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Lessons from My Three
Decades with the
Change Monster
Jeanie Duck is known for mixing Southern charm and sass
with business insight and acumen. For the past three decades,
she has used that mixture to good advantage in helping com-
panies initiate change and make it stick. Her 2001 book,
The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Cor-
porate Transformation and Change, has been published in
nine languages, and her 1993 Harvard Business Review ar-
ticle, “Managing Change: The Art of Balance,” is still a best-
selling reprint. Duck recently retired as a senior partner and
managing director at The Boston Consulting Group, but not
without leaving behind ten lessons from her long career.
L
et me share with you ten points that cover most of
what leaders need to know, but don’t often hear, about
how to lead a major organizational transformation.
Most of these lessons are common sense, but leaders fre-
quently don’t follow them.
Be bold. Any change effort requires resources and manage-
ment attention. Why waste them on timid initiatives? Bold
moves send a strong signal to the organization and build con-
fidence. Confidence is central to change management. Do
people believe that your plan is achievable and will make a
substantial difference? Is it fact based and strategically sig-
nificant? If employees believe that management has the right
plan and the skill, guts, and perseverance to go the distance,
they will be willing to hang in there.
Too many companies start and abandon “projects du jour,”
declaring premature victory long before completion. This
pattern sends employees the message either that their leaders
are stupid or that they think the company’s employees are. It
teaches people to avoid changing and to disbelieve their lead-
ers. Conversely, I’ve often worked with people who are near
burnout but keep going because they have confidence in the
plan and in their managers.
Be utterly obvious. Subtlety doesn’t work. Even if you think
that a message is obvious and that everybody ought to be
able to connect the dots, they won’t. As I’ve often said, people
will connect the dots in the most pathological way possible.
Therefore you need to spell out your message, expectations,
Senior managers need to apply■
the following ten key lessons to ef-
fectively lead a major organizational
transformation. Unfortunately, they
often don’t know these lessons or they
choose to ignore them.
Be bold■
Be utterly obvious■
Be careful what you promise■
Make commitments stick■
Forget happy■
Take culture seriously■
Be responsible■
Stay connected■
Provide interpretation and meaning■
Celebrate accomplishments■
P
Lessons from My Three Decades with the Change Monster 2
and reasoning as bluntly, clearly, and frequently as pos-
sible, showing the links between rhetoric and action,
values and decisions, goals and metrics.
Be careful what you promise. Always do what you
say you’re going to do. If you are going through a layoff,
a restructuring, or a postmerger integration, everybody
wants to know what’s going to happen and when. If
you promise an update by April 1, fulfill your prom-
ise—or else. Give yourself more time than you think
you’ll need. You can always be early, but being late is
very costly.
Make commitments stick. Let’s talk about retroactive
resistance. At the start of a project, everybody agrees
about the need to change. Typically they agree because
they think it’s someone else who needs to change. Then,
when they get the detailed plan and discover that they
themselves will have to change, they lose enthusiasm
for the initiative.
I believe in carrots and sticks. I don’t believe there’s
one way to motivate hundreds or thousands of people,
and I’m convinced that some people will change only
when they absolutely have to. I want to be able to use
every possible lever available. I want to close all escape
hatches. I want clear rewards, and I want clear negative
consequences. If the initiative is working, the rewards
will become far more frequent and punishments less
necessary.
Forget happy. Some organizations think that if they
change incrementally, nobody will notice. But if nobody
notices, then the change will not make a difference. If
it doesn’t hurt at some point, you’re not changing. Try-
ing to make people happy during a transformation is
tough, if not impossible. Focus on what employees are
doing rather than thinking or feeling. Coaches often
talk about a winning attitude. I say, “You help me win a
few times, and you’ll be amazed at what happens to my
attitude.” At work, we rent behavior. Figure out what
behaviors will create the win and then require those
behaviors. Feelings follow behavior.
Take culture seriously and work on it explicitly.
Degrading a corporate culture is fairly easy to do and
can happen amazingly quickly, but improving a culture
takes time and consistency. You need to translate a new
vision and new values into specific behaviors and ac-
tions using many different tools—job design, compen-
sation, metrics, rewards, and evaluations, just to name
a few. These tools must reinforce one another in order
to reach a tipping point.
One company changed its compensation system so that
financial performance made up only 25 percent of a sen-
ior manager’s bonus, rather than 100 percent. For the
first time, customer satisfaction, employee development,
and process compliance weighed equally. At midyear,
human resources showed managers what their bonuses
would be based on their current performance. When
people realized that ignoring employee development
would cost them 25 percent of their bonus, they were
blown away. The shock was equally strong when they
saw the importance of customer satisfaction and proc-
ess compliance. Suddenly managers started attending
process-training sessions, truly paying attention to cus-
tomers, and complying with established governance.
Be responsible and stay responsible. The kiss of death
is the belief that implementation is somebody else’s re-
sponsibility. Many corporate change initiatives follow a
familiar pattern. Top executives decide on a new course
and delegate implementation to line managers, who
then delegate to their subordinates, and so on. This
handoff almost always kills any meaningful possibility
of change.
People need to be accountable. They need to know that
the proposed changes will become permanent changes.
Top executives need to be visibly following up, moni-
toring, and stepping in to help, prod, and support. Top
leaders need to receive monthly or quarterly scorecards
or some other form of feedback to give them a sense of
whether the initiative is steaming ahead or has fallen
off the rails.
Stay connected. It’s hard to be a leader if you don’t
know where the followers are. Many organizations are
too big for top executives to talk to everyone, but it’s
usually possible to connect with the critical 10 percent.
I would often ask leaders to name their 20 most criti-
cal people—those who shape the opinions of others and
whom they count on to make things happen. You need
to be engaged with these employees, and they need to
be informed, involved, and heard. One way to achieve
this is to send out a survey to these opinion leaders with
a handful of questions: Is your boss clearly committed
to making this change successful? Do you know what is
expected of you? Do you think the change initiative will
work? What three things could your boss do to become
a more effective leader? Executives need this feedback,
and they need to know what their star performers are
thinking, doing, and telling others.
The first time I introduced this approach, one execu-
tive gave me a look that said, You really are stupid. All
Lessons from My Three Decades with the Change Monster 3
I have to do is make sure that my 20 most important
people are always up-to-date. My silent response was,
Yes, and if I have to do a survey every quarter to make
sure you keep those 20 people well informed, I’ll do it.
Provide interpretation and meaning. Organizations
look to their leaders to interpret events. People want
to know what today’s headlines, corporate moves, and
failed projects mean and how they are supposed to
react. If their leaders fail to provide this context, em-
ployees will quickly fill the vacuum with speculation
and doomsday proclamations that would make Chicken
Little jealous.
Celebrate the accomplishments along the way.
Transforming an organization takes energy. Winning
creates energy. Look for opportunities to create early
wins—they build confidence and motivate the troops.
During the early days of a massive transformation at an
industrial goods company, employees were deeply cyni-
cal and short of hope. In order to change that dynamic,
we identified the 20 most pressing quality problems
and began to fix them. As those problems disappeared,
people began to believe that change was possible. They
started to contribute their ideas and volunteer their
help. When employees see the power of energy, persis-
tence, and engagement, they begin to have confidence
in their ability to wrestle the change monster to the
ground.
Jeanie Duck
You may reach the author at duck.jeanie@bcg.com. To reach an
active partner of The Boston Consulting Group, contact the co-
leaders of the firm’s change-management topic:
Rolf Bixner, a senior partner and managing director in BCG’s
Amsterdam office, can be reached at bixner.rolf@bcg.com.
Perry Keenan, a partner and managing director in the firm’s
Chicago office, can be reached at keenan.perry@bcg.com.
To receive future publications in electronic form about this topic or
others, please visit our subscription Web site at www.bcg.com/
subscribe.
Cover illustration: © 2001 Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved.
© The Boston Consulting Group, Inc. 2008.
All rights reserved. #442 7/08

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Change management lessons

  • 1. Lessons from My Three Decades with the Change Monster Jeanie Duck is known for mixing Southern charm and sass with business insight and acumen. For the past three decades, she has used that mixture to good advantage in helping com- panies initiate change and make it stick. Her 2001 book, The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Cor- porate Transformation and Change, has been published in nine languages, and her 1993 Harvard Business Review ar- ticle, “Managing Change: The Art of Balance,” is still a best- selling reprint. Duck recently retired as a senior partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group, but not without leaving behind ten lessons from her long career. L et me share with you ten points that cover most of what leaders need to know, but don’t often hear, about how to lead a major organizational transformation. Most of these lessons are common sense, but leaders fre- quently don’t follow them. Be bold. Any change effort requires resources and manage- ment attention. Why waste them on timid initiatives? Bold moves send a strong signal to the organization and build con- fidence. Confidence is central to change management. Do people believe that your plan is achievable and will make a substantial difference? Is it fact based and strategically sig- nificant? If employees believe that management has the right plan and the skill, guts, and perseverance to go the distance, they will be willing to hang in there. Too many companies start and abandon “projects du jour,” declaring premature victory long before completion. This pattern sends employees the message either that their leaders are stupid or that they think the company’s employees are. It teaches people to avoid changing and to disbelieve their lead- ers. Conversely, I’ve often worked with people who are near burnout but keep going because they have confidence in the plan and in their managers. Be utterly obvious. Subtlety doesn’t work. Even if you think that a message is obvious and that everybody ought to be able to connect the dots, they won’t. As I’ve often said, people will connect the dots in the most pathological way possible. Therefore you need to spell out your message, expectations, Senior managers need to apply■ the following ten key lessons to ef- fectively lead a major organizational transformation. Unfortunately, they often don’t know these lessons or they choose to ignore them. Be bold■ Be utterly obvious■ Be careful what you promise■ Make commitments stick■ Forget happy■ Take culture seriously■ Be responsible■ Stay connected■ Provide interpretation and meaning■ Celebrate accomplishments■ P
  • 2. Lessons from My Three Decades with the Change Monster 2 and reasoning as bluntly, clearly, and frequently as pos- sible, showing the links between rhetoric and action, values and decisions, goals and metrics. Be careful what you promise. Always do what you say you’re going to do. If you are going through a layoff, a restructuring, or a postmerger integration, everybody wants to know what’s going to happen and when. If you promise an update by April 1, fulfill your prom- ise—or else. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need. You can always be early, but being late is very costly. Make commitments stick. Let’s talk about retroactive resistance. At the start of a project, everybody agrees about the need to change. Typically they agree because they think it’s someone else who needs to change. Then, when they get the detailed plan and discover that they themselves will have to change, they lose enthusiasm for the initiative. I believe in carrots and sticks. I don’t believe there’s one way to motivate hundreds or thousands of people, and I’m convinced that some people will change only when they absolutely have to. I want to be able to use every possible lever available. I want to close all escape hatches. I want clear rewards, and I want clear negative consequences. If the initiative is working, the rewards will become far more frequent and punishments less necessary. Forget happy. Some organizations think that if they change incrementally, nobody will notice. But if nobody notices, then the change will not make a difference. If it doesn’t hurt at some point, you’re not changing. Try- ing to make people happy during a transformation is tough, if not impossible. Focus on what employees are doing rather than thinking or feeling. Coaches often talk about a winning attitude. I say, “You help me win a few times, and you’ll be amazed at what happens to my attitude.” At work, we rent behavior. Figure out what behaviors will create the win and then require those behaviors. Feelings follow behavior. Take culture seriously and work on it explicitly. Degrading a corporate culture is fairly easy to do and can happen amazingly quickly, but improving a culture takes time and consistency. You need to translate a new vision and new values into specific behaviors and ac- tions using many different tools—job design, compen- sation, metrics, rewards, and evaluations, just to name a few. These tools must reinforce one another in order to reach a tipping point. One company changed its compensation system so that financial performance made up only 25 percent of a sen- ior manager’s bonus, rather than 100 percent. For the first time, customer satisfaction, employee development, and process compliance weighed equally. At midyear, human resources showed managers what their bonuses would be based on their current performance. When people realized that ignoring employee development would cost them 25 percent of their bonus, they were blown away. The shock was equally strong when they saw the importance of customer satisfaction and proc- ess compliance. Suddenly managers started attending process-training sessions, truly paying attention to cus- tomers, and complying with established governance. Be responsible and stay responsible. The kiss of death is the belief that implementation is somebody else’s re- sponsibility. Many corporate change initiatives follow a familiar pattern. Top executives decide on a new course and delegate implementation to line managers, who then delegate to their subordinates, and so on. This handoff almost always kills any meaningful possibility of change. People need to be accountable. They need to know that the proposed changes will become permanent changes. Top executives need to be visibly following up, moni- toring, and stepping in to help, prod, and support. Top leaders need to receive monthly or quarterly scorecards or some other form of feedback to give them a sense of whether the initiative is steaming ahead or has fallen off the rails. Stay connected. It’s hard to be a leader if you don’t know where the followers are. Many organizations are too big for top executives to talk to everyone, but it’s usually possible to connect with the critical 10 percent. I would often ask leaders to name their 20 most criti- cal people—those who shape the opinions of others and whom they count on to make things happen. You need to be engaged with these employees, and they need to be informed, involved, and heard. One way to achieve this is to send out a survey to these opinion leaders with a handful of questions: Is your boss clearly committed to making this change successful? Do you know what is expected of you? Do you think the change initiative will work? What three things could your boss do to become a more effective leader? Executives need this feedback, and they need to know what their star performers are thinking, doing, and telling others. The first time I introduced this approach, one execu- tive gave me a look that said, You really are stupid. All
  • 3. Lessons from My Three Decades with the Change Monster 3 I have to do is make sure that my 20 most important people are always up-to-date. My silent response was, Yes, and if I have to do a survey every quarter to make sure you keep those 20 people well informed, I’ll do it. Provide interpretation and meaning. Organizations look to their leaders to interpret events. People want to know what today’s headlines, corporate moves, and failed projects mean and how they are supposed to react. If their leaders fail to provide this context, em- ployees will quickly fill the vacuum with speculation and doomsday proclamations that would make Chicken Little jealous. Celebrate the accomplishments along the way. Transforming an organization takes energy. Winning creates energy. Look for opportunities to create early wins—they build confidence and motivate the troops. During the early days of a massive transformation at an industrial goods company, employees were deeply cyni- cal and short of hope. In order to change that dynamic, we identified the 20 most pressing quality problems and began to fix them. As those problems disappeared, people began to believe that change was possible. They started to contribute their ideas and volunteer their help. When employees see the power of energy, persis- tence, and engagement, they begin to have confidence in their ability to wrestle the change monster to the ground. Jeanie Duck You may reach the author at duck.jeanie@bcg.com. To reach an active partner of The Boston Consulting Group, contact the co- leaders of the firm’s change-management topic: Rolf Bixner, a senior partner and managing director in BCG’s Amsterdam office, can be reached at bixner.rolf@bcg.com. Perry Keenan, a partner and managing director in the firm’s Chicago office, can be reached at keenan.perry@bcg.com. To receive future publications in electronic form about this topic or others, please visit our subscription Web site at www.bcg.com/ subscribe. Cover illustration: © 2001 Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. © The Boston Consulting Group, Inc. 2008. All rights reserved. #442 7/08