Understanding What Really Drives Change
I read an interesting paper looking at the question of whether or not
organizational culture can over-ride leadership in the change game.
Actually I thought the question was a straw man, as it seems all to
obvious that leaders have a tough time trying to get organizations
By-the-way, the article I’m referring to does a nice job of looking at
models for framing change (emergent or ad-hoc vs planned) and
Kurt Lewin’s model of managing change: 1. Unfreeze, 2. Moving, and
After reading all this, and just reflecting this past week on the different
environments I have worked in and how relatively responsive vs.
non-responsive to change, I realized cataloguing the origin of change
or the processes it supposedly goes through is all a bit overly conceptual
on a day-to-day basis for me. I’m more interested in tools that I can
use, so here’s my model, and how I use it.
1. Change comes about from 3 origins and is defined by the relative
tension or differences in power between the three, with the winner
always being the one exercising the most power as reflected by
kicking individuals out of the game.
2. Cultures or Systems and
3. Environment or Market.
2. The individuals facing a change process or challenge always fall into
one of four buckets:
1. Early adopters, ready, and usually well motivated, at least at the start,
but with a track record of getting distracted
2. Wait and see, tentatively motivated, accommodating, but not
working too hard at either the change or resisting it.
3. The fully resistant, either actively or passively pushing back at the
4. The adopters that see it through, usually made up of groups 1
and 2, who find their way to a point of buy-in and have the emotional
resources and discipline to see their way to the end.
3. I use both models in roughly this format:
1. Find out who/what is exerting the most power on the outcome. Either
adapt (change) or raise the level of power I or the group I’m working
for so that it is the strongest driver in the 3 ringed circus.
2. If driving change, be very careful about who is on the bus.
– Monitor regularly as momentum and motivation are both subject to
fade-outs and reversals.
– Garner enough power for the people on the bus, so that they can sustain
the effort long enough to be successful with the early adopters and the
“wait and see” groups, and either over-ride or ignore the fully resistant.
– Expect and treat change, to be a multi-layer event,
– Keep watching (observing and recognizing), keep adapting and keep the
recognition high for any compliance and the pressure on when it is
tempting to back off.
3. Recognize that power in the change game is always exemplified
by the process or willingness to kick people out of the game who
don’t comply. When the market is the most powerful, it’s rewarding
some and clearly kicking others out of the game. When a culture or
system is the most powerful, it tends to kick out individuals who
don’t fit or support it, including leaders. When leaders are the most
powerful, they kick people off the bus that don’t comply. In some
profound ways it really is that simple.
My own model is that change is ultimately personal and experienced in
terms of the power of personalities. It is reflected as a tension between the
personality of leadership, the personality of the culture and the people who
most shape that, and the personality and actions of the market, where
power is exercised as the effect of kicking people out of the game that don’t
comply. Stability looks like unchanging power relationships, change looks
like a shift in dominance positions between the three personalities. Just
remember, the personality that is actively throwing individuals out of the
ring that don’t comply, is in power and driving the change process.