Archive for the ‘Change Management’ Category

I just read Kotters “Leading Change”. Now Kotter is not really something new to management scholars and managers, in fact he is classic. Up to now I always felt that his Eight-Stage Process of Creating Major Change was pretty much self-explanatory:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Creating the guiding coalition
  3. Developing a vision and strategy
  4. Communicating the change vision
  5. Empowering broad-based action
  6. Generating short-term wins
  7. Consolidating gains and producing more change
  8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture

However as I read the eighth step “Anchoring new approaches in the culture”  I had short wake –up call. Kotter from a vivid case study describes how a CEO of an industrial manufacturing company gives a speech after putting the firm through a major change process. At the annual management meeting he gives a dramatic speech to the company, while beside him are stacked high the former company procedure manuals. His speech is emotional and evokes the past and the importance of these manuals, then looks forward to a new way of doing things and then asks the audience to “say good-bye to these books as if they were old friends and then move on.”

Wow. This example struck me as extraordinary, because it has every aspect of a ritual, a rite of passage.

Gazi Islamro in his excellent paper “Rituals in Organizations: A Review and Expansion of Current Theory”  gives a very good definition of Ritual: Ritual action, it is proposed, is a form of social action in which a group’s values and identity are publicly demonstrated or enacted in a stylized manner, within the context of a specific occasion or event.

Rituals serve to bring about mass social consensus and mediate between individuals actions and beliefs, bringing together potentially opposing forces within the community. The rite of passage always has three phases:

  • The preliminary phase – in which the individual is removed from his/her previous role
  • A transitional phase – in which he/she resides between roles and is temporarily devoid of a socially accepted identity.
  • And a post luminal phase – where he/she is incorporated into the new role

In the above example from Kotter, the CEO was passing the whole company through a rite of passage, stripping it from the old procedural manuals, suspending it for a moment in time and space and then, while honoring the past, launching it into its new role, using drama, emotions, storytelling and of course a stage and props.

Cultural change has been thought tedious and nearly impossible and even Edgar Schein says that this might be a process that can take years and then even fail, because the underlying assumptions are just too powerful to let go. Even excellent models like the cultural web by Johnson and Scholes http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newSTR_90.htm are not a guarantee that cultural change will work out. Kotter on the other hand proposes to change behavior and processes first and completing the change process by addressing the underlying norms and modifying values through ritual. It makes perfect sense, if we see that new behavior and action benefits us, we are much more ready to let go of our values than before and adopt new ones. Tai Chi masters I once read never explain what the individual moves mean or even what Tai Chi means, they just let the student practice, because the practice will change the inner world of the student. The same goes for Hatha Yoga or even behavioral therapy. The ritual then completes the transformation and through its mysterious quality addresses deeper psychological layers, strengthening the belief in a new way of living and being.

Johnson, G. / Scholes, K. (1997) Exploring Corporate Strategy, 4 th edition, Hertfordshire

Kotter, John P. (1996) Leading Change, Havard Busines School Press Boston, Mass

Islamro, G.  (2008) Rituals in Organizations: A Review and Expansion of Current Theory,  Insper Working Paper

Schein, E.H. (1985-2005) Organizational Culture and Leadership, 3rd Ed., Jossey-Bass

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