Nothing endures but change. Heraclitus 540 - 480 B.C.

Virtually every business article one reads states and then restates that the only "fact" upon which organizational leaders in today's global marketplace can rely is change. "Change management" has, of necessity, become the watchword of organizational leadership.

The problem: Leaders woefully lament,

" Workers" are extensions of machines; they follow orders; they only want money for their work; they are prime candidates for Tayloristic forms of work organization. "People", on the other hand, have values and needs. They are creative and can be a boundless source of creativity, organizational effectiveness and competitiveness.

But, all people resist change, right? Maybe, NOT!

Experience lesson #1. Working with thousands of "workers who are people" - male and female; old and young; Afro-American, Hispanic, Caucasian, Native American; "educated" and "uneducated" - suggests that what "workers who are people" resist is not change. Rather, what they resist is being changed! People resist something being done to them!

Organizational leaders see the need for change - that's their job! Countless hours are spent telling employees of the need for change, cajoling them into "getting it", only to find enormous resistance.

They don't "get it" because they have not had the opportunity and experience of seeing the world the way you do nor of having the information and understanding of that information that you have. Continuing to tell them will only increase their resistance. While employees may comply and "go through the motions", they are doing so because the boss told them to - compliance not real commitment.

Experience lesson #2: An alternative to consider: Modifying some of the early work in organizational change done by Richard Beckhard and Michael Beer, a different and, hopefully, more effective way of thinking about change may be helpful. While there is no "formula", focusing on the "mathematics of change" provides a way of eliminating "telling" people they/we need to change.

Engagement - involving as many people as possible within the organization in the development and implementation of the process of change
Model - a shared and mutually agreed upon description of where the organization needs and wants to go in the future so that employees know what they need/want to "change to".
Process - all the things that need to take place - analysis and change of existing policies, procedures and practices; integrated plans for change; and, the support needed to help people change.
Cost - the effect of change on the people and organization. All organizations have inertia or momentum. Physicists suggest that inertia or momentum can be defined, as a body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion tends to stay in that motion and in the direction of that motion. Changing the direction of motion and/or getting into motion has a profound effect on people when those people feel that change is being imposed on them. These effects are primarily emotional or psychological in nature. "I know my role now, I know how to carry out that role, and I'm comfortable the way things are now. If we change, I could well fail and that's frightening."

Some authorities suggest that real and lasting change cannot occur unless there is a crisis or dissatisfaction with the status quo. This view implies that only those organizations in real crisis can/will change. Being afraid can certainly provide a stimulus for change; however, the stimulus for change is in place only so long as the crisis exists!

Engagement, alternatively, is a process which enables "workers who are people" to see and understand the world as a highly competitive, global marketplace in which survival and success require constant innovation, improvement and change.

By engaging people, rather than mandating change, they learn, through self-discovery the reason why the status quo is no longer acceptable. Change becomes their need and their goal rather than ' them doing something to me.'

Where do we need to be in the future? Where do we want to be in the future? Why? What's the world like in which we must live and compete in the future?

In 1987, Rich Teerlink, then CFO en route to COO and then to CEO of Harley-Davidson, was concerned about the need for dramatic and sustained change and very few within the company sensed this need. He had been telling leaders of the company of his concerns. In 1987, however, leaders were not concerned. After all they had survived a "near death" experience in the early 1980's, had beaten back Japanese imports, taken the company public and were "riding high".

Rather than continuing to "tell" them, we decided to engage organizational leaders in a process of self-discovery of the need for change. Over a period of 90 days in early 1988, more than 150 union and management leaders spent time in a disciplined and facilitated process of "envisioning" what Harley-Davidson wanted and needed to be in the future. These leaders also did their own research into current and future market conditions, demographic growth rates, competition, costs, etc.

The result, in May 1988, these 150+ leaders came together in a three-day meeting and agreed upon and committed to a "vision" for their company. As Walter Cronkite once said, "and the rest is history".

These leaders were engaged. A mutually agreed upon model of the future was developed by the people who had the responsibility for leading the organization through continuous and dramatic change. It has worked and continues to work because the "workers as people" created it.

As Tom Gelb, retired Executive Vice President for Operations at Harley-Davidson said, "I am convinced that if every employee had the same information I've got and understood that information the same way I understand it, they would make the same decisions (and sometimes better ones) that I would make."

Engagement enables people in the organization to create a shared image of where they want and need to take the organization.

Process - getting from 'here' (where we are today) to 'there' (where we have agreed we want and need to go) is built upon the creation of the model of 'there'. Developing the process is most effective when the continuing engagement of people takes place.

With this image of "where going and why" and the continuing involvement of people, the next step is to assess "where are we today compared to where we have agreed we want and need to go?" With this image of "where going and why" and the continuing involvement of people, the next step is to assess "where are we today compared to where we have agreed we want and need to go?"

Experience lesson #3: Comparing "where we are today" to "where we are going" further engages "workers who are people" in understanding the need for change. It also provides for much more candid and accurate assessments without the all-too-often shallow, narrow and defensive assessments when today is contrasted with yesterday or another function, department or organization.

Experience lesson #4: It is this area - the process for getting there - that is almost always poorly done.

Leaders must recognize and accept that it took years to get where you are and this condition will not change quickly or easily!

Everything that is currently being done - policies, practices, and procedures - must be examined. "In what way does this procedure, practice, policy help us move to where we said we want to be in the future?" If it doesn't actually help or, more likely hinders progress, change it or eliminate it!

The sequence or priority of elements in an integrated plan for change is critical. As leaders we should avoid deciding what needs to be done and in what order. Why? Because, by doing so, one more time, we're doing something to employees.
Continue to engage employees in determining what needs to be changed, and in what sequence, to enable them to make the change happen!

At Harley-Davidson, Rich Teerlink along with other senior leaders felt that initiating change by implementing a gain sharing plan was the right thing to do. In fact, changes to the compensation system did not occur until after more than five years of "other" changes, and even then the changes in compensation that took place did not take the form of "gain sharing".

What is needed is an integrated plan for change that is realistic and built upon the sequence of change identified by the people who have to make it work. The plan for change must be truly integrated so that no unintended consequences occur and it will work.

Most organizations of which I am aware seem to believe that all that is needed is an image of the future and a list of "things to change" and then a miracle happens. It simply doesn't work that way.

Engage people from all areas of the organization and charge them with creating a plan that will work. The plans with the best chance of success will be developed by those who will be responsible for their execution.

"The devil is in the details".

Experience lesson #5: The process, no matter how well planned and how much involvement occurs, still requires support. It is not any easier for "them" to change than it is for "me" to change.

Support takes many forms. Coaching, teaching, reinforcement, empathy, caring, communicating, "being there when one is needed", etc. As one is continuing along the road to tomorrow, he/she still needs help. Top executives - including CEO's - need support as well. In fact, those in top leadership positions may well need more support than others. Why? Because they have been very successful and got where they are today doing what they have been doing!

The problem: How do we get people to embrace change rather than resist change?

Experience lesson #6: Focus on behaviors, skills and roles: not attitudes!

AXIOM 1: The baby and the bath water

For most people, our weaknesses are our strengths carried to excess or misapplied.
,br /> If we think about the people we most admire, what makes us most angry with them or what disappoints us most about them is a strength we admire most about them being carried to far or "they go over the top".

For example, one of the most effective business executives I have ever met is a very bright, caring and intensely committed person. When he heard that he was "coming on too strong" he concluded that he must really reduce his intensity. In his words, "I'm going to become a 'Casper Milquetoas'."

Rather than look at the situation and, on a case-by-case basis, modify his intensity to fit that situation he was going to fundamentally change who he was and what made him so effective and admirable.

If we accept this axiom, when we approach a person about our discomfort or anger about something they have done, we must do so in a way that we are don't "throw the baby ,out with the bath water"?

AXIOM 2: Peeling back the onion

If we look at human beings and their actions in a different way - as if we were "peeling back an onion" - we may find a more helpful way of dealing with them.

I suggest that at the core of every person are his/her values:

  • those things for which I would be willing to die or kill. Normally established by the time one is 8 or 10 years old, they seldom change absent a frontal lobotomy, years of psychoanalysis or a significant emotional event in our lives. Most of us are not particularly good at articulating our values.
The next "circle" out is our beliefs:
  • an attempt to articulate our values. Most organizations have "creeds", statements of principles, visions, etc.
The third circle "out" is our theme attitudes:
  • We will return to this topic later.
The next circle out is roles and skills:
  • the roles one plays (in my case father, grandfather, husband, coach, teacher, golfer, writer, etc.) as well as the skills one does and does not possess.
The final circle is behavior:
  • the things one does or does not do; the actions I take or don't take. Behavior is all that really counts! No one can actually see values, beliefs, or attitudes. All we really see is another's behavior.
" That's interesting, but what does it have to do about attitudes?"

I suggest that the term "attitude" is a 'mindset' that has two uses. Attitude use 1: It is my view that no one behaves in ways that are consistent with their values all the time. We are, in fact, human. We are fallible and fail, sometimes, to behave or act in the way we would really like to. Why? Countless reasons! For purposes of this discussion, it doesn't really matter.

Because I am fallible, I must rationalize my failure to be perfect. I, therefore, construct my own attitude to justify to myself my failure to be perfect.

A personal example may help. At one time, I smoked 2 - 3 packs of cigarettes each day. I KNOW that smoking is DUMB! One of my basic values is not to be dumb! I'm doing something DUMB and I don't want to be DUMB.

My attitude becomes: "If I stop smoking entirely I'll gain 100 or more pounds and probably die of a heart attack. So I'll just smoke a few cigars each day instead of 2 - 3 packs of cigarettes and everything will be okay."

Put another way, my attitude is my excuse to me for the way I behave.

Attitude use 2:

When I observe the behavior of another person, I make assumptions about that person's values and beliefs based upon my observation of their behavior. There is no way I really know those things about the person even if I have known her/him for a long time. Nevertheless, I make an assumption or judgment about him/her based on my observations - as imprecise as they may be - of his/her behavior and say that she/he has a certain "attitude".

Most of us use "attitude", therefore, to label our assumptions about a person's values and beliefs based on our observation of their behavior and the effect that behavior has on us.

AXIOM 2: Attitudes don't count! Behaviors do!

What happens when we don't like what someone else is doing and we confront her/him by assessing his/her "attitude" and/or casting aspersions about her/his "values" or "beliefs"? WE'RE INVITING A FIGHT!

In my work with organizations, I suggest that we leave the three "inner circles" outlined above alone! It doesn't matter what a person's values, beliefs and "attitudes" are so long as their behavior is consistent with what the organization expects of the people who make up the organization. In my view, organizations do not have the right to dictate appropriate values or to tell people what they should/must believe. Organizations do have the right to state clearly what is expected regarding roles, skills required and acceptable and unacceptable behaviors - nothing more!

"But we have to talk about values so that we can ensure that the persons' values are aligned with ours and we know they will 'fit in'." Of course organizations should state what they believe so that people know what the organization "stands for". Beyond that, I don't know how to determine one's values and beliefs, let alone their "attitude" except through observable behavior. All the "value clarification" exercises in the world only describe what people "say" their values are or, more accurately, what their "espoused" values are.

If the person's values are too far out of line with those of the organization, they will not come to work there or stay with the organization very long!

Focusing on behaviors and skills/roles is much less subjective or amorphous. Rhetoric doesn't count! Behaviors do! ! My experience suggests that past behavior is an excellent predictor of future behavior. For example, if one is concerned with an applicants "attitude" towards customer service, why not simply ask "Please tell me about an experience in your past that describes how you feel about customer service." If one is concerned about ethical conduct, why not ask, "Please tell me about an experience in your previous work in which an ethical dilemma arose and how you handled it."

An example may help. After conducting a workshop on this topic with operating leaders at Harley-Davidson, one of the participants, we'll call him Wayne, said to me, "I'd like to buy this stuff but you don't know Joe. He has a lousy attitude, poor work ethic and is just a no goodnik." I asked Wayne what Joe was doing that was so terrible. Wayne's response was that Joe was a high absentee and tardiness problem employee.

I suggested that Wayne discuss the attendance/tardiness problem from a behavior standpoint rather than values and beliefs and see what happened.

Two weeks later, Wayne called me and said "You're not going to believe what happened when I talked with Joe." I asked him what he had said to Joe and Wayne responded, "I did it the way you suggested. I asked him ' Joe, why is it that you only work 4 days per week'?"

I asked Wayne what Joe had said. Wayne lamented, "You won't believe this. Joe said, 'because I can't live on only three days pay!"

This example, absolutely true incidentally, suggests that Joe did not have an attitude problem. His behavior was very consistent with what he valued. Wayne, on the other hand, had a major problem with Joe's behavior.

As a postscript, Wayne talked with Joe in a very coaching manner about what was and was not acceptable behavior and they successfully resolved Joe's "behavior problem".

One can easily imagine what might have happened if Wayne had approached Joe with "Joe, you've got a bad attitude and if you don't straighten out your attitude QUICK you are in real trouble."


AXIOM 3: People don't something that is a problem for them at the time they do it!

THINK ABOUT IT! If something I am about to do is a problem for me, I simply won't do it! While this sounds so simple, we have an issue with something someone else does - in other words we have a problem with their behavior - and insist upon the telling that person that he/she has a problem.

Approaching someone who is demonstrating a behavior (or set of behaviors) by being forthright about who "owns" the problem is a critical step in resolving the issue.

When we are approaching people with whom we have an issue, bear in mind:

  • people don't do things that are a problem for them at the time they do them. In reality, you have an issue with that person; not, the other way around. Let the person know that "I have a problem..." and that you would like their help in solving your problem.
  • address the concrete behavior (or role/skill difficulty) rather than going after "attitudes" or values or beliefs. Behaviors count!
  • recognize that what may need to change is the way in which the person's strength is applied, not some major weakness or character flaw".

When the process of change is carried out as described above, the 'cost' takes care of itself - people have been engaged, have a clear model and the process enables them to embrace and even become excited about the change, not be changed!


  • Change is a fact of life for organizations.
  • People don't resist change, they resist being changed.
  • Engage people in self-discovery of why change is needed.
  • Develop a clear image of "where we are going and why".
  • Examine - and doing something about - where we are today compared to where we want to go.
  • Create an integrated plan for change whose sequence and actions are determined by the person whose is changing his/her behavior.
  • Provide support.
  • Focus on behaviors, not attitudes.
  • It is a journey, not a destination.