Times, Afiniti has been ranked among the best in the UK.

With over 8,000 management consultancy firms in the UK, competition in the industry is fierce. Our ranking within this exclusive list of just 187 organisations puts us in the top 3% of management consultants in the UK. This is a huge achievement and testament to how Afiniti colleagues strive tirelessly to put our clients first and keep people at the heart of everything we do.

Recommendation from clients

The ranking was based on two elements, an expert survey of staff from management consultancies and a client survey of senior executives who have previously worked with consultancies – with clients able to recommend consultancies for particular services.  Afiniti was recommended for the work we’ve done within the Organisation and Change sector.

Find out more

If you’d like to find out more about how Afiniti helps clients plan, execute and embed sustainable change and how we can help you with your change programmes, send us a message and we’ll get straight back to you.
We’re passionate about the ‘people’ aspect of change at Afiniti, and we regularly post blogs and insights to our website.  Take a look and sign up here to receive regular updates from our change experts.

Afiniti news – Jay Dixon joins the team as Business Change Director

Previously a Managing Partner at James and Carmichael Consulting (JCC), Jay has over twelve years’ consulting experience under his belt, as well as a background in operations and supply chain management where he started his career after graduating from Leeds University .

Jay is settling in to working life at Afiniti, so it seemed a good time to sit down with him and have a chat about his career to date, his areas of specialism and what he’s enjoying working on so far at Afiniti.

How did you get into change management and consulting?

“I started working for Unilever in supply chain operations, and after moving from the factory to head office I began to get involved with change projects.

“I became a super user for a project which gave me a new perspective – it was really exciting to see how I was helping to shape a new future for the organisation.  From here on in I began to move away from the day-to-day business operations, getting more and more involved with project work.  It’s at this point that I realised I wanted to pursue a career in business change and moved to Accenture to develop that further.”

So you’ve seen how it works from both sides then – as consultant as well as client?

“Most definitely, a lot of what we do as change management consultants involves working with senior leaders to design and plan. But, at the end of the day, you need individuals to change their ways of working and behaviour for any change to be successful. My early experience at Unilever really helps me understand the realities and challenges that clients have from a shop-floor perspective.”


“My early experience at Unilever really helps me understand the realities and challenges that clients have from a shop-floor perspective.”


What are your areas of speciality?

“I have experience of change programmes associated with a range of client objectives from new operating models to big data initiatives. On a previous programme with JCC, I worked on a pan-European project for a global healthcare client who was looking to shift their sales force up the value chain away from being transactional (order takers), towards providing a business-partner based service.

“Our involvement, from a change perspective, was to shape a programme to first of all help the leaders change their mindset about what the sales force could do, and secondly, provide the space and environment to allow the sales team to act in an entirely different way via a comprehensive training plan followed up with a coaching framework.

“The degree of change on this programme was deep, and, unsurprisingly there was resistance from people who were being asked to work in ways which were entirely new.  We had great success in terms of helping the sales teams to adopt the new ways of working and transferring ownership of the change to the local countries.  This repositioned the client amongst their competitors and gave the sales teams a new set of capabilities with which to go to market.”

So, what attracted you to Afiniti?

“Afiniti works in a very agile way, which means we can offer a truly bespoke approach for each of our clients.  In addition to this is the blend of creative and consultancy, which is pretty unique as far as my experience of consulting has been.  This means that we can work with our clients from shaping what needs to be done, into executing and making it happen.  And, when we make it happen, we can present it to the audience in a really fresh and engaging way.  Of course, all of the deliverables and user-facing artefacts that we generate are created off the back of sound consulting expertise, and co-created with the client – that’s the other thing about the Afiniti approach, we always look for that co-creation on every project that we work on.”

How do you envisage your career experience hitherto complementing the Afiniti offering?

“A lot of my work over the past twelve years has been in the consumer goods divisions of large organisations; ranging from replacement car parts and logistics, paints, spare parts for installed medical devices, home and health care products to over the counter pharmacy goods – quite a wide range of FMCG products!

“Knowing what drives these businesses, the leadership structures, how the supply chains operate, and essentially, knowing what makes these organisations tick is a great asset.  So, I would say I really have a handle on the key drivers of the FMCG industries, one of them being the focus on the end consumer.

“And, thinking back to agility which we mentioned before, the ability of these organisations to be able to adapt to environmental factors and take advantage of opportunities is paramount. We are seeing more and more that companies want the stability of long-term growth and also to be nimble and agile, to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. I think it’s going to be a growing trend, certainly over the next year or two, as people start to understand what agility means, and then implement ways to achieve that. Whether it involves embedding new operating models, new asset management systems or upskilling the workforce, we’re ideally placed at Afiniti to help our clients achieve these changes.” For more information on organisational agility and adopting an agile mindest, take a look at Jay’s latest blog post, Agility – moving beyond the buzzword.


“Whether it involves embedding new operating models, new asset management systems or upskilling the workforce, we’re ideally placed at Afiniti to help our clients achieve these changes.”


What do you most enjoy about what you do?

“I feel privileged to be working with clients when they are going through times of significant business change. We really help to move the leadership teams, as well as the people within the organisations, along through that change – and we do it in a truly engaging way, which for me combines the best of consulting and creative to create high impact change that lasts.”

Do you feel a sense of responsibility?

“Initially when working with clients you have an idea of the things you want to work through with them.  Then, when you get in to the project you often realise that there are some hugely impactful things which could be done, instead of, or as well as, the things we’d originally planned to do.  So, there’s constant reflection and thinking around ‘what’s the most value we can add right now?’ This is what’s great about being an agile consultancy – at Afiniti we can pivot and change what we deliver – if we think it’s the right thing to do in mutual agreement with the client!”

What do you get up to in your spare time?

“During the weekends and evenings, I spend as much time as possible with my wife and young daughter, I like to read fiction novels to relax and enjoy expanding my food and wine knowledge.  I’m also the proud owner of a Triumph Scrambler motorbike, which I get to ride very occasionally!”