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March 2015

HBR on Leading Change

OPWI14_500 This post is on Harvard Business Review's Winter 2014 issue of On Point (a collection of selected HBR articles), which focused on leading change. Of course, HBR couldn't put together a special issue on leading change and not reprint the HBR Classic Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail by John Kotter. If you only read one HBR paper, make it this one.

Hotter highlights eight common errors that explain why change efforts fail, and the article has a side bar offering the opposite of those errors as a model to bring about change in an organization. I prefer advice to achieve goals rather than to avoid pitfalls, so here are the eight steps to transforming one's organization, presented in the sidebar:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Form a powerful guiding coalition
  3. Create a vision
  4. Communicate the vision
  5. Empower others to act on the vision
  6. Plan for and create short-term wins
  7. Consolidate improvements and produce still more change
  8. Institutionalize new approaches. 

It also includes a companion paper and other HBR Classic, Choosing Strategies for Change by John Kotter and Leonard Schlesinger. This article discusses resistance to change and the optimal speed of change efforts. It offers several valuable strategies to deal with resistance: education + communication, participation + involvement, facilitation + support, negotiation + agreement, manipulation + co-optation, explicit + implicit coercion.

While some articles lack actionable insights (in The Innovator's DNA, we learn that innovators have 5 discovery skills in their DNA: (a) associating, i.e., making connections among seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas, (b) questioning, i.e., considering new ideas, (c) observing, where innovators consistently look out for small behavioral details, (d) experimenting, which is self-explanatory, and (e) networking, which is also self-explanatory), others such as Disrupt Yourself by Whitney Johnson offer good practical advice: target a need that can be met more effectively, identify your disruptive strengths, step back (or sideways) in order to grow, and let your strategy emerge.

The Network Secrets of Great Change Agents by Julie Battilana and Tiziana Casciaro also offers excellent insights following a case study at the UK's National Health Service. The authors identified three predictors of change agents' success: (i) being central in the organization's informal network, regardless of their position in the formal hierarchy, (ii) bridging disconnected groups or individuals (because "resisters in their networks did not necessarily know one another and so were unlikely to form a coalition") and (iii) being close to people who were ambivalent about a change; however, close relationships with resisters were a hindrance when attempting major change. 

The Hard Side of Change Management by Harold Sirkin, Perry Keenan and Alan Jackson introduces a framework called DICE: Duration (until the change program is completed or time between review of milestones), Integrity (ability to complete the initiative on time), Commitment (to change that top management [C1] and employees affected by the change [C2] display) and Effort (over and above the usual work that the change initiative demands of employees). Conducting a DICE assessment leads to each element (D, I, C1, C2, E) being graded on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 being best, meaning that this factor is very likely to contribute to the project's success, and a DICE score computed as D+2*I+2*C1+C2+E. The "win zone" is attained for projects with scores between 7 and 14. This framework was validated by the authors at the Boston Consulting Group back in 1994, and has been successfully used by BCG since. I thought the article contained many valuable insights and will be useful both to business consultants and industry managers leading change initiatives.

The OnPoint issue has many other articles or briefs on leading change. More details here.


HBR on Professional Development

Some time ago I organized a group meeting with my doctoral students, for which I had them read some Harvard Business Review articles I found particularly interesting for their professional development. I've always thought it'd be very valuable for students to take a mini-course based on key HBR articles aimed at taking a good start in their career, because that topic is generally overlooked in their education -- and how many young professionals read Harvard Business Review straight out of school? By the time they reach mid-level management roles and start reading HBR, they might have done the mistakes HBR authors warn against several times over.  

Anyway, here are a few professional-development articles I had selected for my doctoral students to read. We also read articles on change management and other "hot" HBR topics - maybe those will be the topic of another post.

A campaign strategy for your career: Practical lessons from electoral politics by Dorie Clark. (November 2012) The article emphasizes the need to reach out to supporters to achieve your milestones and working backward from your goals to develop a tactical plan. The most valuable idea of the article is the concept of a power map including direct and indirect power relationships ("sketch out the relationships between the people who can affect your career and the people who influence them, then color-code each person according to [the closeness of] his or her relationship to you.") The article is suitable for very young entry-level professionals. Hopefully anyone above that level will know that hard work alone doesn't get you promoted and merit isn't enough to have a great career. For recent graduates, though, this article has the potential to be eye-opening.

Managing your boss by John Gabarro and John Kotter. (1980, reprinted as Best of HBR in January 2005) The article starts slow with an example dating from the mid-1970s, but then gains strength. The authors emphasize that the boss-subordinate relationship is one of mutual dependence. Favorite quote: Effective subordinates "gain an understanding of the boss and his or her context, as well as [their] own situation... [They] need to appreciate [their] boss's goals and pressures, his or her strengths and weaknesses. What are [their] boss's organizational and personal objectives, and what are his or her pressures, especially those from his or her own boss and others at the same level? What are your boss's long suits and blind spots? What is the preferred style of working?"

A very valuable example is provided in the paragraph starting "In one situation we studied, a top-notch marketing manager..." That person, it turns out, made three basic errors: ""He took information supplied to him at face value, he made assumptions in areas where he had no information, and - what was most damaging - he never actively tried to clarify what his boss's objectives were."

The article includes a valuable "checklist for managing your boss" as well as additional suggestions for developing and maintaining a productive relationship with him or her, such as accommodating differences in work style, understanding and shaping expectations, managing the flow of information, making appropriate use of the boss's time and resources.

The relationship you need to get right: how to be an effective sponsor - and a good protege - throughout your career by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall and Laura Sherbin. (October 2011) The article describes the dynamics of sponsorship and makes the distinction between sponsorship and mentoring. While mentors provide advice, sponsors also advocate on behalf of their proteges, call in favors for them and help engineer their next promotion by putting their own reputation on the line for the younger employees they believe in. By doing so, they not only help the next generation but also their own legacy and often gain fresh perspectives on important topics for their business. Proteges, on the other hand, recognize that sponsorship "must be earned with performance and loyalty." The article provides suggestions regarding how proteges and mentors can find each other and how to maintain the relationship.

Favorite quote: "We repeatedly heard CEOs and top managers say that they would't be where they are without strong sponsors and loyal proteges. One Fortune 500 CEO gave a powerful illustration. When interviewing candidates for senior positions, he always asks them, "How many people do you have in your pocket? If I asked you to pull off something impossible that involved liaising across seven geographies and five functions, who owes you one and could help you do it?""

How to build your network by Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap (December 2005) The best social network "connects multiple clusters of people" instead of being "just one big cluster." The authors explain how to diagnose your own network by listing your key contacts, writing down who introduced you to the contact as well as who you introduced them to (how well do you serve as a broker for others?) and identifying the super-connectors. Beware of self-similarity, i.e., the tendency to add to your network people who resemble you in terms of training, worldview, etc. Also, keep in mind the proximity principle, "which holds that workers prefer to populate their networks with the people they spend the most time with." Use shared activities in order to forge better connections. 

Favorite quotes: "Most corporate networks are made up of several clusters but with few links between them. Brokers are especially powerful because they connect the separate clusters, thus stimulating collaboration and exploiting arbitrage among otherwise independent specialists." and "To build a network rich in social capital, cultivate powerful brokers who aren't in positions of formal authority - the places where everyone else looks."

Managing authenticity: the paradox of great leadership by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones (December 2005) This article discusses "how difficult it is for leaders to find a balance between expressing their personalities and managing those of the people they aspire to lead or at least influence." Establishing authenticity is a two-part challenge. "First, you have to ensure that your words are consistent with your deeds" and "The second challenge of authentic leadership is finding common ground with the people you seek to recruit as followers." The authors recommend that leaders "use where they come from" ("authentic leaders use their personal histories to establish common ground with their followers"), "conform but only just enough" ("too much conformity can render leaders ineffective; too little can isolate them... Authentic leaders know how to strike a balance between their distinctiveness and the cultures in which they operate... To influence others, authentic leaders must first gain at least minimal acceptance as members of their organizations.")

Favorite quote: "Managers who assume that their authenticity stems from an uncontrolled expression of their inner selves will never become authentic leaders."

How to stay stuck in the wrong career by Herminia Ibarra (December 2002) People who attempt to gather as much information as possible before deciding how to make a radical career change usually stay put and dissatisfied. Ibarra explains: "Change actually happens the other way around. Doing comes first, knowing second. Why? Because changing careers means redefining our working identity."

The way to remain stuck is as follows: ("plan and implement")

  1. Read as much as possible about career change, take a battery of tests, wallow in self-reflection. (Ibarra argues that we do not have one "true self" but instead many possible ones.)
  2. Consult with trusted advisors who know you best (and thus will reinforce the old identity you are trying to ditch).
  3. Think big. "Trying to make a single bold move can bring us back to square one all too quickly."

The way to get unstuck is as follows: ("test and learn")

  1. Crafting experiments: Try out new activities and professional roles on a small scale. 
  2. Shifting connections: Develop contacts that can open doors to new worlds, and look for role models and new reference groups to guide and benchmark your progress.
  3. Making sense: Find or create catalysts and triggers for change, and use them as occasions to rework your life story.

Disrupt yourself: Four principles for finding the career path you really want by Whitney Johnson (July-August 2012) "If as an individual you've reached a plateau or you suspect you won't be happy at the top rung of the ladder you're climbing, you should disrupt yourself for the same reasons that companies must."

  1. Target a need that can be met more effectively. "Disrupters look for needs that aren't being met well."
  2. Identify your disruptive strengths. "Think about what you do well that most others can't."
  3. Step back (or sideways) in order to grow. "Personal growth often stalls at the top of a classic S curve. Disrupters avoid that problem by jumping to a new role, industry, or type of organization and putting themselves on an entirely different growth trajectory."
  4. Let your strategy emerge. "70% of all successful new businesses end up with a strategy different from the one they initially pursued... A parallel exists in disruptive careers."

Reinventing your personal brand: how to change your image and create exciting new opportunities by Dorie Clark. (March 2011)

  1. Define your destination (and build the skills necessary for your new path.)
  2. Leverage your points of difference. (What's your unique selling proposition?)
  3. Develop a narrative ("you need to develop a coherent narrative that explains exactly how your past fits into your present.") Favorite quote: "The key is not to explain your transition in terms of your own interests ("I was bored with my job and decided to try something else," or "I'm on a personal journey to find the real me") but to focus on the value your prior experience brings."
  4. Reintroduce yourself to your existing network. ("The truth is, the vast majority of people aren't paying much attention to you. That means their perceptions are probably a few years out of date - and it's not their fault.")
  5. Prove your worth by establishing and promoting your track record.

Managing authenticity: the paradox of great leadership, by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. This article is aimed at people in management positions, but is useful for