Change starts with finding a backer — someone who can sell your plan to the senior team. Change dies without a fighter — someone smart enough and skilled enough to win over the opposition. Change kicks in when people start to trust — in the plan and in one another. Trust is the glue that invariably holds a change effort together. Change just might work when people are focused — on the goal, and on each step that’s necessary to achieve it.
Getting the buy-in. Overcoming resistance. Building trust. Zeroing in on the objective. These are the critical skills that every change team must leverage if it is to have any hope of succeeding. To learn how to assemble such a portfolio of skills for change, we asked some battle-tested change agents who are helping to transform the most intractable organizations of all: big, hierarchical (once) slow-moving companies in the insurance, accounting, banking, and automotive industries.
At PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Godzilla-size consulting firm, we meet a trio of grassroots change agents who are learning in real time how to win high-level backing for their Big Idea: to radically transform the company’s accounting practices. From Mark Maletz, a Boston-based consultant who has shotgunned large-scale change initiatives at the bluest of blue-chip companies, we hear his frontline tactics for dealing with people’s reluctance to change. At Visteon Automotive Systems, Ford’s parts-manufacturing company, David Berdish shares his real-world strategies for ending the infighting and building trust. And Tom Valerio, formerly a change leader at CIGNA Property & Casualty, shows how he helped keep 6,500 people focused on the big picture.
These transformation architects prove that change is messy, often painful. That even successful change efforts suffer lots of setbacks. And that for all their effort and talent, the smartest agents of change sometimes fail. They are bright enough to have a better idea, audacious enough to try executing it, and stubborn enough to push past the inevitable speed bumps. Here are their stories, insights, and strategies for enacting change.
Action Item: Change Course
There is no lesson plan for leading change, but at fieldbook.com you can take notes from the gurus of organizational learning. Managed with the help of Peter Senge and the collective authors of the series, the site offers valuable resources for aspiring change agents.
Download material from the Fieldbook’s “Lost Chapters,” browse through exclusive online content, or connect with change agents in your area. Just check your ego at the door, and get ready to take a crash course on teaming up for change.
Coordinates: “Fifth Discipline Fieldbook” series, www.fieldbook.com
Sidebar: Global Change
If you hang around change agents long enough — especially those living outside the United States — you’re bound to hear about AIESEC (L’Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commercial), the world’s largest student organization. Over the past two decades, AIESEC has evolved into an astonishingly efficient boot camp for future change agents. We spoke with a few of AIESEC’s alumni to crack its lessons for building change leaders.
“AIESEC’s officers have less than a year to make things happen,” says Gunter Pauli, an international environmental activist. “I know of no other student organization that gives you just nine months to present your ideas, raise money, build a team, and get results.”
You don’t need resources to make change.
“When you’re a student, you only have dreams — no money and no power,” says Pauli. “AIESEC shows you how to sell air — to motivate people using only your ideas and your words.”
“Because you see AIESEC people taking risks, you want to take risks,” says Mike Smith, former CEO and president of Lands’ End Inc. and founder and president of LifeSketch.com. “You meet the type of people who don’t panic when things go wrong.”
Never be afraid to network.
“The best lesson I learned at AIESEC was how to network,” says Smith. “We were always making cold calls to executives at large companies, which was intimidating. But it forced us to learn how to talk to people who were ‘above’ us.”
Coordinates: AIESEC, www.aiesec.org
Change Manual: Rules for Radicals
A professor at the University of Michigan School of Business and the director of the school’s Global Leadership Program, Noel Tichy is grooming the next generation of business leaders to become summa change agents. He’s also the author of a well-known book on change: “Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will” (HarperBusiness, 1993).
“Rules for Radicals,” by Saul Alinsky (Vintage Books, 1989).
When students ask him to recommend a book that will bulk up their understanding of organizational learning, Tichy suggests Alinsky’s classic text, which doesn’t gloss over the tough parts of leading change. “It’s an incredible handbook for making change happen in complex political environments,” Tichy says. “Alinsky has great insights into the ways of social jujitsu — using the system against itself. Most of the examples come from community organizing, but they definitely apply to big organizations.”
Coordinates: $12. “Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals,” Vintage Books, www.randomhouse.com/vintage
Bill Breen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior editor at Fast Company; Cheryl Dahle (email@example.com) is a senior writer. Interns Julie Piotrowski (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Christine Canabou (email@example.com) contributed to the sidebars.