On Reactions to Change (and the Election)

I often work with organizations on leading and managing change — sometimes major change in very large companies affecting hundreds or thousands of employees.  In response to change, people tend to follow fairly predictable stages, depending on whether it is change they want or change they don’t want, and whether the change is gradual or sudden.

The protests, demonstrations, and occasional violence of those who do not like the election result are an order of magnitude greater than I would expect, except that the election results signal a change from a deeply ingrained mindset, reinforced by the media, and by the tendency of us humans to seek information that confirms our thoughts and biases.  [Here, I make no judgment on that mindset; only the observation that the election result was not what was expected by nearly anyone, and that it was an especially unpleasant shock to those who supported the status quo.]

This is true in organizations as well.  Downsizings and mergers, for example, can be a devastating shock for individuals and groups.  How they deal with it matters both to the organization and to themselves.  Those who are in denial and angry may well act out, or seethe internally.  Those who are resilient will resolve to make things better.

William Bridges has written about the need to avoid obsessing about the things that are changing, but rather to focus on the path forward through the change.  He suggests coming to grips with the inner connections one has to the way things were before the change, and asking the question, “What is it time for me to let go of?”  He points out that the loss one may feel can be in many ways a timely one.  The answer will often provide guidance about the path forward.

© Copyright 2016  Bob Legge

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Bob Legge provides organizations with the ability to exceed their most ambitious goals.  I work with leaders of Fortune 500 companies, small and mid-size companies, nonprofits, education, and government. Together, we drive strategy, lead successful change, develop high performance cultures, improve individual and organizational performance, and produce faster, sustainable growth and value.  Contact him at  bob.legge@leggecompany.com

What to do with a weak change sponsor

Successful organization change requires a number of factors.  Perhaps the most important is sponsorship — the clear and continual reinforcement of the change message by the top leader, and all other leaders throughout the organization.  No matter how supportive people at lower levels are in the change, if the leaders aren’t legitimizing and reinforcing the change with strong sponsorship, the chances of the change failing are high.

So what can you do if a change sponsor isn’t demonstrating strong sponsorship?  There are three choices:  Teach the sponsor to be effective, replace the sponsor, or get ready for the change to fail.

© Copyright 2016  Bob Legge

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Bob Legge provides organizations with the ability to exceed their most ambitious goals.  I work with leaders of Fortune 500 companies, small and mid-size companies, nonprofits, education, and government. Together, we drive strategy, lead successful change, develop high performance cultures, improve individual and organizational performance, and produce faster, sustainable growth and value.  Contact him at  bob.legge@leggecompany.com

Culture Change: What Works…and What Doesn’t

I am working with three companies on their cultures, and regularly find misconceptions about what it takes to change or strengthen corporate culture.  Additionally, while many leaders want to improve their culture, there’s sometimes hesitation because of past culture projects that cost a lot, took too much time, and didn’t get great results.  So here’s what works and what doesn’t work.

First, what is “culture”?  Culture is the set of beliefs that strongly influence behaviors.  For example, FedEx’s belief  of getting a package delivered “absolutely, positively overnight” greatly affects the actions of its people.

What works in culture change:  Culture is changed when a leader decides that things aren’t working as well as they need to, sets out to change the culture by acting differently, and gets others to also change their behaviors.  If the new behaviors result in improvements, then the change will be successful.  That’s an overly simple but accurate description.

What doesn’t work:  Big communication campaigns, t-shirts, coffee mugs, group meetings, presentations about values, balloons, and hoopla.  These are expensive, time-consuming, and have virtually no impact on the way people behave at work unless coupled with behavior change. In fact, they can have the opposite effect, causing skepticism and distrust.

Here’s an example:  I worked with a group of large call centers of 100 to 500 seats for a national broadband company.  The company wanted call center operators to take the time necessary to listen to customers, answer their questions, and solve their problems the first time they call.  They ran a big internal campaign with all the hoopla, but the customer satisfaction results did not change at all.  The reason?  Call center managers measured performance based on “handle time”– the less time spent with a customer, the better the performance.  Once the managers changed their behaviors, so did the agents.

The problem with big culture change campaigns is they assume that a change in thinking will change behaviors.  It seldom does.  This is why entire industries are devoted to diets and exercise.

The key principle is:  Don’t try to think your way to a new way of acting.  Instead, act your way to a new way of thinking.

So if you want to change or strengthen your culture, focus on senior management behavior first, making sure they reflect the values and beliefs you want the culture to reflect.  Then work on reinforcing mechanisms to make sure that those behaviors get ingrained, and that nothing is sending conflicting signals.

The Pope On Change Leadership

Here’s one to watch:  The new pope has launched a major change initiative to revise the Roman Curia’s constitution.  So far Pope Francis has made some classic good moves:  Involving a panel of cardinals to advise him, clearly communicating what the change is, and admonishing priests to practice what they preach.  In noting that inconsistencies undermine the Church’s credibility, he said that ordinary Catholics need to “see in our actions what they hear from our lips.”  That’s a change leadership imperative that is often broken by executives and managers leading to change failure.

Further, he is expected to begin changing the highly-centralized structure of the Church, presumably to move more decision making closer to the Church’s customers, I mean faithful.

But don’t hold your breath, the panel won’t officially begin its work until October.