Posts Tagged ‘Change’

Keys to changing organizational habits

Frequently, La Piana Consulting has the privilege of supporting our strategic restructuring and strategy development clients through the implementation phase of the engagement. Reactions of managers, staff, board members and other internal stakeholders to the inevitable changes that this phase brings range from excitement, anticipation, and a sense of renewal to fatigue, apprehension, fear and resistance. While all these reactions are within the realm of normal, the challenge is to corral and manage them constructively to maintain forward momentum.

The Comfort of the Familiar

One of the greatest impediments to moving forward after restructuring or adopting a new business strategy is organizational entrenchment in old habits—the source of comfort, familiarity and certainty that ensures homeostasis and predictability. We’ve all heard the protestations in defense of “the way we’ve always done it” and witnessed behavioral resistance to change, whether covert and passive or overt and subversive. No matter how normal and anticipated, an organization’s penchant for clinging to familiar habits presents the most challenging and critical aspect of the implementation phase.

By definition, restructuring and/or adopting a new strategic direction are systemically disruptive phenomena. Yet disruption can be positive and can be channeled in creative and transformative ways in spite of the discomfort, fear and defensiveness that sometimes accompany it.

Motivation for Change

I belong to a LinkedIn discussion group, Organizational Change Practitioners, that is a continuous source of great insights, wisdom and shared experience. As much as I have learned from my colleagues in that group, I am nevertheless struck, and sometimes bemused, by the number of discussions that focus on “making” change happen, whole-systems culture change initiatives and top-down change. With all due respect, I fear that we sometimes mistake the trees for the forest. The process of successfully effecting change in organizations cannot be an edict from on high, nor can it be magically created by external consultants or willed into being by managers. It must begin as a small-scale, localized movement that is driven by intrinsically motivated stakeholders.

I recently came across a Harvard Business Review blog that makes the compelling case for a ground-up approach to changing organizational habits. The post, To Change the Culture, Stop Trying to “Change the Culture,” explains that sustained organizational culture change happens as a result of small, incremental, successful, and visible employee-driven improvements which provide the foundation for system-wide replication.

How Shift Happens

Jeffrey Hiatt, author of the widely acclaimed ADKAR® approach to change management in organizations and founder of Prosci Change Management Learning Center, advances a similar approach. In his model, the critical factors that change behaviors, and thus habits, in organizations are Awareness of the need for change, Desire to support and participate in the change, Knowledge of how to change, Ability to implement the required skills and behaviors, and Reinforcement to sustain the change. It is a process of winning hearts and minds, one employee at a time.

Finally, and most importantly, trust and respect are necessary antecedents to shifting behavior and loosening the hold of old organizational habits. By honoring traditions and organizational artifacts while making the case for change and by attending to the ADKAR principles, shift happens. It is an incremental process of planting seeds of change, gaining traction through ownership, building momentum through small wins, and reinforcing change through rewards and incentives.

See also:

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive

Building Nonprofit Capacity: A Guide to Managing Change Through Organizational Lifecycles

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If 70 percent of change efforts fail…

Dr. John Kotter is the foremost authority on organizational change, and the last decade of his research on the subject has culminated into an exciting discovery that’s covered in A Sense of Urgency. A sense of urgency is an important theme in all aspects of leading change, according to Kotter.

Seventy percent fail

We’ve learned from Kotter’s research that 70 percent of large-scale change efforts fail, the successful cases benefit from sufficient urgency and enthusiasm at the start, in other words, “enough buy-in from a critical mass of employees who make the desired change happen.” A Sense of Urgency takes a good look at urgency and how to create it while not confusing it with false urgency or cloaking it in complacency.

Here are two interview questions I asked Dr. Kotter on the topic when we posted our Page to Practice™ feature of A Sense of Urgency at CausePlanet:

CausePlanet: Your book nailed my initial perception in the opening line of the preface: “This is a book about a seemingly narrow issue…” Seemingly is the key point here. Will you please explain how your deeper look at urgency revealed an important theme in all aspects of leading change?

John Kotter: Sense of Urgency was borne out of a decade of research and writing on how individuals can lead successful change in their organizations. In study after study and in conversation after conversation with managers and senior leaders, it became clear it all starts with urgency.
Seventy percent of large-scale change efforts fail; just 10 percent succeed beyond expectations. In every case, generating sufficient urgency and enthusiasm at the start—enough to win buy-in from a critical mass of employees and to move them to devote the time and energy necessary to drive change forward—proved to be the defining factor. In today’s fast-paced, turbulent world, that gut-level determination to win and win now is more important than ever before.

CausePlanet: You explain that complacency is the lesser of evils when compared to false urgency. Can you please explain why for our readers?

John Kotter: First, let’s look at the difference between complacency and false urgency. In an organization where complacency is prevalent, people rest on their past successes. They are content with the status quo. They are inwardly focused, unaware of the rapidly changing world around them and the hazards and opportunities that come with it. And even if they recognize there are challenges out there, they leave it to others to address them. That sort of contentment can be disastrous for an organization.

Many mangers think complacency can be remedied with lots of energetic activity. They send people running from meeting to meeting, push them to tackle task after task, assign them to this task force or that project team. With all that activity, they feel they’ve driven their people to abandon the status quo and have created a sense of urgency for change. But it’s just not true. What they are actually witnessing is false urgency, unfocused flurries of activity that are distracting and unproductive. And they are even more dangerous than complacency because they sap the energy needed to achieve real and lasting change.

Watch for more of my interview with John Kotter next week and visit for more information about his books.

See also:

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down
The Three Laws of Performance

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“Seize Your Big Opportunity” Contest

The nonprofit organization is no stranger to the necessity of buy-in. Be it building a case for support or engaging a board of directors to make a change, buy-in can make or break an organization on a small and large scale.

Without understanding how potential attacks can disrupt consensus around important change, leaders are leaving their organizational growth to chance and potentially empty attacks or unfounded fears of naysayers.

At CausePlanet, we recently featured John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead’s book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas from Getting Shot Down. With the benefit of Kotter and Whitehead’s counterintuitive approach, nonprofit leaders can get smart about how objections are formed and delivered as well as overcome them, critical skills for any situation where two or more opposing viewpoints are likely to surface.

In addition to providing responses to common objections in their book, the authors also suggest eight steps for successful, large-scale change:

1. Increase urgency: Urgency breeds energy and focus and motivates complacent people.
2. Build the guiding coalition: A strong group of respected leaders emerge—not appointed or forced.
3. Get the vision right: Ask, “How would we look differently in the future if successful and what strategies will get us there?”
4. Communicate for buy-in: Communicate vision and strategies relentlessly and through a variety of channels.
5. Empower action: The guiding coalition eliminates obstacles and empowers people to create change.
6. Create short-term wins: With visibility and clarity, build momentum by acknowledging progress so cynics lose their power.
7. Keep at it: Maintain urgency, keep the wins coming and never let up until changes are made.
8. Make change stick: Structures, systems and promotion process should support the new order. The new emerging culture is the glue of change.

For those of you unfamiliar with Kotter’s work beyond Buy-In, John Kotter is the Konosuke Matsuhita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School. Kotter is a best-selling author (Leading Change, The Heart of Change, A Sense of Urgency, among others) and widely considered the world’s foremost authority on leadership and change. He is the founder of Kotter International, a firm designed to guide global leaders in transformational leadership.

Slated to launch this month, Seize Your Big Opportunity is a contest that will give leaders the chance to enter to win a free day-long workshop, called a Big Opportunity Session, with experienced change practitioners from Kotter International. KI’s change practitioners will help senior leaders focus on their highest-priority business goals and the opportunities they represent for their organization, then build alignment around these critical opportunities and begin to develop the competencies to lead large-scale change.

During each day-long session, Kotter International will help leaders align around their firm’s “big opportunity,” which is a picture of what the organization can possibly achieve in relationship to changes happening right now in the world around it. It’s a call to action that appeals to employees’ heads and hearts, compelling them to change because they want to, not because they have to. In each session Kotter International will help facilitate creation of a powerful Big Opportunity statement that the leadership team buys into, can stand behind, and clearly defines the opportunity the organization has in leading proactive change.

Seize Your Big Opportunity is open to organizations of all types and sizes – businesses, educational institutions, non-profits, government agencies, and others are all eligible. After an initial nomination round where organizations submit a brief overview of how and why they want to change, Kotter International will invite organizations with the most compelling cases to submit a more detailed application. Organizations that demonstrate their goals are achievable, their senior leaders are committed to the Big Opportunity, and that they have the capacity to build on the lessons of a one-day session will be selected as winners.  There is no limit on the number of winners who will be selected.

Visit Kotter International website for more books and resources from John Kotter or visit our Page to Practice book summary highlights and subscribe for more information and an author interview about Buy-In and other books in our summary library.

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How to make a change: A conversation with “Switch” authors

In the last two weeks, we have explored highlights from our July Page to Practice™ feature: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Join us for an excerpt of a conversation with authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath with special thanks to Fortier Public Relations.

Fortier: What was the most surprising discovery you made about change behavior?

Heath Brothers: That self-control is exhaustible, like a muscle. We’ve all experienced this—you have a stressful day at work, and you come home and you snap at your partner, or you have one drink too many. You burned up your self-control at work. And this is critical for change, because all change requires self-control. Not just in the sense of resisting a temptation, like a cookie or a drink, but in the sense that you have to manage your behavior deliberately. So one implication of this is that you shouldn’t pile on too much change at once—don’t pick six New Year’s resolutions, and don’t overhaul every aspect of people’s routines at once at work.

Fortier: In the book, you say we often overcomplicate change. What do you mean by that?

Heath Brothers: When change doesn’t happen, we almost always blame it on the people—people who are too “resistant” or “lazy.” But what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. For instance, we tell the story of a manager named Amanda Tucker, who got poor ratings on “communication” from her employees. The problem was that, when they’d come in her office, she’d often get distracted by email and try to multitask while they were sitting there. Is Tucker a bad manager? A poor communicator? Well, no. She rearranged her office one afternoon, so that she couldn’t see her monitor, meaning that she wouldn’t be distracted. And—poof—her communication scores went way up. It wasn’t a problem with Amanda, it was a problem with her environment. And the environment was a lot easier to fix.

Fortier: What do you mean by “shaping the path” for change?

Heath Brothers: Small tweaks to the environment can have a big impact. Think about Amazon’s one-click-order button. They have “shaped the path” to an order, making it as easy as humanly possible. Many of us are blind to how much our situations actually shape our behavior. Our surroundings have been carefully designed to make us act in a particular fashion. Traffic engineers want us to drive in a predictable, safe way, so they paint lane markers and install stoplights and signs. Banks got tired of us leaving our ATM cards in the machine, so we have to remove them before we can get cash. We can also act as our own engineers, tweaking the environment so that the right behaviors are easier. A friend of ours lays out his jogging clothes before he goes to bed, so it’ll be just a bit easier to get started the next day.

Find more information about Switch at Random House, visit our CausePlanet summary store or subscribe to our monthly Page to Practice summaries. Keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter.

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Make the switch: Explore three surprises about change

The nonprofit sector is no exception in an era of change on the heels of economic uncertainty. New strategies and ideas are a necessity for survival as opposed to a “wouldn’t-it-be-nice” consideration. Whether you seek change in your home, organization or society, the applications in Switch abound.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath address specific examples of successful change using strategies such as a social worker who improved the diets of malnourished Vietnamese children by studying “bright spots”; a young college graduate who saved a national bird from extinction by “growing his people”; and a school teacher who “pointed to the destination” to transform her underperforming students into math geniuses.

The examples go on, and so can readers’ results if they apply the patterns Switch spells out for successful change. Early in the book, the Heath brothers explore three important surprises about change that set the stage for their modeling a successful switch.

The first surprise is “what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.” Said differently, if you want people to succeed you need to provide them with specific and clear instructions. (Direct the Rider)

The second surprise is that “change is hard because people wear themselves out” and “what looks like laziness is often exhaustion.” The idea behind this notion is based on research that shows us that “self-control is an exhaustible resource.” The authors refer to self-control, not in terms of willpower per say, but in terms of “self-supervision,” or tasks that require concentration or deliberate speech or movement, such as organizing a drawer or learning a new language. The reason why this matters for change is that new behavior requires self-supervision or purposeful behavior as opposed to not changing and staying on autopilot. “The Rider can’t get his way by force for very long. So it’s critical that you engage people’s emotional side”—get their Elephants on board. ( Motivate the Elephant)

The third surprise is that “what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.” In other words, most of us tend to blame the person when something doesn’t change the way we expect it to. Heath and Heath argue that in reality, it’s often a matter of “tweaking the environment.” (Shape the Path)

Find more information about Switch at Random House, visit our CausePlanet summary store or subscribe to our monthly Page to Practice summaries. Keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter. Read next week’s blog about the three surprises about change.

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Appeal to the “elephant” and “rider” for a change

Change is hard—period. Whether your desired change is losing some weight, restructuring your board or trying that new donor cultivation strategy, change is difficult. Why? Because according to Switch authors and brothers, Chip Heath and Dan Heath, we are of two minds: the rational and the emotional.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, the Heath brothers use a wide variety of interesting narrative examples to illustrate how change follows a pattern we can control if we acknowledge what they call the “Rider” (rational brain), the “Elephant” (emotional brain) and the importance of “Shaping the Path” (creating a clear path for success).

By identifying consistent patterns in the examples they observe, the authors create a compelling methodology for 1) directing the Rider; 2) motivating the Elephant; and 3) Shaping the Path, and they provide tactical strategies within each of these three components of change.

The Heath brothers begin Switch with a baseline understanding of change or, rather, the misunderstandings of change. They debunk our perceptions by uncovering “three surprises about change” and letting us in on their terminology for what numerous studies prove—that we have two independent systems in our brain.

Rational side/Rider



Looks to the future

Directs and plans

Emotional side/Elephant


Feels emotions

Lives in the moment


In order to create change, you have to appeal to both the Rider and Elephant. The Rider provides the planning and direction and the Elephant is the power behind the plan. If you don’t appeal to both, the Elephant will overpower the Rider or the Rider will get stuck in analysis, leaving the Elephant without a place to direct its energy.

Find more information about Switch at Random House, visit our CausePlanet summary store or subscribe to our monthly Page to Practice summaries. Keep up with what we’re reading on Facebook and Twitter. Read next week’s blog about the three surprises about change.

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