Archive for September, 2013

Improving Your Change Management Success Rate: An Insight from Research

NUGGET : People’s belief in (and your telling them) the value of a change does NOT guarantee that a change will be implemented – in fact, it may make the change harder to implement! Don’t just sell a change, make sure the people affected help customize it for your organization and environment.


It’s a pretty widely accepted fact that 60% or so of change projects don’t deliver intended results. There’s lots of room for improvement! What can you do about this?

Let’s set aside change programs that shouldn’t have been started in the first place (and there are many of those) and focus on change initiatives that have the potential to add real value and even have lots of industry success stories. These are the changes that Maria Gondo and John Amis focus on in a fascinating paper that appeared in a recent peer-reviewed article.*

Let me put you into a typical change scenario. You want to bring in a new process or program. It’s something that has worked in other places. In fact, it may even be fashionable – a “best practice.” Being a savvy change leader, you and others in your organization have carefully selected the change.

You bring it in with lots of communication showing what it is, how it works, how it has helped other organizations,

and why it is important to adopt it in your business.  You survey people who will implement the change and find out that they think it is a good idea and you engage them in refining the goals and implementation plan.  In academic jargon, it you have created “high acceptance.”  Good, a great start.


But, as Gondo and Amis point out, this acceptance could be the downfall of your change.  WHAT?? How can this be true?  Their answer: because when people accept a change at face value, they are often less likely to pay critical and reflective attention to the unique challenges of their OWN implementation.  This is especially true when they are accepting it because it has worked elsewhere and they believe in the overall “idea” or abstract concept (for example, the idea of “teamwork” or “honest communication” or “statistical process control”).    In other words, their belief in the change (it has high face validity for them) may doom implementation.


When they are first conceived, changes are often scrappy experiments in which both leaders and implementers struggle to solve a problem or bring big idea to the complexities of their own world.  This struggle causes the people involved to be super-conscious, to reflect, to do trial and error – to be engaged mentally and emotionally with the change – thus shaping it for success while they work in their own context.   However, when the changes begin to prove themselves and spread to other organizations (think Total Quality Management, diversity programs, step by step change management programs), they become concepts and routines that have face validity but are easily pasted onto current practices.  “Yes we are good at teamwork” becomes the way to adopt the language but not necessarily the essence.  This has happened with many worthy changes.


The authors conclude that “acceptance” and “implementation” can actually be at odds with each other…. Unless, while they are implementing and until the change becomes a new routine, the people involved consciously reflect and adapt the concepts to their reality.  This requires a delicate balancing act.  For change to happen, people must see how they and their organization are similar to others who are implementing something new.  This gives them the confidence that the new thing will actually work.  However, for long-term adoption to occur, they must recognize how they are different and thus must adjust the generic practices so that they work in their own context.  There is probably a fine line between actually implementing a change and co-opting it such that things change on the surface but really stay the same (e.g., I can say that I am following the steps, being better at teamwork, when in reality, I have just renamed actions I would have taken anyway).



*“Variations in Practice Adoption: The Roles of Conscious Reflection and Discourse,”  Academy of Management Review (2013, Vol 38, No. 2, 229-247).



Introducing the SHADOW Side of Power

NUGGET : Become increasingly aware of the “shadow” that goes with formal leadership roles.  It can derail your best leadership intentions – but also holds immense potential energy for leverage, learning and legacy!


It was 1958, my eighth grade year. I was part of the oldest group in the school. We had all looked forward to this time. Some of us, including me were asked to be on the school patrol. Wow! I was psyched – my first formal power role. Like others on the patrol, I was given a silver badge mounted on a thick brown belt that I wore diagonally across my chest and around my waist. Like others in the patrol I carried a flag to wave in front of traffic at our crossing-corners.But there was more.. with that badge and that flag, I temporarily stepped into another persona – one with

powers beyond my being as a freckle-faced 14 year old with a brace on her leg. In that role, I felt super-responsible, and, I must admit looking back, just a cut above the kids who depended on my guidance.

At the age of 14 I experienced one of my first lessons about the power of position: it carried an energy of its own.  This energy that goes with formal authority has been a major focus of my work for decades, and continues to both disturb and fascinate me.


We’d like to think that leadership is a rational process – something we can teach behaviorally and conceptually – according to a formula.  But once power differences enter the picture, all bets on rational solutions are off.  Actual and perceived power differences affect how everybody behaves, often replacing important and even shared goals of the business with defensive and self-optimizing maneuvers.  In psychological terms, the SHADOW is a constant factor when power is involved!


The shadow is the metaphorical place where we stow away potentialities and parts of ourselves, organizations, and society that we don’t want to acknowledge or are afraid to let loose.  We all have a shadow.  Like our shadow in the sun, this shadow always accompanies us (there is a reason that non-humans in literature – zombies, vampires walk in the sun without shadows!)  The shadow is part of our human condition – a vital part; no one is immune.


For people with formal authority, the shadow plays out on multiple stages.  Formal leaders carry their own personal shadow, but they also wear the mantle of their role – and that mantle comes with its own shadow side:  formal authority in one organization may imply command and control – thus marginalizing participation and relegating it to the shadow.  In another organization, formal authority may have a paternalistic flavor that relegates individual initiative to the shadows where it begins to express itself as blame and energy diverted to non-work ventures (shopping on the Internet?).


With all this in mind, some of my blogs will build on the messages in my just released book, The Shadow Side of Power: Lessons for Leaders.  In future blogs I’ll explore the workings of the Shadow in our changing world of work.  Some guiding questions include:

1. How does the shadow operate in and around people who have formal authority – the supervisors, managers, executives, union leaders and others who make decisions that channel institutional resources and shape the direction of teams, organizations, and networks?

2. How do our shadows play out when we don’t have power of position?

3. How can we transform the shadow side of power so that its immense energy helps us create great outcomes, stimulate learning, leave a virtuous legacy, and live a more fulfilled life.

Along the way, I will share examples from practice, present insights from some of the great thinkers about power, and expose some of the many conundrums we face related to the distribution and use of power in today’s changing world of work.


I hope you will join me on this journey to bring the power-related shadows we carry into the light so that their immense energy can be used to build rather than destroy.


In the meantime, I would love your thoughts on this topic.  How do you see the shadow at work in the relationship between people with formal authority and those they lead? How important is it for people with authority to understand the workings of the shadow?  If it is important, how do we create a sense of urgency to both understand the shadow side and to turn its tremendous energy into something constructive for the people and organizations involved?  Let’s evolve the insights and answers together.

Welcome to: Stirring the Pot



It’s pretty clear that today’s is a rapidly changing (and quite challenging) world of work. The question I would like to explore is, what does it mean for you as a leader and participant, or as someone who influences others in those roles?


I believe that the changes going on are occurring at a deeper level that is often not well explored; that it is vitally important to step back, think about, and really take a look at what the changes around us mean and how we can and will respond. It’s difficult to do this because things are moving so fast and all of us seem to be drowning in uncertainty, information, and crises. But these are the very reasons why it is important to step out of the fray and think about what we are really dealing with and creating.


So, I am launching this blog series in order to explore some of the deeper challenges of change and the use of power to influence change, with colleagues like you – people who see that we are living on the cusp of big shifts in the world and want to play a leadership role in what happens next. My assumption will be that you want to make a difference as leader or as a consultant, educator, and advisor to people in the changing world of work.


I plan to focus on a variety of issues and hope to stimulate some good conversations. You can expect to find me offering thoughts about such topics as: power, its use and abuse; processes, being sure they support not add red tape; practices, those that seem to work most often; passion, keeping life and energy in work. I’ll also be a translator of some of the good research going on out there…making it practical for busy people who want to do good work.


Generally I will “stir the pot,” focusing on issues that are on the edge — where change and stability jostle with each other. I’ll sometimes be forceful in expressing my views – but let these bubbling thoughts stimulate your thinking and invite you into a conversation about our role in today’s changing world and the changing world of work. I don’t mind a bit of controversy. We are all in this “creating the future” business together.