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Adoption and Change

Book Review-Cynefin: Weaving Sense-Making into the Fabric of Our World

It was years ago in the subterranean conference center of a hotel in Washington, DC when I met Dave Snowden. He had a keynote speaking slot as well as a workshop. I had some breakout session that I had managed to get. I was speaking with a friend when I used the word “curmudgeon” to refer to my office manager, and I could visibly see Dave’s ears perk up at the next table. I convinced him to have a conversation with me the next day and via Skype some months later.

When I met Dave, he told me he had no intention of writing a book. That’s why when I saw the book Cynefin: Weaving Sense-Making into the Fabric of Our World, I was confused. As it turns out, Dave’s friends had finally persuaded him to write a book – or at least a few chapters, with them filling in the rest. The book is as interesting as the framework and Dave himself.

The Curmudgeon

Among those who know him, Dave has the reputation of being a curmudgeon – a label that he embraces. Thus why his ears perked up when I used the word. Rarely does the word come up in everyday conversation, so it must have been like I was calling his name.

I got a chance to watch Dave in action for a few minutes in his workshop. He was practicing ritualized dissent. It’s one of many tools that he teaches to help people make sense of their world. It was the first time that I had seen the technique that I would summarily describe as being the devil’s advocate.

Knowledge Management

“While KM [Knowledge Management] is more or less dead strategically (although the practices remain)” is an odd statement for a man that helped to create it – but it’s a statement that I can understand him making. The conference that we met at was a KM World conference, and each year I’d leave it thinking about how lifeless it felt. There are some truly interesting and amazing people that go, and there’s the steady influx of new knowledge managers who are looking to learn the craft. In the mix, it’s easy to become frustrated and disillusioned.

Where knowledge management was once seen as a strategic objective, it’s now buried in other strategic initiatives. Whether the initiative is agile or innovation or resilience, knowledge management no longer gets top-line attention from the executive suite of major organizations. It’s now an enabling skillset that drives other strategic initiatives.

That doesn’t make the skills any less important, it only makes them more expected. The last time that knowledge management made Bain and Company’s top 25 tools was 2011. Its removal from the list in 2013 prompted, in part, my work in Ark’s book, Unlocking Value: Knowledge Management as a Strategic Management Tool. All the authors wanted to convey the value that knowledge management still had as a strategic tool.

Conflict and Paradox

Proverbs 27:17 reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” It’s ancient wisdom that is often forgotten in a world focused on harmony and keeping everyone happy. We’ve decided that conflict itself is the enemy. Instead of finding places where conflict sharpens our thinking, we’ve become threatened when there are disagreements.

We’ve even found ways to root out our own internal conflicts, the paradoxes that we hold inside our minds but can’t seem to solve have been swept to the back by our business and our beliefs that there must be an answer. However, we can’t let go of the paradoxes. We must embrace the land between the ideas. (See Fractal Along the Edges for more on these in-between spaces.

Chronos and Kairos

We cannot escape time. It flows past us moment by moment. This kind of time is chronos. It is metered and measured. However, there’s another kind of time – kairos – or the right time. It’s timing, and it’s accepting the timing that comes automatically. It’s rhythmic and right. It’s not forced but embodied in the idea that we’re living in the moment.

When dealing with complex adaptive systems – complex items – our best hope is that we can find the opportune time when the system is willing and able to change if we give it a little nudge – and if we’re brave enough to provide that nudge. Sometimes, systems can respond like falling dominos that are suddenly headed off in the right direction.

Data First, or Framework First

Snowden believes that you should teach by first providing some data then providing the framework later. It’s true that we grasp the abstract (framework) by means of the concrete (experiences or data). At the same time, it’s equally true that without a framework to hang the data on, we may ignore it or process it in incorrect ways.

This is a place where the answer seems to be not one or the other but iterative. Some advocate providing frameworks first then providing the data to support it. Others, like Snowden, are focused on data, then frameworks.

This false dichotomy fails to recognize the iterative nature of learning, and that you need to place a toe in the water of data to see the framework and a toe in the water of framework to better process and therefore remember and leverage data.

So, while I appreciate Snowden’s thinking on delivering data first, it’s important to think of this as an iterative process rather than a single direction, one-time flow.

Finding the Inherent Simplicity

Cynefin is designed to illuminate how systems are working and the kinds of responses and inquiries into the systems that are operating that may be fruitful. No matter where we are in the cynefin map, we must remain focused on finding the inherent simplicity of the situation. We cannot force simplicity upon the system – lest we run afoul of The Black Swan. Instead, we must seek to find the simplicity that exists under the currents of the outward manifestations of the system.

It’s not that finding this simplicity is easy or that the novice would even say it’s simple. (See Seeing What Others Don’t for more.) However, it is possible.

Cynefin is, like its caretaker/creator, a concept of wholeness and connectedness. If you’re looking to integrate your thinking about different kinds of changes and decisions, maybe reading Cynefin is the next right answer.

Book Review-Organization Change: Theory and Practice

Many people have tried to understand and share their understanding about how organizations change. Some of these are scholarly enough to refer to studies and research to back up their claims. Rarely, however, do I find such well researched work that looks beyond the common quoting of historical research to find new meaning in old works – or to restore the original insights that have been washed away. Organization Change: Theory and Practice is a work that is rare among peers in that it is well researched.

The Hawthorne Effect

The research performed at the Hawthorne Works outside of Chicago is well cited as an indication that you get impact by researching folks. It might also be called the observer effect – people will do more when they know they’re being watched. Beyond the lighting experiment that is so often quoted there’s something else that was happening. It’s something that seemed lost in all the hoopla.

The Observer Effect

Plenty of folks have shared pithy quotes that are similar to Peter Drucker’s “You get what you measure.” This certainly seems true of the research at the Hawthorne Works. They turned the lights up, and they got better performance. They turned the lights down, and they got better performance. It doesn’t make sense that the result you get improves no matter which direction you move the independent variable. That is unless you recognize that the change wasn’t the lighting – the change was that they were being watched.

If you recognize that people knew they were being watched, you can attribute the performance to the fact that they were being watched. You can even extend that the focused energies on improving performance made a lasting change as they looked for ways to improve their performance that stuck after the lighting was changed.

Management and the Worker

What is often missed is that the studies of productivity and optimal working environments didn’t end with the lighting experiments – they began there. They set up numerous test rooms – isolated pockets where they could test other ideas. These ideas led to some of the earliest documentation that the relationship between management and the worker – and among the workers themselves – was critical to effective functioning. (See Management and the Worker for more.) The model that workers are cogs in a machine just didn’t work when they started testing ideas for how to make things more effective.

Who is Training Whom?

Taylorism wasn’t dead. Despite the fact that a major hole was punched in the way that people were supposed to behave versus how they actually behaved, Taylorism continued. One of the reasons may have been Taylor’s perspective that training the management is far harder than training the worker. In effect, Taylor saw that the workers were malleable enough to change where managers seemed to be resistant. This may have been due to their inflated egos (see Humilitas for more). It may also have been because they were on the leading edge of what Richard Florida would call The Rise of the Creative Class. In either case, the workers at Hawthorne Works found ways to adjust their behaviors to train the managers as much as the managers controlled them.

Complimentary to the Machine

The work at Hawthorne Works connects to the work of Toyota in Japan. They learned that they could make looms that notified the operator when a thread broke, thereby preventing poor output and signaling to the operator that their attention was needed. The Taylorism model finally died out as the Toyota Production System began to unwind the assumptions that were made in the Industrial Revolution about how to best manage things. (See Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management for more.)

The fundamental shift in thinking is that workers are not a part of the machine – but they’re complementary to it. The role the workers play is different than the machine, and the role the machines play are different than the worker. They’re complementary – not competitive.

Laws of Nature and Society

“The laws of nature are not the same as the laws of society; the latter can be broken, the former cannot.” In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt explains the difference between moral imperatives and social conventions. It’s a way to make sense of how the Jesuits navigated foreign worlds and how our perspectives have changed. (See Heroic Leadership for more on the Jesuits.)

Burke is drawing distinctions about the difference between a molecular reaction and the higher-forms like cells and, particularly, humans that make choices about how they interact – and how this may temper the wisdom of an organic model to change.

The challenge that I’d offer is that as much as we’d like to believe that if we put the right molecules together, they’ll eventually complete a chemical reaction, we ignore the fact that we’re dealing with the law of large numbers. (See The Organized Mind, The Black Swan, and The Theory of the Growth of the Firm for more.) There are some molecules that refuse to convert, but because most of them do and because we’re dealing with such large quantities, it appears as if they all do.

Similarly, cells behave in predictable, repeatable ways when you evaluate them in large quantities. As any scientist or statistician knows, the smaller the sample size, the greater the degree of error. (See How to Measure Anything for a pragmatic approach to managing the confidence factors.) When we’re working with humans, we’re generally dealing with much smaller quantities than when we’re thinking of molecules or cells.

Punctuated Equilibrium

Much is made of Darwin’s discovery of evolution, but little is made of the understanding that things are not so gradual as they appear to be. We forget that it’s all about random chance, and sometimes the conditions will just come up to create a rapid change. (See The Evolution of Cooperation for modeling of evolution.) It was Steven Jay Gould who focused our attention on the “punctuated equilibrium” concept, where things remain in a relatively steady state for a long time before something changes – and sometimes changes dramatically.

In our organizational change projects, the question becomes whether the weight of the need to change will overcome the forces that maintain the status quo. Are we in a period of change, or are we in a period of relative stability? Obviously, for the change manager or leader, the goal is to drive things to a moment of inflection – without pushing too far.

Good Science and Bad Action

Good science – the kind created by solid research – may not always be what we need. The constraints of being able to isolate variables too often makes the results of the research and the science it creates unusable in a real world. At Hawthorne Works, they did their very best to isolate all the variables only to be confounded with the truth that all humans are variables.

As we’ve endeavored to create good science around organizational change, we’ve found that our efforts continue to be thwarted because people get in the way. The results are more experiments, more research, and very little usable progress on the kinds of things that real businesses with struggle with every day. The simplistic models that assume predictable behavior from human beings is flawed.

Change as Cognitive Restructuring

Change starts when we think about things differently. Lewin knew that we had to change our mindsets first – to unfreeze. (See Lewin’s model.) Those who deal with persistent personal change know the first thing that must change is the way someone thinks about the problem. (See Change or Die for more.) All change is therefore either just cognitive restructuring or at the very least starts with reorganizing our thinking about the change.

If you “must” do something, then you can’t change it. If a 4-minute mile cannot be run by a human, then it will be nine years before someone has the capacity to do it. (See The Rise of Superman for more.) After the 4-minute mile was possible, it only took 2 months for someone else to do it. It was all about the way of thinking about the time.

Espoused Theory and Theory of Action

During the nine years when no one could break the 4-minute mile barrier, if you would have asked runners, they would have said they were trying to break the barrier, but some part of them was not. Some part of them was scared at the prospect of actually breaking the barrier – and falling over dead, as was thought would happen at the time. There was a gap between what people were saying they were going to do and what they were actually doing. Immunity to Change encourages us to look for places where our actions aren’t matching what we say we want to do. Burke highlights this situation as a problem in change.

You may get people to outwardly agree that the change is necessary, but somewhere inside, they’ve not fully committed, and that lack of commitment shows up in ways that can’t be predicted.

Finding Assumptions by Looking for Their Shadow

On a sunny day, I’m looking for a parking spot. There are large SUVs and tiny Mini Coopers interspersed, and I’m trying to figure out which spots might be empty and which might contain a smaller car. The solution is to look for the shadows. While I can’t see the car itself, I can often see the shadow it casts on the pavement. No shadow? No car. It’s a hack for finding the empty spot – and avoiding those false starts.

Similarly, when we’re looking for the gap in espoused theory and theory of action, we can look for those things that should never happen if the espoused theory is the theory in action. Where we see them, we know that there’s an internal conflict that’s not been fully resolved.

The Model

Burke and a colleague, Litwin, developed a change model that identifies a series of factors and their interrelatedness. The factors of the model are:

  • External Environment
  • Leadership
  • Mission and Strategy
  • Culture
  • Management Practices
  • Structure
  • Systems
  • Work Unit Climate
  • Skills/Job Match
  • Motivation
  • Individual Needs and Values
  • Performance

It’s explained that these factors interrelate, with each one exerting force on the others. For a full analysis, see my summary of the Burke-Litwin model. For now, maybe it’s time to pick up Organization Change and see for yourself how the various aspects of organizational change are related to one another.

Article: Leading Through Traumatic Change

When we, as leaders, first realized that Covid-19 was going to impact the world in profound ways, we focused our attention on the tactical needs of enabling remote workforces and ensuring that we could protect those we lead while they’re working either from home or in-person, as necessary. As the pandemic has continued, we’ve begun to recognize the long-term effects and trauma that this event has caused us all. When we recognize that some changes are traumatic, we can begin to support those we lead in ways that support their mental health as well as their physical well-being.

From’s Leadership Excellence April 2021 edition. Read more:

Book Review-The Hard and Soft Sides of Change Management: Tools for Managing Process and People

There’s a great struggle between those who want to manage the project of change and those who want to make sure that everyone feels okay with the change. It’s a struggle that’s often obscured by the structure of the organization and the change process. If the project management office leads the change, then the “hard” side of change is often emphasized with tasks, dates, and budgets. If the change management or human resources department leads the change, then it often is focused on employee engagement and feelings, with the project details being an afterthought. Kathryn Zukof’s The Hard and Soft Sides of Change Management: Tools for Managing Process and People shows you how to balance and integrate these two essential aspects of the change management process.

Overlooking Loss

The most common cause of change management failure is the failure to recognize the loss that people feel. We still assume that “business is business” and we shouldn’t be emotional or experience loss. This is the illusion: that we make rational decisions and business is about those rational decisions. The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch share Jonathan Haidt’s model of the rational rider sitting on an emotional elephant and the realization that the elephant is really in control. As Dan Ariely points out in Predictably Irrational, we don’t make rational decisions.

We grieve loss. The Grief Recovery Handbook explains that grief is the natural emotion that follows loss – any kind of loss. William Bridges in Managing Transitions explains that every change will trigger some degree of loss, even if it is a nostalgic loss for the way that things used to be.

Leaders look at the net positive outcome and fail to recognize that in the benefits there are also losses. As I’m looking at giving away our eldest daughter to marriage at some point, I’m poignantly aware that, as much as her getting married is a good thing (we like our future son-in-law), there is a loss. Our daughter will no longer be “our little one” in the same way that she was.

Kurt Lewin first started working with the concept of force fields. (Which I discuss in my blog post, The Behavior Function.) The idea is that every behavior has forces that drive it and those that inhibit it. What I’ve learned from working with those in recovery is that “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” That is because anything you fail to acknowledge gets larger. (See Neurodharma for more on this topic.) When leaders fail to recognize the loss that exists in change, they make that force larger – sometimes larger than the forces compelling the change forward.

Converting the Detractors

In the Christian faith, the most prolific author of the Bible is Paul. However, that wasn’t his given name. His given name was Saul, and he had a conversion experience on his way to Damascus. A persecutor of Christians was converted into a powerful advocate. While we may not have the supernatural power to blind someone to encourage their conversion, there are things we can do to encourage that even our most ardent detractors become our greatest champions. If you prefer an Eastern approach, Sun Tzu in The Art of War said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Zukof recommends a “red team,” or a team that’s designed specifically to look for flaws in a change management plan. It’s a time-honored approach to ensuring that we don’t get too sold on our own ideas. The origins might be found in the idea of a “devil’s advocate” instituted in the Roman Catholic Church to identify flaws in those who were being considered for sainthood.

Red teams are great way to catalog, identify, and mitigate the risks associated with a change. Having detractors on the team validates that they’re heard and that their concerns are being addressed. This, in turn, typically makes them appreciate the change more positively.


I don’t believe in change resistance as such. I think that there are those who are experiencing losses, which we may perceive as resistant. The losses may be objectively real or just the psychological losses like the loss of nostalgia. In acknowledging and recognizing those losses – and attempting to compensate where appropriate – we minimize their effects and reduce the perceived resistance.

The loss may even be just a perceived loss due to a lack of understanding about the change, where communication and dialogue can resolve things such that the individual doesn’t perceive that they will lose as much or their probability of great loss is smaller. The next effect of which is the evaporation of the perceived resistance.

There’s an alternative form of resistance that I’d categorize as conflict. In this case, the person understands but disagrees with the change. They either see things differently (they have a different perspective), or they value things differently. (If you’re looking for tips on resolving conflict, you can sign up for a short email series here.) This form of resistance may result in a form of subversion.


Chris Argyris in Organizational Traps describes a prototypical problem where users would agree in public and quietly go to sympathetic ears to complain. They’d use active and passive forms of subversion to prevent the thing that the members of the meeting publicly agreed or acquiesced to. In its passive form, the members of the meeting would simply fail to do work in the direction of the agreement. It doesn’t feel like rebellion if you simply take no action. The active form, where the person actively works against the public decision or agreement is much less common but is still a real concern for organizations.

Amy Edmondson provided one solution to the problem in The Fearless Organization: helping everyone have the psychological safety necessary to speak up in the meetings about their disagreements instead of quietly taking them on and using them as a reason to block the effort. Immunity to Change recommends the back-end evaluation where you monitor for behaviors that don’t match the stated commitments and ask the question why.

Subversion in any form erodes trust, which is essential for the change, the organization, and society, as Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order explains.

Building Trust

In A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character Col. Nathan Jessup exclaims, “You can’t handle the truth.” We seem to think that people can handle the truth much less frequently than they actually can. Kim Scott in Radical Candor addresses the typical objection that the truth can hurt by answering that it’s clear not cruel. We should not confuse secondary benefits with the reason why we’re doing something. When we’re not honest in our communications with employees, they know it, and as a result, they’ll lose faith in our willingness to communicate clearly.

Trust is created in three forms: contractual, communication, and competence. By failing to communicate the real reasons that we’re doing something, we’re violating communication trust, and it will make people appropriately wonder whether they can believe us or not. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited for more on this critical topic.)

Rewarding Problem Resolution

I learned that it’s not whether a problem happened or not that determined whether something was good or bad. What really matters more than anything is how people responded when a problem did happen. How did they handle it? Did they take responsibility for it all, like Johnson & Johnson did with the Tylenol tampering issues of 1982? Or did they choose a different path, along the lines of those explained in Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)? The difference is critical. It may seem counter intuitive to reward people who made a mistake in your organization or your change; however, if they responded extemporarily, a reward may be appropriate.

The truth is that we’ll all face challenges – some of them we’ll create ourselves. It’s not the mistakes that define us but how we address them. It won’t be a mistake to read The Hard and Soft Sides of Change Management to see how you can handle the challenges that you face in your change better.

Book Review-Change Intelligence: Using the Power of CQ to Lead Change That Sticks

That there are different kinds of intelligence is not a new thought. Barbara Trautlein wants you to know about change intelligence and why it’s important.

Multiple Intelligences

Before we can get to the idea that some folks may be predisposed to a certain kind of intelligence, we’ve got to go back to Howard Gardner, who first proposed the idea. In short, the idea is that we can be very intelligent in one way but not another. This led to a branch of thinking about whether emotional intelligence might be one of them. Daniel Goleman wrote a book titled Emotional Intelligence, which was very popular and brought the idea to people’s attention. Others have picked up on Goleman’s work, including Travis Bradbury and Jean Graves, who wrote Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

Others have found ways to explore other kinds of intelligence, including Conversational Intelligence. There are others who use intelligence in their title – like Collaborative Intelligence – but don’t mean it in quite the same way.


One of the conventions that happened is intelligence quotient began being abbreviated as IQ, and therefore emotional intelligence became EQ and Trautlein’s change intelligence became CQ. While IQ has a scale and a measurement with it, neither EQ nor CQ have a scale. (Interestingly, our collective average IQ keeps going up according to the Flynn Effect, as explained in Range.)

EQ has either five or four key components depending on which variation of the work you are focused on. These components, however, do not have specific set of objective metrics. They’re guidelines for ways to improve. While some have developed assessments around EQ, there isn’t one standard way to measure it.

Trautlein’s CQ is different still, having three areas of focus or interest: head, hand, heart. In her assessment, you’re given forced-choice questions that ultimately lead you to choosing one for the various scenarios that you’re presented. The relationship between these three places you into one of seven categories, including the “pure” single-attribute versions, the “mixed” two-attribute versions, and the single three-attribute version. The graphic that she uses is:

Because of the forced-ranking nature of the test, there’s no improvement in capabilities in each of these areas, just a pull in one direction or another.

Personality Testing

There’s a great deal of interest in psychological typing systems, as explained in The Cult of Personality Testing. I’ve reviewed several books about different personality profiling systems, including Personality Types, The Normal Personality, Fascinate, and Strengths Finder. I cautiously advocate the use of these personality profiles because of the “Barnum effect.” The short version is that people tend to identify with profiles and horoscopes more than they should given their non-specific nature. (See Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for more.)

Despite the tendency to apply more weight than is deserved, they can serve as a useful window to discover more about yourself. That’s why we suggest that people consider doing a few of them and seeing how it exposes aspects of their personality that they may not have been aware of in our Extinguish Burnout materials.


Beyond Trautlein’s assessment model, there is a keen awareness of some of the dynamics that affect corporate life. She describes the three layers of change – executives, management, and workers – in a way that is strikingly similar to the way they’re described in Seeing Systems. Each part of the organization sees itself as acting rationally and can’t understand why those around them are acting so oddly.

Executives wonder why the managers and workers aren’t implementing their beautiful strategies. Workers are wondering how the executives could have conceived of such an ill-informed strategy that doesn’t match the way things really work. The managers are stuck in the middle trying to figure out how to get more compliance with the strategies without alienating the workers and how to tell the executives that their strategies aren’t grounded in reality.

Planning Now

General Patton’s rule, “A good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite point in the future,” is a good way to express the need to be done. It’s the mantra of satisficers everywhere who recognize that there isn’t time for perfect. (See The Paradox of Choice for more.) Too often, we believe that we can plan sufficiently to identify every condition and handle every case. However, as Colonel Tom Kolditz, the head of the behavioral sciences division at West Point, says, “The trite expression we always use is ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy.'” (See Made to Stick for more.)

In other words, do enough planning to generate value and then try to use it so you can learn what works – and what doesn’t.


There is one emotion that derails change most, and it is fear. We’re afraid of the present, we’re afraid of the transition. We’re afraid of failing and afraid of succeeding. People are afraid of what the future holds and of remaining the same.

Too often, change leaders fail to recognize the power of fear. More importantly, they fail to recognize how easy it is for people to become fearful. Fear is more prevalent and powerful than any of us would like to believe. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to read Change Intelligence.

Book Review-Change Management: The Essentials

It’s hard to figure out what you need to know for change management. It’s such a big profession with so many overlapping definitions that it’s hard to sort out what might be the essentials. That’s what makes Change Management: The Essentials such a difficult thing to pull off. Lena Ross doesn’t score a perfect 10 for this work – but it’s a good way to get oriented quickly if you’d like.

Will and Skill

Change management requires both will and skill. You can’t easily teach will. Will is the grit and tenacity that it takes to succeed in difficult situations. (See Grit for more on what grit is.) However, as Willpower explains, willpower can be developed over time. By testing and retesting our will – and persevering through challenges – we grow stronger. (See Antifragile for more.) C.R. Snyder in The Psychology of Hope explains that hope has two components: willpower and waypower. Waypower is the ability to get things done.

In other words, waypower is having the skills you need to accomplish your goals. It’s “know-how.” What Change Management: The Essentials is trying to do is to start you on the path of learning the skills so that you can see how you can be successful with your change project.

The Missteps

Anyone who is going to become good at change must accept that they’re going to make some mistakes. They’ll have a few missteps. Ross has a few in her book as well. The first is that she incorrectly states that there’s no evidence that Lewin conceived of change as three steps. The truth is that it’s mentioned in “Frontiers in Group Dynamics: Concept, Method and Reality in Social Science; Social Equilibria and Social Change,” which is in the inaugural volume of Human Relations.

The other misstep is subtle. Ross says that the change practitioner isn’t responsible for delivering the business benefits of the change. At some level, this is correct. The business leader is responsible for the business. However, at another level, it’s not correct, because it places the change practitioner outside the responsibility for success. Instead of being in the boat rowing with the business, they’re on the shore shouting at them to do better. The best change practitioners accept co-responsibility with the business in delivering the results.

A slightly better phrasing might have been that the change practitioner won’t be held accountable for the results. That’s true. The business leader has ultimate accountability for the performance of their group. (If you’re struggling with the difference between accountability and responsibility, see Understanding RACI Conditions.)

Finally, Ross explains that Asch’s conformity experiments are about elevators – the truth is that Asch’s experiments were about line length. The elevator experiments were a Candid Camera stunt and didn’t have the kind of scientific rigor that Asch’s original experiments had. (For more about his experiments and more, see The Necessity of Neuroscience.)

The Myths

Ross also relates a set of 5 “myths” – the first three of which are not and the remaining two are only partially untrue:

  1. 70% of Change of Change Efforts Fail – See Why the 70% Failure Rate of Change Projects is Probably Right.
  2. People Naturally Resist Change – See William Bridges’ book, Managing Transitions, for more about why people do have a natural predisposition to resist change – and why it’s limited.
  3. Change Managers are Change Leaders – Here, I’d argue that good change managers are change leaders. There’s a lot of confusion in the difference between managers and leaders. Leadership in the Twenty-First Century is a good place to start to detangle the two terms.
  4. Change Management is Dead – This is bandied about for every profession. Change management is transforming and the old way of thinking about it may be dead. It’s becoming an essential skill for every manager and leader rather than a separate skill set and role.
  5. Change Management is Just Communications and Training – It is communications and training – and a whole lot more. However, these are two key skills that are often lacking in the people being asked to execute change.

Imperfect Solutions

Ross explains that she learned that imperfect artifacts are okay. Over time, I’ve learned to value imperfect solutions of all types, from the artifact that isn’t perfect but is good enough to the solution that still requires human intervention at times. The Paradox of Choice explains that maximizers – those that must get to perfect – are less happy and less effective than those who do just enough. Those who do just enough are called satisficers.

The tricky distinction here is discovering what’s enough. What’s a good enough artifact to be effective? The answer varies, but the good news is that you can openly discuss what level of perfection will be required for artifacts – at least, if there’s enough psychological safety. (For more on psychological safety, see The Fearless Organization.)

Principles Not Formulas

Ross also quotes Richard Feynman and says to “teach principles, not formulas.” This is quite right in that you want to raise the bar for what you’re doing. As Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues explained, there’s a hierarchy of educational objectives, and recall is at the bottom. Higher up is the ability to apply knowledge and even further still is the synthesis of new knowledge. (See Efficiency in Learning for more about learning concepts.)

The counterbalance to this is that we “grasp the concrete by means of the abstract.” (See Pervasive Information Architecture for the reference.) In other words, we learn from examples and stories and then we are taught how to see the generic principles that exist in these examples. Wired for Story explains how we’ve evolved with stories and how we need them to anchor our thinking.

In the end, if we want a practical start to change management, then Change Management: The Essentials is a good read.

Book Review-Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and Tyranny of Custom

Change needs leadership. To be a leader, you must be willing to change – both yourself and the organization you lead. It’s in this intersection that Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and Tyranny of Custom shines. It’s a no-holds-barred understanding not just of change and why change efforts fail but also of leadership and how one expresses it in a world where command and control is no longer the rule. Other works like Leadership on the Line include subtitles like “Staying alive through the dangers of change” but fail to weigh in on the broader issues of leadership, at least in a substantive way.

Defining Leadership

Most of the time the disciplines of change and the study of leadership don’t cross. One can look through classic works like McGregor Burns’ Leadership and Rost’s Leadership for the Twenty-First Century for an understanding of what leadership should be. Robert Greenleaf describes a form of Servant Leadership, and Chris Lowney describes the Jesuit approach in Heroic Leadership. Daniel Goleman provides his context of the emotionally intelligent leader in Primal Leadership. John Maxwell has his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. And those are just some of the books where the word “leadership” is in the title. Bookstores are filled with scores of books that seek to distill the essence of leadership for readers.

Leading Change offers several definitions of leadership, including President Eisenhower’s “the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Later, they nudge this definition to include an awareness of what the followership wants. In fact, they share Drucker’s one characteristic common to all leaders: followers. (Rost would be proud.) And so, the idea of what people think leadership is – and isn’t – is woven through the text like the threads that make up a tapestry.

Change Resistance

Leading Change offers no new model for how to get change done. It leans on the development of leaders to get the change done in their organizations. However, it does offer 31 core reasons why people resist change:

  1. Homeostasis
  2. Stare decisis
  3. Inertia
  4. Satisfaction
  5. Lack of ripeness
  6. Fear
  7. Self-interest
  8. Lack of self-confidence
  9. Future shock
  10. Futility
  11. Lack of knowledge
  12. Human nature
  13. Cynicism
  14. Perversity
  15. Individual genius versus group mediocrity
  16. Ego
  17. Short-term thinking
  18. Myopia
  19. Sleepwalking
  20. Snow blindness
  21. Collective fantasy
  22. Chauvinistic conditioning
  23. Fallacy of the exception
  24. Ideology
  25. Institutionalism
  26. Natura non facit saltum (Nature Does Not Proceed Through Leaps)
  27. The rectitude of the powerful
  28. Change has no constituency
  29. Determinism
  30. Scientism
  31. Habit
  32. The despotism of custom
  33. Human mindlessness

As a catalog of potential resistance, it has more depth than Kotter’s Buy-In. It’s a wonderful listing to review whenever you perceive that you’re encountering resistance in your change project.

The Paradox of Leadership

The paradox of leadership is that everyone wants a leader, but no one wants to be led. It’s a great thing to be able to defer responsibility to another party without losing the ability to control oneself. As Compelled to Control points out, everyone wants to control, but no one wants to be controlled.

The best leaders are therefore adept at listening to their followers and constituents to hear the underlying problems and find the underlying solutions. Upon finding these solutions they must make everyone feel as if it’s their idea. Leading Change speaks of the resistance to Peter Drucker’s work at GM as having been Drucker’s work – and not theirs. It also speaks of a judge who proposed alternative sentencing on the grounds that “he thinks that he’s smarter than everybody else.” Leaders who can’t convince others that the plan is their plan has little chance of being successful.

Change Isn’t Natural

When anthropologists studied various cultures, they never saw change as a normal part of the society. Societies – like organizations, it seems – are naturally resistant to change. They’re designed to maintain the status quo for as long as possible. So, when we’re leading a change, we must realize that the system – but not necessarily the people individually – will resist that change.

Because change is not natural, we need leaders to help us navigate through it. Perhaps the best thing you can do to get started is to take a read of Leading Change.

Book Review-Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change

Call in the SWOT team. Analyze the weakness and put up a solid strategic defense to the onslaught of environmental threats. That’s the kind of language that too often permeates change projects. Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change seeks to change the fundamental orientation from one of wars and weaknesses to one of opportunities, strengths, and views of the world, which are definitively more positive and safer.

Positive Foundation

To understand the fundamental shift in thinking, it’s appropriate to point to the shift in psychology that happened with Martin Seligman at the helm of the American Psychological Association (APA). While the industry still focuses on mental diseases, Seligman and those near him looked for a more positive path. His initial work on learned helplessness would eventually become transformed into a failure to learn hope, as he explains in The Hope Circuit. Instead of rescuing people from the depths of their disease, Seligman encouraged people to Flourish.

Seligman and Chris Peterson would develop a way to assess your strengths – Values in Action (VIA) is what they called it. It was built on Seligman’s previous work in Authentic Happiness and extended it into identifying a set of strengths.

Others would follow the lead, including Barbara Fredrickson, whose research as described in Positivity established that the positive to negative ratio of greater than 3:1 in your feelings lead to an upwards spiral for you – and for those around you. (See The Halo Effect for the limits of your ability to influence those around you.)

Positive Core

These are all positive perspectives on individual psychology. However, Appreciative Inquiry also includes what Cooperrider and White believe are the positive core of organizations. They are:

  • Achievements
  • Strategic opportunities
  • Product strengths
  • Technical assets
  • Breakthrough innovations
  • Elevated thoughts
  • Best business practices
  • Positive emotions
  • Organization wisdom
  • Core competencies
  • Visions of possibility
  • Leadership capabilities
  • Product pipeline
  • Vital traditions
  • Lived values
  • Positive macrotrends
  • Social capital
  • Collective spirit
  • Embedded knowledge
  • Financial assets
  • Visions of positive futures
  • Alliances and partnerships
  • Value chain strengths
  • Strategic advantages
  • Relational resources
  • Customer loyalty

Two Essential Factors

Cooperrider and White also believe that you must have two things for success. The first is management commitment, and the second is involvement of the entire workforce. While these are at some level true, they’re also somewhat idealized. Everyone says that you must get executive buy-in. Some say that you need to get everyone in the organization on board with the change.

The problem I have with the statement is not its validity but rather the lack of clarity on how to achieve these goals.

At the Heart

Appreciative Inquiry is a way to confront the generally negative view that change often takes of the current state with an appreciation for how the organization reached its current state and the people that are a part of it. While Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change may not change the way you look at change, it may help you appreciate it more.

Article: Choosing a Change Model

One of the most daunting problems with change management is identifying which model to use. Some people swear by Kurt Lewin’s simple three-step model, others are hooked on Prosci’s ADKAR model, others love John Kotter’s eight-step model, and still others are using models by different change management luminaries. But why would you pick one model over another, and how do the models compare? We’ll explore the common options and explain the reasons why you may choose one versus another.

Published on the ATD blog. Read more:

Book Review-Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution

Evolution, it seems, doesn’t follow one slow, methodical path towards progress. It stalls. It leaps. What we see as a smoothness is an illusion caused by the distance of time. Even evolution reaches points where slow and steady won’t win the race. Instead, it’s time for something radical to happen. That’s what reengineering a corporation is. It’s a radical change. Reengineering the Corporation: Manifesto for Business Revolution is a guide to this radical process that organizations must go through at some point – or several points during their lifecycle.

Defining Reengineering

Because the term “reengineering” has been so broadly used, it’s been used inappropriately. In some circles, it’s equated with layoff and reasons why people lose their livelihood. However, reengineering doesn’t mean doing things with fewer people – it can mean doing more with the people you have. Similarly, it doesn’t mean the kind of slow, incremental improvements that continuous quality improvement (CQI) cycles mean. (See Plan, Do, Study, Act as an example of a CQI cycle.)

Reengineering is fundamentally about rebuilding the organization’s processes. It’s about testing the foundational assumptions on which the organization is built. And that starts with testing the foundations of the industrial revolution.

The Industrial Revolution

To be sure, the Industrial Revolution granted a great deal to humankind’s material wealth. (See Capital for more.) The combining of steam power, standardized parts, and automation made it possible to make many more of the things that people needed. When Henry Ford started with his corner of the industrial revolution, he added new components like the moving assembly line and, perhaps more importantly, the breakdown of tasks such that people could be trained to do them quickly.

Ford’s growth meant pulling in more people, and the more people he pulled into his organization, the further outside his circles he had to go. The population of the United States had not yet migrated to large cities, and as a result many of the people he was hiring were sons of farmers or hired hands. They had little or no manufacturing background and often not much schooling.

The solution was to divide each task so small that you could teach a man to do the job quickly. If he didn’t work, he could be replaced just as quickly, like defective parts in a machine. The problem is that this lost the wholistic view of the process and, importantly, how one person’s behavior impacted another person and the customer.

Systems and Process

Most people thought in their small world. Their department was the scope of their involvement in the organization, and as they seemed to be doing their thing, all was well. This, however, ignored the downstream consequences they couldn’t see. They weren’t thinking about systems of interaction, and the system suffered. (See Thinking in Systems for more about systems.)

The radical view that drives reengineering is undoing the damage that was done with the Industrial Revolution and restoring accountability to a team for the total output rather than just their part. By becoming focused on how the customer experiences the organization rather than their responsibilities, they can sometimes radically improve the performance of the organization.

This isn’t an easy task, as every department manager or director wants to protect their fiefdom. It’s hard to find people who have enough authority to really pull of the kinds of radical changes that can mean huge savings.

Cellular Manufacturing

I grew up in manufacturing. My mother would take us to the American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS) meetings. They would have them at Holiday Inns, and we’d go swimming while they’d learn all about the latest innovations. Well, they were the latest innovations that we Americans would accept as many of them were started by Demming – an American – who had to go to Japan to find a willing audience.

One of the innovations was to organize manufacturing into cells. The cell would have a person or a team running a set of machines that completed an entire part – or at least a major aspect of the part. This didn’t require much more training, and the results were generally higher quality and better performance. (See Taiichi Ohno’s Workplace Management for more on manufacturing ideas.)

This approach flew in the face of traditional manufacturing thinking about breaking jobs down into small parts, but it worked. It worked because it reduced the friction between steps both in terms of distance and in terms of communications issues.

This is at the heart of reengineering. It’s testing your assumptions about the best way to do things and sometimes trying things that seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

Management Layers

It was the 1980s and 1990s when it became popular to flatten organizations and remove middle management. Organizations had quietly amassed people who were becoming human bridges to make the process work, and the work of coordinating the work was becoming more challenging than the work itself. The diseconomies of the Industrial Revolution didn’t show up directly on the manufacturing line. Everyone kept optimizing for each step. Instead, the diseconomies showed up when one department needed to interact with another department, the problems had to be smoothed out, and the critical information had to be communicated.

It’s because reengineering tends to reintegrate processes and remove layers of management that it’s often seen as a ploy to justify a layoff. However, done effectively, it’s quite possible that everyone in the old management structure may be deployed – to productive activities.

Knowledge Management

Invariably, when you integrate multiple departments and positions inside a process into a smaller group of people, you’ll see speed increase – and you’ll increase the amount of knowledge necessary to do the work well. The fact that it was perceived as difficult to train people led to breaking jobs down into component pieces in the first place. If you’re going to integrate a process, you need to be able to educate people better – and support them better.

The work of Malcolm Knowles and his colleagues on The Adult Learner only goes so far. The research into Efficiency in Learning isn’t enough. Often, particularly in what Richard Florida in The Rise of the Creative Class calls “creative class” jobs, it’s necessary to find ways to decouple the necessity of knowledge from the individual contributors. Instead of breaking the task down, however, reengineering triages the complexity of the tasks. Some things fit the models so well they can be automatically addressed. Other things fit the models well enough that a generalist can take care of it. (See Range for more on why being a generalist is a good thing.) Only the truly difficult cases require the specialist and their unique knowledge. Here, experts become resources to the people who are processing the volume of the task.

Better yet, where possible, the tacit knowledge that resides in the experts’ heads is made explicit. This can be in the form of guidelines, flowcharts, or other explicit documentation about what to do and when. (See Job Aids and Performance Support for more on aids to performance that aren’t people or learning.) This is an important aspect of managing knowledge effectively, as, too often, the corporate expertise walks out the door when the experts do. (See Lost Knowledge for more on tacit knowledge and the need to convert knowledge to explicit knowledge.)

Even when explicit knowledge is available in some repository, that doesn’t eliminate the need for experts. Only so much of what we know can be converted to explicit knowledge, and that’s why it’s important for reengineering success to leverage knowledge management strategies that take advantage of both content and connections to experts. (See The New Edge in Knowledge for more on content vs. connect.) The truth of the matter is that some expertise is just expertise and transferring that to others is difficult. (See Sources of Power for Gary Klein’s research on recognition-primed decisions and why they can’t be easily taught.)

Loose Controls

One of the other aspects of reengineering is to reverse the process of creating controls for processes. What typically happens in an organization is that someone abuses a policy, so the policy is tightened. Sometimes, it’s tightened with additional checkpoints and oversight. The controls that are added to prevent abuse do, however, come with a cost.

The tight reigns of traditional approaches are replaced with looser controls that tolerate a larger degree of abuse but have controls to prevent it from getting out of hand. This makes financial sense, because the costs for controlling things such that they can’t be abused is higher than the cost of accepting some abuse. This greater flexibility implies trust with limits. (See Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order for more on the impact of trust to economies.)


Much has been written in the past few decades about the importance of empowering workers. It’s about getting their minds involved as well as their bodies, they’ll say. It’s about allowing people to make decisions without “running them up the ladder.” Empowerment addresses both agility and capacity. Because authority is diffused, it’s possible to get answers quicker and respond to problems immediately. Because decisions are diffused, you get generally better, more nuanced decisions.

Despite these advantages and the relative amount of writing that has been done towards the goal of employee empowerment, we’ve not moved the needle much in terms of the perspective of employees in general. They still feel just as disenfranchised as before – but now they’re frustrated that more is expected out of them.

Part of the reluctance to behave like empowered individuals is due to a perceived lack of safety in the organization. (See The Fearless Organization for more on psychological safety in an organization.) Part of it is undoubtedly because few people are taught how to harness their courage. (See Find Your Courage for more.) However, a non-trivial degree of resistance is likely because few organizations give their employees the tools that they need to feel as if they’re empowered. It’s hard to feel like you can make important decisions if you can’t get the tools you need to be effective in your job.

Communications Are Never Good Enough

It’s an easy win. The client says they’ve just run an employee survey to assess engagement and they got low marks in a few areas. One of them is almost always communication. I can lead with, “So how bad were your communication numbers?” and I get murmurs as the collective room begins to take an intense interest in the carpet. Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time available. A corollary is that the demand for communication will outstrip the channels and tools available. (See “Effective Internal Communications Channels” for more.)

Start at the Edges

While it’s tempting to start trying to reengineer the core processes in the organization, experience says that sometimes it’s better to start at the edges and learn how to reengineer effectively before taking on core processes for reengineering. The core processes of the organization are likely to have people much more protective than processes on the edge, which fewer people care about. Once you have successes with the edge processes, people are more likely to want you to help with the core processes. However, an even better starting point is reading Reengineering the Corporation.

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