Volume 10, Number 10
New Paradigm for Change
Axelrod is president of The Axelrod Group, Inc. (Chicago,
The following is reprinted and excerpted with permission from his
book Terms of Engagement:
Changing the Way We Change Organizations (Berrett-Koehler, San
Francisco, 2000). ©2000
Richard H. Axelrod
leaders why their recent change effort did not live up to its
promise and they invariably answer not that they got the strategy
wrong, but that they were unable to develop sufficient
organizational support for the needed changes.
What they often fail to recognize is that the
very change management process they employed is the root cause of
engaging the organization in critical change, the current change
management paradigm disengages the very people whose support is
essential to success. Unfortunately, many leaders, failing to
recognize that the paradigm they are using is the problem,
redouble their efforts to make it work, resulting in increased
frustration on their part and increased alienation on the part of
the employees. It is
no accident that Scott Adams has become the voice of the
Dilbert cartoons symbolize the frustration of people who do not
believe that their voices count.
are under tremendous pressure from markets, customers, and
competition to bring needed changes to their organization.
These leaders do not intentionally go about creating more
material for Dilbert. They
desperately want to engage people in the issues that are vital to
the organization’s success.
They want willing partners.
They want people who are engaged rather than cynical,
people who are ready to put their wholehearted selves into
bringing about the required changes rather than people who sit on
the sidelines and take the attitude that “this too shall
Ask anyone who
has participated on steering committees or design groups about
their experience, and they will respond by saying, “Wouldn’t
it be great if everyone could have the experience we had?
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could have learned what
we learned?” In
these responses is the key to moving beyond the change management
paradigm, an application of four key principles: 1) widening the
circle of involvement, 2) connecting people to each other, 3)
creating communities for action, and 4) embracing democracy.
the Circle of Involvement
Mere buy-in is no
longer an acceptable goal. We
must move toward deeply engaging people in the change process
itself, creating a critical mass of energetic people who design
and support necessary changes.
This means going beyond the dozens who are typically
involved in current change practices and involving hundreds, even
thousands, of employees.
terms, widening the circle of involvement means expanding who gets
to participate in the change process in two critical ways.
The first is by including new and different voices.
The second is by expanding the number of people in order to
create a critical mass for change so that the few are no longer
left in the position of deciding for the many.
In addition to creating a critical mass for change,
widening the circle of involvement also enhances innovation,
adaptation, and learning.
People to Each Other
connect with each other and to powerful ideas, creativity and
action are ensured. Barriers
to the flow of information and new ideas are lowered as people
forge links with others. Work also flows more smoothly, because people learn how what
they do fits into the large whole, and how to access needed
connect with each other, they become known to each other.
They stop being stereotypes, roles, functions and members
of that hated “other.” They
become human beings with their own real-life issues and concerns.
People who are doing the best they can to get the job done.
People with unique talents to share.
People with mortgages and families, who are trying to
manage their lives.
with matching a name with a face, but it evolves to understanding
who that person is, how they think, and what matters to them.
Connection doesn’t require sharing your deepest personal
feelings; however, it does mean getting to know people beyond the
facades of role and title.
Communities for Action
challenges cannot be done by any one person single-handedly. We need a community of people who willingly provide their
talents and insights to address increasingly complex issues. Community is important because one person no longer has the
answer. Answers reside in all of us.
When we create
community, we move beyond a group of people who may have personal
connections with each other to developing a group of connected
people who have both the will and willingness to work together to
accomplish a goal that has meaning for them.
Creating a sense of community in organizations is not easy
because the requirements of mechanistic structures run contrary to
what it takes to build community. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore this task.
Democracy is the
best form the human race has developed for people to come
together, discuss and resolve issues, and act.
It is through the democratic process that issues of
self-interest versus the common good and minority versus majority
opinion are dealt with in a way that ensures support and
follow-through for the chosen course of action. Internationally today, there is more democracy, more freedom
of information, and more freedom of expression than there has ever
been. In this world,
imposed change is no longer acceptable.
Change grounded in democratic principles has the best
chance for success.
principles provide an ethical foundation and a moral fiber for the
change process in business as well as political life.
They produce trust and confidence in both the change
process and those who are leading it.
They are universal principles that speak to the human
spirit, the desire to be free, the desire to have a say, and the
desire to shape one’s own destiny.
In order to apply
these principles to change (I call it the Engagement Paradigm), I
recommend that leaders:
• create opportunities for people to grasp the big picture so
that everyone fully understands the dangers and opportunities
• instill a sense of urgency and energy as people become
aligned around a common purpose, embrace the organization’s
mission, and create new directions
• establish accountability that is fully distributed throughout
the organization as people come to understand the whole system
• encourage increased collaboration across organization
boundaries because people are connected to the issues and each
• foster broad participation that quickly identifies
performance gaps and their solutions, which improves productivity
and customer satisfaction
• spark creativity in people from all levels and functions,
along with customers, suppliers, and others who contribute their
best ideas in order to help the organization achieve its mission
• expand the organization’s capacity to accommodate future
changes as people develop the skills and processes to meet both
current and long-term objectives.
Leaders who successfully apply these principles will attract and maintain talent, as well as reap the benefits of creating organizations that are able to respond effectively to the chaos, confusion, and complexity of the ever-changing New Economy.