Leading Change

by John P. Kotter

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: May 01, 2024
Leading Change
Leading Change

Discover the transformative steps for leading successful organizational change. This book summary covers the key strategies, from building coalitions to cultivating a culture of adaptability. Learn how to drive impactful, values-driven change.

What are the big ideas?

Transformation as a Phased Process

Transformation should be viewed as a structured process rather than a sporadic event, encompassing a series of actionable phases that synergistically build towards successful change.

Coalition Building for Change

Effective transformation necessitates forming a strong coalition of influential leaders who provide sustained support and steer the organizational change beyond the top management.

Visionary Communication for Change

Articulating a clear and compelling vision is crucial. It must be extensively communicated and embodied by leaders to ensure it permeates organizational actions and decisions.

Cultivating a Receptive Change Environment

Creating an environment receptive to change involves detailed persuasion campaigns and addressing cultural nuances to align the organization's staff towards new strategic goals.

Values-Based Adaptive Management

Using a values-based system aids organizations in adapting to change through decentralized decision-making, fostering a shared sense of purpose and operational guidelines across diverse workforces.

Tempered Radicals and Incremental Change

Tempered radicals within an organization catalyze change quietly and effectively by challenging norms and advocating for gradual, yet significant, shifts in organizational culture and practices.

Want to read ebooks, websites, and other text 3X faster?

From a SwiftRead user:
Feels like I just discovered the equivalent of fire but for reading text. WOW, WOW, WOW. A must have for me, forever.

Transformation as a Phased Process

Successful organizational transformation is a phased process, not a one-time event. It involves a series of interconnected steps that must be executed systematically to drive meaningful, lasting change.

The first critical step is establishing a strong sense of urgency. This means clearly communicating the need for change, whether it's addressing a crisis, seizing an opportunity, or improving competitiveness. Without this foundation of urgency, employees will lack the motivation to support the transformation.

Next, a guiding coalition must be formed - a powerful group of leaders who are committed to the vision and can rally others behind it. This coalition is essential for developing a clear, compelling vision that provides direction and inspiration for the entire organization.

Communicating this vision effectively is the next hurdle. Transformation requires over-communicating the vision through every available channel, ensuring that employees at all levels understand and buy into the new direction.

Removing obstacles to the vision is also crucial. Organizational structures, processes, and even individual behaviors that conflict with the transformation must be addressed and aligned.

Ultimately, successful transformation is an iterative, phased process that requires sustained effort and commitment across the organization. By understanding and executing each of these critical steps, leaders can navigate the complexities of large-scale change and position their organizations for long-term success.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight that transformation should be viewed as a structured process rather than a sporadic event:

  • The author states that "Successful transformations begin to involve large numbers of people as the process progresses" and that "Renewal also requires the removal of obstacles." This suggests transformation is a phased process that builds momentum over time.

  • The author describes "Eight steps to transforming your organization", including establishing a sense of urgency, creating a guiding coalition, developing a vision, communicating the vision, empowering others to act, planning for and creating short-term wins, consolidating gains and producing more change, and anchoring new approaches in the culture. This outlines transformation as a structured process with distinct phases.

  • The author notes that "Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result" and that "critical mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains." This emphasizes the importance of following the phased process rather than trying to rush through it.

  • The author provides examples of failed transformations where companies "gave out four-inch-thick notebooks describing its change effort" with "no clear and compelling statement of where all this was leading." This illustrates how treating transformation as a sporadic event rather than a structured process can lead to failure.

Key terms and concepts:

  • Phased process: Transformation should be viewed as a series of interconnected steps or stages, rather than a one-time event.
  • Momentum: Successful transformation builds energy and commitment over time as more people get involved.
  • Obstacles: Transformation requires actively removing barriers and resistance to change.
  • Illusion of speed: Trying to rush through the transformation process without following the necessary steps leads to unsatisfactory results.

Coalition Building for Change

Building a Powerful Guiding Coalition is Crucial for Successful Transformation

Transforming an organization requires more than just the support of top leadership. It demands a coalition of influential individuals who are committed to the change vision and can steer the transformation effort. This guiding coalition should include not just senior executives, but also key stakeholders from across the organization - managers, employees, and even external partners.

The guiding coalition must be powerful enough to overcome resistance and drive the change forward. This means the coalition needs to have the right mix of titles, expertise, relationships, and credibility within the organization. Without a sufficiently influential guiding team, the transformation effort is likely to stall or fail, no matter how well the vision is communicated.

Building this coalition is not easy. It requires getting diverse individuals to develop a shared understanding of the organization's problems and the need for change. This often involves off-site retreats and other activities that build trust and alignment within the group. The more the coalition can grow over time, the more momentum the transformation will gain.

The leader spearheading the change must devote significant time and energy to assembling and nurturing this guiding coalition. It is one of the most critical early steps in driving successful, lasting organizational transformation.

Here are key examples from the context that support the insight about the importance of building a strong coalition to drive organizational change:

  • In successful transformations, the "chairman or president or division general manager, plus another five or 15 or 50 people, come together and develop a shared commitment to excellent performance through renewal." This powerful coalition is essential, as it "never includes all of the company's most senior executives because some people just won't buy in, at least not at first."

  • In a midsize European company, the "guiding coalition develops a picture of the future that is relatively easy to communicate and appeals to customers, stockholders, and employees." This shared vision is critical to aligning the coalition and driving the change effort forward.

  • At the Navigation Devices division, the new general manager "formed a 20-person task force representing all the stakeholders in the organization—managers, engineers, production workers, and union officials." This diverse coalition helped diagnose the problems, develop a shared vision, and build commitment to the change.

  • The Navigation Devices task force "came up with a model of the organization in which cross-functional teams would accomplish all work." This new structure, developed by the coalition, removed functional and hierarchical barriers to change.

  • The Navigation Devices general manager "used what his subordinates termed the 'velvet glove'" to foster consensus, competence, and cohesion within the coalition driving the change. This strong leadership was crucial to overcoming uneven commitment and resistance.

The key point is that successful organizational transformation requires building a powerful guiding coalition that extends beyond just senior management. This coalition must develop a shared understanding of the problems, a compelling vision, and the commitment and skills to drive the change forward, even in the face of resistance.

Visionary Communication for Change

Crafting a clear, compelling vision is essential for driving successful organizational change. This vision must be extensively communicated throughout the organization, with leaders embodying the desired behaviors and values.

Effective communication of the vision is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process. Leaders should leverage all available channels - from routine meetings to company newsletters - to repeatedly reinforce the vision and its importance. This constant reinforcement helps capture the hearts and minds of employees, inspiring them to make the necessary changes.

Beyond just words, leaders must also walk the talk, modeling the new behaviors and mindsets that align with the vision. When employees see leaders consistently demonstrating the desired culture, it builds trust and credibility in the change effort. This alignment between words and deeds is critical for overcoming resistance and driving meaningful, lasting transformation.

The vision serves as the North Star, guiding decisions and actions across the organization. By keeping this vision front and center through extensive communication and leading by example, leaders can rally the entire workforce behind the change initiative and maximize the chances of success.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about the importance of visionary communication for change:

  • In more successful transformation efforts, executives use every possible channel to broadcast the vision, turning "boring, unread company newsletters into lively articles about the vision" and making "ritualistic, tedious quarterly management meetings" into "exciting discussions of the transformation."

  • Executives who communicate well incorporate messages into their hour-by-hour activities, such as discussing in a "routine discussion about a business problem" how proposed solutions fit (or don't fit) into the "bigger picture" and the "new vision."

  • Executives learn to "walk the talk" and "consciously attempt to become a living symbol of the new corporate culture." This is challenging, as a "60-year-old plant manager who has spent precious little time over 40 years thinking about customers will not suddenly behave in a customer-oriented way."

  • Without a "sensible vision," a transformation effort can easily dissolve into a "list of confusing and incompatible projects" that take the organization in the wrong direction. In failed transformations, there is often "plenty of plans, directives, and programs but no vision."

  • Communicating the vision effectively is crucial, as "transformation is impossible unless hundreds or thousands of people are willing to help, often to the point of making short-term sacrifices." Employees will not make these sacrifices "unless they believe that useful change is possible."

Cultivating a Receptive Change Environment

Successful organizational transformations require cultivating a receptive change environment. This involves two critical steps:

First, leaders must create a strong sense of urgency around the need for change. This means clearly communicating the competitive threats, market shifts, or performance gaps that demand immediate action. Employees must understand the compelling reasons why the status quo is unsustainable. Without this foundation of urgency, people will resist leaving their comfort zones.

Second, leaders must align the organization's culture and values with the new strategic direction. This means using all available communication channels to repeatedly reinforce the vision and desired behaviors. Executives must also model the new mindset and practices, becoming living symbols of the transformation. When employees see leaders "walking the talk", it builds trust and commitment to the change effort.

Cultivating this receptive environment is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process of persuasion and cultural adaptation. It lays the groundwork for employees to embrace new ways of working, rather than resisting change. By addressing both the logical and emotional dimensions, leaders can create the conditions for successful, sustainable transformation.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight:

  • Example: Navigation's task force proposed developing products through cross-functional teams. This new team-based approach helped break down functional and hierarchical barriers to information sharing and problem solving.

  • Example: Navigation's general manager fostered consensus by supporting those committed to change and offering outplacement/counseling to those who weren't. This helped align the organization towards the new vision by addressing resistance to change.

  • Example: Navigation's new team structure required engineers to collaborate with production workers. Encouraging the engineers to develop their own approach to teamwork and coordination, rather than pushing change from the top, helped the engineers willingly learn new skills and attitudes.

  • Example: An oversight team of managers, a union leader, an engineer, and a financial analyst at Navigation continuously monitored the change process, learning and adapting to strengthen commitment to change. This grassroots, collaborative approach to managing the change process helped create a receptive environment.

The key terms and concepts illustrated in these examples include:

  • Cross-functional teams: Breaking down functional silos to enable information sharing and problem solving
  • Managing resistance to change: Providing support to those committed to change while transitioning out those unwilling to change
  • Grassroots, collaborative change management: Empowering teams to develop their own approaches rather than mandating change from the top

Overall, these examples demonstrate how Navigation cultivated a receptive change environment by using persuasive, bottom-up tactics that addressed cultural and organizational nuances, rather than relying on top-down directives.

Values-Based Adaptive Management

Values-based adaptive management empowers organizations to navigate constant change. By aligning employees around shared values, companies can foster decentralized decision-making and a collective sense of purpose. This approach equips diverse workforces with clear operational guidelines, enabling them to respond quickly and creatively to strategic challenges.

The key is to actively involve employees in defining the organization's core values. Gather their feedback, analyze common themes, and refine the values accordingly. This collaborative process imbues the values with legitimacy and meaning, ensuring they resonate with the workforce.

To prove the values are more than just lip service, leaders must demonstrate a genuine commitment. This may involve identifying gaps between the values and current practices, and launching initiatives to remove obstacles. When employees see the values reflected in tangible actions, they are more likely to embrace and embody them.

The ultimate goal is to create a values-driven culture that empowers employees to make autonomous, values-aligned decisions. By aligning individual actions with the organization's shared purpose, values-based adaptive management fosters the agility and innovation needed to thrive in a constantly evolving business landscape.

Examples from the Context:

  • At Navigation Devices, the general manager used a "velvet glove" approach to foster consensus for the new vision - he supported managers who were committed to change, but offered outplacement and counseling to those who were not.
  • At Navigation Devices, the new team structure required engineers to collaborate with production workers, forcing them to re-examine their roles and rethink their approaches to organizing and managing their own department. This encouraged the engineers to develop their own approach to teamwork and coordination, selecting matrix management.
  • At Navigation Devices, the change process was monitored by an oversight team of managers, a union leader, an engineer, and a financial analyst, who continuously learned, adapted, and strengthened the commitment to change.

Key Terms and Concepts:

  • Values-Based Adaptive Management: An approach to organizational change that focuses on defining a shared set of values to guide decision-making and behavior, rather than relying solely on top-down directives. This allows for decentralized, adaptive responses to changing conditions.
  • Shared Sense of Purpose: A common understanding among employees of the organization's mission and values, which provides operational guidelines and a unifying force across a diverse workforce.
  • Decentralized Decision-Making: Empowering employees at all levels to make decisions aligned with the organization's values, rather than concentrating authority at the top.

Additional Example:

  • At IBM, CEO Sam Palmisano led an effort to gather employee feedback on proposed corporate values, revise them based on that input, and then launch initiatives to remove obstacles that prevented employees from living those values. This values-based approach helped IBM adapt to the strategic challenge of reintegrating its diverse, global workforce to offer customized solutions to customers.

Tempered Radicals and Incremental Change

Tempered Radicals: Individuals within an organization who quietly challenge the status quo and drive incremental, yet impactful, change. Rather than bold, dramatic actions, they use subtle, everyday tactics to shift organizational culture and practices.

Incremental Change: Small, gradual shifts that accumulate over time to produce significant transformations. Unlike drastic, disruptive change, incremental change happens steadily, with less upheaval.

Tempered radicals understand that lasting, meaningful change often occurs through patient, persistent efforts, not sudden revolutions. They use a spectrum of quiet approaches - from disruptive self-expression to strategic alliance building - to chip away at entrenched norms and introduce new ways of thinking and working.

Their influence spreads as they recruit allies, start conversations, and inspire others to follow their lead. Though their actions may seem modest, the cumulative impact can be profound. Tempered radicals demonstrate that evolutionary, grassroots change can be just as powerful as top-down, dramatic transformation.

For organizations seeking cultural shifts, tempered radicals can be invaluable assets. By identifying and supporting these informal leaders, executives can harness the power of incremental change to reshape their institutions from within.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about tempered radicals and incremental change:

  • Peter Grant, a black senior executive at a large West Coast bank, slowly but radically altered the demographic makeup of his organization over his 30-year career. He made it a priority to hire qualified women and minorities, and asked each new hire to do the same. This "viral" approach inspired over 3,500 talented minority and female employees to join the bank, transforming its demographics through gradual, persistent effort rather than dramatic action.

  • John Ziwak, a manager at a high-growth computer components company, disrupted the expectation of long work hours by arriving early and leaving by 6pm to spend time with his family. At first, his schedule raised eyebrows, but as his performance remained strong, his colleagues accommodated the change and found more efficient ways of working, leading to a shift in the company's culture around work-life balance.

  • Barry Coswell, a conservative lawyer, recognized and promoted a "tempered radical" named Dana within his organization. Dana, a left-leaning first-year attorney, was honest about her background and principles. Rather than dismissing her, Coswell listened, shared his own stories, and gave Dana opportunities to speak her mind and challenge assumptions. Over time, this support allowed Dana to become a senior vice president, demonstrating how tempered radicals can be nurtured to drive incremental change.

The key is that tempered radicals operate through disruptive self-expression, verbal jujitsu, variable-term opportunism, and strategic alliance building - subtle, gradual approaches that erode entrenched norms over time, rather than dramatic, confrontational tactics. Their leadership is "less visible than traditional forms—but just as important" in promoting cultural transformation within organizations.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "Leading Change" that resonated with readers.

transformation is a process, not an event

True change is not a sudden, one-time occurrence, but rather a gradual and ongoing process. It requires consistent effort and dedication over time to achieve lasting results. This process involves multiple stages, from planning and preparation to implementation and evaluation, each building upon the previous one.

Management makes a system work. It helps you do what you know how to do. Leadership builds systems or transforms old ones.

Effective management focuses on optimizing existing processes and systems to achieve efficiency and productivity. On the other hand, leadership goes beyond mere optimization and instead creates new systems or transforms existing ones to drive innovation and change. While management is about maintaining the status quo, leadership is about challenging it and creating a new path forward. This requires a more visionary and transformative approach that can lead to significant growth and progress.

Nothing undermines change more than behavior by important individuals that is inconsistent with the verbal communication.

When leaders' actions contradict their words, it creates confusion and undermines trust in the change effort. This inconsistency can lead to cynicism and resistance among employees, making it harder to achieve meaningful transformation. It's essential for leaders to model the behaviors they expect from others, demonstrating a genuine commitment to the change vision.

Comprehension Questions

0 / 28

How well do you understand the key insights in "Leading Change"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. What is the first critical step required for a successful organizational transformation?
2. Why is forming a guiding coalition important in the transformation process?
3. What does over-communicating the vision entail in the context of organizational transformation?
4. What role does removing obstacles play in ensuring the success of a transformation?
5. What is meant by transformation being an 'iterative, phased process'?
6. Why is it important for a transformation effort to include not only senior executives but also other key stakeholders from across the organization?
7. What characteristics make a guiding coalition powerful enough to drive change?
8. What activities might be involved in building trust and alignment within a guiding coalition?
9. What role does a leader play in the process of forming and nurturing a guiding coalition in an organization?
10. How does a diverse guiding coalition contribute to diagnosing problems and developing a shared vision in an organization?
11. What is the significance of a clear and compelling vision in driving organizational change?
12. Why is it important for leaders to use multiple communication channels to convey their vision?
13. What does the term 'walk the talk' imply in the context of organizational change and leadership?
14. How does consistent communication of the vision impact employee perception and participation in change initiatives?
15. What potential dangers lie in not having a well-communicated vision during a transformation effort?
16. What are the two critical steps necessary for successful organizational transformations?
17. Why is creating a sense of urgency crucial in an organizational transformation?
18. How can leaders align their organization's culture with a new strategic direction?
19. What impact does seeing leaders actively model new behaviors have on employees during a change process?
20. How does utilizing cross-functional teams aid in successful organizational change?
21. What is the primary advantage of aligning employees around shared values in an organization?
22. How can an organization ensure that its core values are meaningful and legitimate to its workforce?
23. What steps should leaders take to demonstrate their commitment to the organization's values?
24. What is the ultimate goal of values-based adaptive management in a business environment?
25. What defines a tempered radical in an organizational context?
26. How does incremental change differ from drastic change in an organization?
27. What tactics do tempered radicals employ to drive change?
28. Why is the approach of tempered radicals often considered powerful in organizational change?

Action Questions

0 / 8

"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "Leading Change". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can you create and communicate a sense of urgency for an upcoming change in your organization?
2. What steps can you take to form and nurture a guiding coalition within your organization to lead a significant change?
3. How can you effectively communicate your vision for change within your organization to ensure it is understood and embraced by all team members?
4. What steps can you take to embody the vision of change you want to see in your organization, to reinforce the importance of this vision?
5. How can you effectively communicate the urgency of change within your organization to ensure all team members are aligned and motivated?
6. How can your organization actively involve employees in the development of its core values to create a more adaptive and agile culture?
7. In what ways could your organization demonstrate commitment to its declared values to build trust and foster a values-driven culture?
8. How can you identify and support tempered radicals within your organization to foster a culture of incremental change?

Chapter Notes

Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Transformation is a process, not an event: Successful change initiatives go through a series of phases that build on each other, and skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed without producing satisfying results.

  • Establishing a sense of urgency is critical: Without sufficient motivation, people won't help, and the transformation effort will go nowhere. Managers often underestimate how difficult it is to drive people out of their comfort zones.

  • A powerful guiding coalition is essential: Major change requires the active support and participation of a group of key individuals, not just the head of the organization. This coalition needs to grow over time and include both senior managers and other influential people.

  • A clear, compelling vision is necessary: Without a sensible vision, a transformation effort can dissolve into a list of uncoordinated projects that don't add up. The vision should be easy to communicate and appeal to customers, shareholders, and employees.

  • Communicating the vision extensively is crucial: Transformation requires the "hearts and minds" of thousands of people, but this won't happen unless the vision is communicated extensively, through both words and deeds. Executives need to "walk the talk" and model the desired behaviors.

  • Removing obstacles to the new vision is important: Successful transformations empower people to take action, but this requires removing organizational and individual obstacles that block the path. The "big" obstacles must be confronted and removed.

  • Systematically planning for and creating short-term wins is essential: Real transformation takes time, and momentum can be lost without clear performance improvements within 12-24 months. Managers need to actively look for and achieve these short-term wins.

  • Anchoring changes in the organization's culture is critical for sustainability: New behaviors and attitudes must become "the way we do things around here" for the transformation to stick. This requires showing people the connections between the changes and improved performance, as well as ensuring that the next generation of leaders personifies the new approach.

Change Through Persuasion

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Persuasion is key for successful organizational change: The chapter argues that for change to stick, leaders must design and run an effective persuasion campaign, taking deliberate steps to recast employees' prevailing views and create a new context for action, rather than just announcing a new strategy and restructuring.

  • Four-stage persuasion campaign: The chapter outlines a four-stage persuasion campaign that leaders can use to drive change:

    • Set the stage for acceptance: Develop a bold message that provides compelling reasons to do things differently, and signal the arrival of a new order.
    • Frame the turnaround plan: Present the plan in a way that helps people interpret the ideas correctly, by evoking the organization's mission and values, contrasting with past efforts, and emphasizing employee ownership.
    • Manage the mood: Strike the right balance of optimism and realism to make employees feel cared for while keeping them focused on executing the plan.
    • Prevent backsliding: Provide opportunities for employees to practice desired behaviors repeatedly, and publicly criticize disruptive, divisive behaviors.
  • Overcoming dysfunctional organizational routines: The chapter discusses how leaders must work to overcome dysfunctional organizational routines, such as a "culture of no", the "dog and pony show", and "ready, aim, aim..." that can undermine change efforts.

  • Importance of creating a receptive environment: The chapter emphasizes that the key to successful change is creating a receptive environment where employees not only understand the need for change, but are emotionally committed to it and have the hands-on experience to execute it. This requires leaders to focus on the "heads, hearts, and hands" of employees.

  • Case study of BIDMC turnaround: The chapter uses the example of Paul Levy's turnaround of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to illustrate the four-stage persuasion campaign and the importance of creating a receptive environment for change.

Leading Change When Business Is Good: An Interview with Samuel J. Palmisano

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Values-based management system: Palmisano believes that a values-based management system, rather than a traditional command-and-control approach, is crucial for IBM to adapt and thrive in a constantly changing environment. Values provide a common purpose and guidelines for decentralized decision-making across IBM's large, diverse, and distributed workforce.

  • Distilling new values from past and employee feedback: IBM carefully developed its new set of corporate values by drawing on its historical "Basic Beliefs" established by Thomas Watson, Sr., as well as extensive input from top executives and a representative sample of over 1,000 employees. This inclusive process helped ensure the values resonated with the workforce.

  • ValuesJam: The online "ValuesJam" was a 72-hour, companywide debate on IBM's proposed values, which unleashed a range of emotions and criticisms from employees. Palmisano saw this as a positive, as it provided valuable feedback and a mandate for driving further change, rather than just imposing values from the top.

  • New values: IBM's new corporate values are: 1) "Dedication to every client's success", 2) "Innovation that matters - for our company and for the world", and 3) "Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships". These values are intended to guide IBM's strategy, culture, and decision-making as the company adapts to industry changes.

  • Implementing the values: To prove the values were more than just rhetoric, Palmisano immediately launched initiatives to remove obstacles preventing employees from living the values, such as empowering managers with discretionary funds to quickly respond to client needs, and overhauling IBM's pricing model to enable integrated client solutions.

  • Balancing values and financial metrics: Palmisano acknowledges the tension between soft values and hard financial metrics, but believes values can provide balance and consistency in decision-making across the organization, rather than just optimizing for short-term financials.

  • Long-term process: Embedding the new values across IBM's 320,000 employees is a long-term, 10-15 year process. While many employees have embraced the values, Palmisano recognizes there is still work to be done to close the gap between the stated values and the reality of IBM's operations.

Radical Change, the Quiet Way

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Tempered Radicals: Individuals who feel at odds with aspects of their organization's culture, but genuinely like their jobs and want to continue to succeed in them. They work quietly to challenge prevailing wisdom and gently provoke their organizational cultures to adapt.

  • Disruptive Self-Expression: The most inconspicuous way for tempered radicals to initiate change, where they simply act in a way that feels personally right but that others notice. Examples include dressing or behaving in a way that disrupts others' expectations, like wearing lace socks or leaving work at 6 PM.

  • Verbal Jujitsu: Tempered radicals redirect negative statements or actions into positive change. They respond to undesirable, demeaning statements or actions by turning them into opportunities for change that others will notice.

  • Variable-Term Opportunism: Tempered radicals are ready to capitalize on unexpected short-term opportunities for change, as well as orchestrate deliberate, longer-term change. They spot, create, and capitalize on both short- and long-term opportunities.

  • Strategic Alliance Building: Tempered radicals gain clout by working with allies. This enhances their legitimacy and allows them to implement change more quickly and directly than they could alone. They don't make "opponents" enemies, as they are often the best source of support and resources.

  • Evolutionary Change: Organizations change primarily through two ways - drastic action and evolutionary adaptation. Tempered radicals focus on the latter, making small, incremental changes that gradually erode the status quo over time.

  • Localized, Diffuse Leadership: Tempered radicals exercise a form of leadership within organizations that is more localized, more diffuse, more modest, and less visible than traditional forms, yet no less significant. Top executives should seek out and support these tempered radicals.

  • Flexibility and Patience: Tempered radicals are firm in their commitments but flexible in their means. They yearn for rapid change but trust in patience, often working alone yet uniting others, and starting conversations rather than battling powerful foes.

Tipping Point Leadership

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Break Through the Cognitive Hurdle: To overcome the cognitive hurdle and get people to agree on the need for change, tipping point leaders like Bratton do not rely on numbers alone. Instead, they put key managers face-to-face with the operational problems so that they cannot evade reality. This helps the message of poor performance and the need for change to stick with people.

  • Sidestep the Resource Hurdle: Tipping point leaders know how to reach the organization's tipping point without extra resources. They concentrate their existing resources on the places that are most in need of change and have the biggest possible payoffs, rather than trimming their ambitions or fighting for more resources.

  • Jump the Motivational Hurdle: To turn a new strategy into a movement, tipping point leaders single out the key influencers - people with disproportionate power due to their connections, persuasive ability, or ability to block resources. By putting these key influencers under a spotlight and making them accountable, the leaders create a culture of performance and learning that spreads through the organization.

  • Knock Over the Political Hurdle: Even after reaching the tipping point, powerful vested interests will resist change. Tipping point leaders anticipate this by identifying and silencing vocal naysayers early on, often by appointing a respected senior insider to the top team. They also build broad coalitions to isolate and overcome opposition from external stakeholders.

A Survival Guide for Leaders

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Leading change is dangerous: Leading organizational change often involves asking people to give up habits and beliefs they hold dear, which can lead to attempts to undermine or remove the change agent (you).

  • Distinguish between adaptive and technical change: Adaptive change requires people to alter their ways, while technical change can be solved using existing know-how. Treating an adaptive challenge as a technical problem can prevent real progress.

  • Operate in and above the fray: Maintain the ability to step back and observe what's happening to your initiative, as this "balcony perspective" allows you to respond effectively to unfolding events.

  • Court the uncommitted: Recruit partners to help protect you and point out flaws, while also keeping opponents close to understand their thinking. Demonstrate your seriousness by being willing to let go of those who can't make the required changes.

  • Cook the conflict: Create a secure space for conflicts to surface, and regulate the level of distress to keep it high enough to motivate change but low enough to prevent destructive turmoil.

  • Place the work where it belongs: Resist the urge to solve problems yourself, as this can make you a target. Instead, mobilize others to take responsibility for solving issues.

  • Manage your hungers: Be aware of your needs for control and importance, as an exaggerated desire for these can lead to self-deception and unhealthy dependence on you.

  • Anchor yourself: Establish a safe haven to reflect and renew, acquire a confidant, and distinguish between your personal self and your professional role to avoid taking attacks personally.

The Real Reason People Won’t Change

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Competing Commitments: Even when employees are genuinely committed to change, they may have a hidden "competing commitment" - a subconscious goal that conflicts with their stated commitment. This competing commitment makes them personally "immune" to change.

  • Diagnosing Immunity to Change: Managers can uncover an employee's competing commitment by asking a series of questions, such as: "What would you like to see changed at work?", "What commitment does your complaint imply?", and "What are you doing, or not doing, that is keeping your commitment from being more fully realized?". This helps reveal the employee's underlying "big assumption" - a deeply-held belief that drives the competing commitment.

  • Big Assumptions: Big assumptions are deeply-rooted beliefs about oneself and the world that people accept as reality, often formed early in life. These assumptions sustain the competing commitment and drive the behaviors that undermine the stated commitment.

  • Questioning Big Assumptions: To overcome immunity to change, employees must first observe how their big assumptions influence their current behavior, then actively look for evidence that contradicts those assumptions. They can then explore the history of how the big assumptions formed, and finally test the assumptions through small behavioral experiments.

  • Managers' Own Immunity: Managers are just as susceptible to competing commitments and big assumptions as their employees. Uncovering their own immunity to change can help managers better understand and guide their employees through this process.

  • Importance of Understanding: Identifying competing commitments and big assumptions is not about finding flaws, but about gaining valuable insight into why people who are genuinely committed to change nonetheless resist it. This understanding is crucial for helping employees become more effective and successful.

Cracking the Code of Change

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Two Theories of Change: The chapter identifies two main theories of organizational change - Theory E (change based on economic value) and Theory O (change based on organizational capability).

  • Theory E Change: Theory E change strategies focus on maximizing shareholder value through methods like layoffs, downsizing, and restructuring. This "hard" approach is more common in the US where financial markets push for rapid turnarounds.

  • Theory O Change: Theory O change strategies focus on developing corporate culture and human capabilities through employee learning and engagement. This "soft" approach is more common in companies with strong, long-term psychological contracts with employees, like in Asia and Europe.

  • Limitations of Pure Strategies: Both pure Theory E and pure Theory O strategies have limitations. E strategies can hollow out a company by neglecting capability building, while O strategies can delay necessary structural changes.

  • Integrating E and O Strategies: The most successful change efforts balance and integrate both E and O strategies. This is difficult to execute well, as the two approaches have inherent tensions, but can lead to sustainable competitive advantage.

  • ASDA Case Study: The UK grocery chain ASDA successfully combined E and O strategies under CEO Archie Norman. This included top-down goal setting, bottom-up engagement, simultaneous focus on hard and soft sides, and judicious use of consultants.

  • Entrepreneurial Change: The same principles of integrating E and O strategies apply to entrepreneurial companies navigating rapid growth, whether their primary goal is a quick cash-out or building a lasting institution.

The Hard Side of Change Management

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Four DICE Factors: The four key factors that determine the success or failure of a change management initiative are:

    • Duration (D): The time between milestone reviews for the project - shorter is better.
    • Integrity (I): The capability and skills of the project team.
    • Commitment (C): The visible support and backing from senior executives (C1) and the enthusiasm of employees affected by the change (C2).
    • Effort (E): The additional work required from employees to implement the change - the less, the better.
  • Calculating DICE Scores: Companies can assess each DICE factor on a scale of 1-4, with 1 being highly likely to contribute to success and 4 being highly unlikely. The overall DICE score is calculated as: D + (2 x I) + (2 x C1) + C2 + E. Scores between 7-14 are in the "Win Zone" and indicate a high likelihood of success, 14-17 are in the "Worry Zone" with unpredictable outcomes, and over 17 are in the "Woe Zone" and are likely to fail.

  • Using the DICE Framework: Companies can use the DICE framework in three ways:

    • Track Projects: Regularly assess DICE scores to identify problem areas and make corrections.
    • Manage Project Portfolios: Use DICE to prioritize the most important projects and ensure their success.
    • Force Conversations: The DICE framework provides a common language to have open discussions about change initiatives and address underlying issues.
  • Importance of Hard Factors: While soft factors like culture and leadership are important, the DICE framework emphasizes the "hard" factors that directly influence the outcomes of change programs. Addressing these hard factors first is crucial for a change initiative to get off the ground.

  • Case Examples: The chapter provides several examples of companies, like a global beverage company and an Australian bank, that used the DICE framework to successfully execute major change programs by identifying and addressing potential problem areas.

Why Change Programs Don’t Produce Change

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Fallacy of Programmatic Change: Most change programs don't work because they are guided by a flawed theory of change. The common belief is that changes in individual attitudes and behaviors will lead to organizational change, but this is backwards. In reality, individual behavior is powerfully shaped by the organizational roles and context that people are placed in.

  • Six Steps to Effective Change: Companies can achieve effective change through a sequence of six overlapping steps:

    1. Mobilize commitment to change through joint diagnosis of business problems: Engage employees in analyzing the organization's key problems and challenges.
    2. Develop a shared vision of how to organize and manage for competitiveness: Create a new organizational model that addresses the root causes of the problems.
    3. Foster consensus for the new vision, competence to enact it, and cohesion to move it along: Provide leadership, training, and support to help employees develop the skills and commitment to make the new model work.
    4. Spread revitalization to all departments without pushing it from the top: Allow each department to adapt the new model to their own context, rather than forcing a top-down solution.
    5. Institutionalize revitalization through formal policies, systems, and structures: Only after the new approach is well-established, make changes to formal organizational structures and systems to align with and support the new way of working.
    6. Monitor and adjust strategies in response to problems in the revitalization process: Establish mechanisms to continuously learn and adapt the change process.
  • The Role of Top Management: Senior managers play a critical but different role in the change process. They should:

    • Create a market for change by setting demanding performance standards and holding managers accountable for making fundamental changes in how they organize and manage.
    • Use successfully revitalized units as organizational models for the entire company, providing resources and support to help spread the lessons from these "laboratories" of innovation.
    • Develop career paths that encourage leadership development, using the change process to identify and develop the next generation of change leaders.
    • Transform the top management team itself once the change process has spread, aligning the organization's structure, systems, and leadership with the new management practices developed at the unit level.

The key is that effective change is a process of learning and adaptation, not a one-time program. It starts at the unit level, led by general managers, and then spreads across the organization as senior leaders create the conditions to support and scale the change.


What do you think of "Leading Change"? Share your thoughts with the community below.