Your Company’s Secret Change Agents by Richard Tanner Pascale and Jerry Sternin

1. Make the group the guru. Champions are important but too often they generate unconstructive dependence from their teams. problem identification, ownership, and action begin in and remain with the community.

2. Reframe through facts. Inside the box problem definitions generate inside the box solutions. Restating the problem shifts attention to fertile new ground and opens minds to new possibilities. By casting a problem in a different light and by using hard data to confront orthodoxies, a community can be encouraged to discover whether there are exceptions to the status quo and, if so, how those exceptions came about. This is a three-step process:

  • First, grasp its conventional presentation (“The sorcerer’s curse makes our children sick.”)

  • Second, find out if there are exceptions to the norm, people in identical circumstances who seem to be coping especially well. (Not all children are sick)

  • Third, re-frame the problem to focus attention on the exceptions. (Families with healthy children wash their hands regularly and have good levels of nutrition)

3. Make it safe to learn. Deep down, people can be reluctant to change because of their commitment to what they believe the organisation is all about. People get attached to the status quo, even when it’s not good for them. Problems often go unresolved because the path to the solution is littered with potential losses and other risks.

The oblique approach to the undiscussable topic eventually led the villagers to broach the problem of girls being sent away by their poverty-stricken parents.

4. Make the problem concrete. While words are exchanged and heads are nodded, a great deal of signal distortion is happening between sender and receiver. Because of unwritten social codes meant to keep individuals from being put on the spot, people aren’t forced to speak concretely—in fact, they’re often discouraged from doing so. A firm grasp of reality obliterates vague assumptions and helps focus attention on what’s really working. Dealing directly with an uncomfortable truth requires stating it concretely so that there is no way to duck the challenge at hand. This is not merely a matter of being specific. It also entails portraying or dramatizing a pivotal issue in a compelling way.

5. Leverage social proof. Use public, shared demonstrations of progress. Other people are much more effective advocates for progress than the people pushing the change.

6. Confound the immune defense response. In organizations, that reaction comes in the form of avoidance, resistance, and exceptionalism. But when you fan the embers within a community rather than rely on firebrands from headquarters or outside the group, change feels natural. Internally developed solutions circumvent transplant rejection, since the change agents share the same DNA as the host. The trick is to introduce already existing ideas into the mainstream without excessive use of authority. Why use a sledgehammer when a feather will do?

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