Thursday, March 5, 2015

Change: From Resistance to Transformation



The predicate of transformation is a mind-set change.  (Cameron[1]; Tichy & Charan[2])  This is not easy.  Psychological impediments to change are powerful.  They’re embedded in cultural norms, belief systems, presuppositions and, at times, leadership hubris.  Cultural norms and belief systems are established ways of framing one’s environment.  Presuppositions hold that certain phenomena are true without any proof, and leadership hubris means that if it worked before it’ll work again.   These “sacred cows” within organizations are the “implicitly held beliefs, unarticulated values and tacit understandings of the way things should be done.”[3]  There are exogenous hindrances as well, but my focus will be on relationships, for that is where change is formative. 

Cameron informs us that change is difficult within organizations because it is usually disruptive to social relationships and threatens power and status structures.[4]  Mindsets influence relationships, such as between executive management and the board of directors.  In the Habitat for Humanity case study Jeff Snider, the executive VP, and Millard Fuller, Habitat’s founder and board president, held different views on what success should look like.  Fuller, the spiritual leader and visionary, was impervious to the day-to-day operational imperatives that went unmet and staggered under the weight of Habitat’s expansion. [5]  

Leadership hubris and hard-and-fast belief systems adversely affected the relationship between Habitat’s mission and its programmatic capacity.   The board disagreed with Snider’s requests to invest in professional human resource development because volunteerism was the core of Habitat’s culture and spiritual mission.  To change its dependency on grass roots volunteer labor and generally inexperienced administrative staff instilled fear in the board of “losing our soul and becoming an institution.“[6]  Guided by hubris, Fuller insisted on building more homes and enlarging Habitat’s presence in more developing countries without deliberating or exploring how the organization would do so. “We’re just going to,” he said.[7]

As Habitat grew in scale and scope, relationships between headquarters and its affiliates were adversely affected.  Fuller and his board presupposed that, in the absence of adequate organizational support, affiliates could depend on cultural and spiritual values to operationalize their missions.  This was not accurate.  Increasingly, Habitat affiliates perceived headquarters as irrelevant for their needs and they distanced themselves.

My point is that relationships are central to change and they are influenced by cultural norms, belief systems, presupposition and varying degrees of hubris.  It is from this nexus that transformation must emerge.   Following are suggestions on how to make this happen.
  1.  Be prepared to answer the question, “Why should we change?”  Be impeccably clear about the organization’s mission, e.g., “What is our mission and how do we know that we are being loyal to it?”  Identify discrepancies between organizational activities and the core mission.  Ask, “Are we really meeting the needs of our stakeholders, affiliates and their beneficiaries?”    A mission statement may need reworking to accommodate the imperatives of program growth, environmental fluctuation and new agreed-upon direction.  The question then becomes, “What should we do to do it better?”
2.       Create a clear picture of an optimally functioning headquarters.  Ask, “What do we want our future to look like?”  Come to terms with limitations by asking, “Are we balancing organizational expansion with organizational capacity?  Ask, “What do we need to do to avoid the quagmires we’ve experienced in the past?  Investment in human resources is key. (Cameron, 1991; Tichy and Charan, 1989).  “How do we become relevant to affiliates?”  Replace affiliate marginalization with affiliate involvement.  This can be done through regional focus groups to take advantage of the inventive capacity of individuals and small groups.  

3.       Identify environmental factors that impact the organization by asking, “Are we as an organization conscious of exogenous threats like competition, program duplication, economic fluctuation, donor base contraction, willy-nilly expansion and affiliate distancing?   If the answer is yes, then planning in order to survive/circumvent such events is paramount.  Hamel and Prahalad talk about the difference between “strategic intent” and strategic planning.  A traditional strategic plan concentrates on what is feasible, while strategic intent is an “obsession with possibility” that focuses on opportunity. [8]  One could ask, “Is it possible to draw from both kinds of strategy?

4.       Promote communication and transparency from highest to lowest levels throughout the organization.   Jack Welch, CEO of GE, believed that “people are the engine” and that open communication should permeate a culture. (Tichy and Charan, 1989).  Make transparency a priority not only for the IRS, but for affiliates.  Disseminate information about headquarter business, affiliate progress, success stories, innovation, etc. to strengthen national and international ties.

5.       Consider the question, “How will we know that we’re successful?”   It’s essential to concretely define desired outcomes when formulating performance indicators.   Tregoe talks about developing strategic performance standards that can be used in succession planning to accommodate change over time, which may entail new standards. [9]  The point to make here is that success is a moving target and that current achievements should anticipate supporting future achievements.  He advises thinking about “strategy beyond existing strategy.” (Tregoe, p. 113)



[1] Cameron, K., Transformational Leadership, Ch.10 in Developing Management Skills, New York: Harper-Collins, 1991.
[2] Tichy, N. and Charan, R., “Speed, Simplicity, Self-Confidence: An Interview with Jack Welch, Harvard Business Review, September-October 1989.
[3] Tregoe, B., “The Challenges of Strategic Management,” Ch. 6, page 111.
[4] Cameron, K., page 8.
[5] Slavitt, A. and Loveman, G., Habitat for Humanity International, Harvard Business School Publishing Division, Boston, MA, 1993, page 8.
[6] Ibid., page 8.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Hamel, G. and Prahalad, C.K., “Strategic Intent,” Harvard Business Review, May-June 1989, page 66.
[9] Tregoe, B., Ch. 6, pages 102 and 105.

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