Fast Company

Arranging Change

There's an interesting blog discussion going on between Frank Patrick's Focused Performance and Gaping Void about what drives change -- new tools, or new processes and relationships among peers.

The respective entries -- and the comments they've attracted so far -- resonate well with the May issue's cover story: Change or Die. As part of a wide-ranging analysis of how people are wired in terms of change, John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, offers, "The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people."

Is that the same as culture? Would Kotter agree with Frank and Hugh? Or is behavior separate from organizational culture?

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11 Comments

  • jim wilde

    DO NOT FEAR LOSING WHAT YOU HAVE OR NOT GETTING WHAT YOU WANT. Like "Alice In Wonderland" start exploreing a new world. There are great possibilities everywhere. Start a journal, a blog, a business, paint, color, dance, have FUN. Don't wait for a decade or so to pass before you wake up.

    Hold it all together with an "intention calender". Progress is the key - not perfection!

  • Redza

    IMO, it is leaders who change organizations. These aren’t always people in top management. You find them even at shopfloor level. Leaders are people who have influence, whom others listen or look up to. My observation, high performers have such influence no matter where they are in the hierarchy/org structure. Their talk and actions set the tone which others follow. Organizations that try to change without first getting these people on-board fail.

    In business, it’s not always the case that the ones with power know which direction to take, or when to initiate changes. The need for change is often recognized at grassroots level. How fast this "need" floats up to and gets accepted at top management level is determined by culture, more than structure and systems. You can have bleeding edge systems (or a super-flat org structure) and still not deal with organizational concerns openly. Problems remain burried under the carpet until it is too late.

    The interesting question in the cover story is that Why do so many resist change even when faced with the worst scenario? And the answer is, because many can’t attach themselves to a better alternative. So until someone reveals to them clearly; there is a possibility of a better future which they can be a part of, the majority will resort to wishful thinking that the status quo will bring them emotional (and financial) success much like in the old days. Kotter is right. And this is what Paul Danos meant when he said, "Progress cannot happen without a good narrative."

  • Paul Marvin

    Gary, maybe you should read the article again. It does mention that "emotions", especially positive ones, do cause significant changes in the human brain even when the threat of death does not. Oh...and you posted the same thing way too many times.

  • Gary Cymbaluk

    Change is extremely difficult, especially the behaviour of people, as the article states. However, the article misses the most obvious reason for change. When a man falls in love with a woman, he will do things he never imagined possible. He will siwm the English Channel. He will walk a thousand miles to be by her side. Love is the most powerful change agent that exists. When we "love" somebody or something, we find it easy to obey them or it.

  • Norman Bodek

    Change or Die is a brilliant article and very appropriate for management at this time. One small comment near the end of the article is: Myth: Small, gradual changes are always easier to make and sustain. Reality: Radical, sweeping changes are often easier because they quickly yield benefits.

    I differ. Each change small or large meets with resistance. It is Newton's law, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." So smaller changes do meet with resistance but are easier to overcome. Radical change happens but rarely. I teach a Japanese concept called Quick and Easy Kaizen and have seen managers to inspire people to make change part of their culture. Subaru a year ago received 108.1 ideas in writing per employee and saved over $5,000 per employee. ArvinMeritor in Michigan received 21 written ideas per employee and saved $4,285 per employee.

    People generally fear change, fear making a mistake. But, people can begin to accept the concept of making small changes if inspired by enlightened management.

  • Anthony Wallace

    Culture is the set of expected/acceptable behaviors in any defined group. Having recently guiding a culture shift in a local church, I can assure you that initiating a cultural shift requires that a visionary engage in unexpected/unacceptable behavior. For this to be effective in promoting change the new set of behaviors must be accepted (or emulated for greater effect) by official leaders as well as influencers, and result in immediate, quantifiable, visible success. Resistance to change can only be overcome by persistent results that were not possible with the old system.

  • Tony DaSilva

    At the risk of over-simplifying, here are my thoughts on the issue.

    Thoughts determine feelings, and feelings determine behavior. An environment that is transparent, establishes trust, and is managed by leaders whose actions are congruent with their words will stimulate healthy thoughts in the workforce. Healthy thoughts will lead to healthy feelings, which will lead to healthy, less fearful behavior.

  • Nollind Whachell

    People themselves define strategy, structure, culture, and systems. Therefore for a change to occur in any of those, it would require a change in the people themselves. More importantly though, it requires those people to want the change. If they don't want change, then nothing you do will improve the situation.

    I liken it to a drowning person. They are thrashing about franticly as they begin to start dipping under the water. You reach out to them but get slugged in the face because they are so frantic thrashing their arms about and don't realize what you are trying to do for them. Until they realize what you are trying to do, you can't help them as you may even go down with them if you aren't too careful.

    I've been in this situation myself with a previous employer. I kept offering my help but they didn't want it, primarily I'm assuming because they didn't like the change needed in the company (and thus themselves) for my help to work. Eventually the company folded because of the direction they took. If they had accepted my path it would have most definitely been a rocky ride still but I truly believe they would have pulled through because other firms today doing the same work have taken the same approach that I offered back at that time.

    What was the approach? Keeping things simple and focused on the message. Or as web designers today like to refer to it from a technology standpoint, the Web Standards approach (XHTML/CSS). What approach did the company take? 100% Flash-based websites that kept getting smaller and smaller that they eventually became no more than glorified animated magazine ads.

  • Burak Fenercioglu

    I agree that the core thing for change is changing the behavior of people but it is important to comprehend how we can achieve that.
    Two things... One, I believe, not having but killing the culture is crucial. Two, culture injection will hold them back, managing people to focus on their specialty will lean you (the company) forward.
    Culture is all about references and by nature, it is old. Change as a concept is only coming to you if you are open to new things. It is all about new. The people and companies who achieved to change in history has always done it through killing their references, the old.
    In a global world, with employees having different backgrounds, companies persisting to bring one culture to unite them is an erroneous effort, for example. Culture, meaning shared experience, would only reflect the conditions of that specific moment. Every moment is different though, so we must leave people alone by saying that the only purpose of them in this world is about changing things in a positive way. We only set the purpose, they will pick the way and what that thing is.
    Culture also adds boundaries and force people to think before their every action whether or not it resonates with the culture they are exposed to. We should direct people to focus on one thing, with no boundaries. Then their behaviors will follow and change happens eventually.

  • daniel

    Create a culture and they will come: Leadership needs to create a visionary cultural end state. Hire to that cultural vision, and the people and their behavior will become that culture.

  • kid mercury

    behavior and culture are strongly related, in my opinion. culture dictates behavior -- hence if you want to change behavior, you need to change culture.