Change Whisperer – Gail Severini's Blog


When Harvard professors duke it out – the ugly debate on Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation

Harvard thought leaders duke it out over strategy

If you have missed it, the gladiators at Harvard Business School are duking it out this week.

You really must catch up.

Here’s the plot line:

May 31st Harvard University is facing disruption of its own business model.  The New York Times reports on “Business School, Disrupted” (addressing the impact of eLearning and Harvard’s strategic choice) and the life’s work of Michael Porter and Clayton Christensen are applied and contrasted as “The Clashing Models”.

A relatively unknown history professor at Harvard, and former student of Michael Porter, writes a scathing, and very public, attack on Christensen’s life’s work in The New Yorker.

June 20th Christensen responds in a candid interview on BloombergBusinessWeek.

Now the players:

Michael Porter – in the back ground, perhaps represented by Jill Lepore:

  • From Wikipedia
  • “In 1985, Porter had published a book called “Competitive Advantage,” in which he elaborated on the three strategies—cost leadership, differentiation, and focus—that he’d described in his 1980 book, “Competitive Strategy.” I almost never saw Porter, and, when I did, he was dashing, affably, out the door, suitcase in hand. “The Competitive Advantage of Nations” appeared in 1990. Porter’s ideas about business strategy reached executives all over the world.” [2]

Clayton Christensen – the target of the tirade:

  • Professor of Business Administration at Harvard University
  • From Wikipedia
  • “The scholar who in some respects became his successor, Clayton M. Christensen…” [2] (catching the sarcasm yet?),
  • “Christensen has compared the theory of disruptive innovation to a theory of nature: the theory of evolution. But among the many differences between disruption and evolution is that the advocates of disruption have an affinity for circular arguments. ”
  • “Consistently described by those who know him as a generous and thoughtful and upbeat person, he is also capable of fury.” [3]

Jill Lepore – the protagonist:

  • Professor of American History at Harvard University
  • From Wikipedia
  • Takes issue with Christensen’s theories of disruption “Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that. It doesn’t explain change. It’s not a law of nature. It’s an artifact of history, an idea, forged in time; it’s the manufacture of a moment of upsetting and edgy uncertainty. Transfixed by change, it’s blind to continuity. It makes a very poor prophet.”

Let the games begin.

Read the articles in order:

  1. The context “Business School, Disrupted”, Jerry Useem, New York Times, May 31 2014
  2. The warning shot across the bow “The Disruption Machine: What the gospel of innovation gets wrong”, Jill Lepore,The New Yorker, {waiting for correct publication date – website says June 23rd but today is June 21st – will update upon advice}
  3. Clayton Christensen’s colorful rebuttal – interviewed by BloombergBusinessWeek “Clayton Christensen responds to New Yorker Takedown of ‘Disruptive Innovation’”, Drake Bennett, June 20 2014

Commentaries will keep coming (I will update this list as I find good new ones – please share your finds in the comments):

If you’ve got a little extra time, read through the comments on these articles.  It’s fascinating to see where readers land.

What are the take aways here?

I will update this post as the events develop but my first reactions:

  • Many of us look to the leading business schools for insight, advice and direction on the complexities of business issues.  What does it tell us when they don’t agree?
  • Such fissures are not uncommon.  Academics are known for fierce debate. This is generally productive―the issues get a solid airing and thorough analysis.
  • This, however, looks “postal”.  Not only is it is hostile, in disturbingly sarcastic―it is feels personal―both the attack and the rebuttal.
  • Maybe I am naïve but I expect a higher level of “professionalism” from people in these positions.  This (The New Yorker) does not seem to be the place for such debate―it’s like Lepore is “calling Christensen out” to a brawl in the public arena and, frankly, he has little option but to respond.
  • I get it that it’s only human for Christensen to be personally affronted however he stoops to cheap tactics too, for example repeatedly calling her “Jill”, then later admitting “I’ve never met her in my life.”
  • So what does it tell us when they don’t agree? We must think for ourselves―we must educate ourselves thoroughly on theory and think hard, and regularly, about its application in our own organizations and environments.
  • Personally, Christensen’s theories (and his continuous development of those theories over time) ring true in the narrow world of my own experience so I admit to being sympathetic.

What do you think about this whole thing? Please share in the Comments section.

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Change Whisperer by www.gailseverini.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.



What is “Change Management”? And, is definition important?

Ask 10 people “what is change management?” and you will get 10 very different answers.  So YES definition is important!

Many Leaders come to the term “Change Management” and intuitively believe they know what it means – and that they are already doing it.  However, behind these innocuous words is a highly specialized discipline that has been evolving over the past 60 years.

Understanding Change Management offers untapped opportunity to drive more value to the bottom line.

The broad definition 

It’s about “managing change”, i.e. taking a strategy and managing the implementation right? Well, yes, in the broadest sense.

My own definition starts from strategic alignment and extends through delivery to seeing the results track in.

Change management encompasses an array of multi-disciplinary capabilities:

  • Leadership and Strategic Planning
  • Project specific capabilities, e.g. Strategic Marketing, Organization Design and Development, Business Process Re-engineering, Technology Implementation
  • People Change Management (PCM), Training and Communications
  • Portfolio / Program / Project Management

Realizing full ROI only happens when ALL of these are INTEGRATED and OPTIMIZED.

Of note, you will see “Change Management” appear on many position descriptions and job postings these days.  This reference typically refers to a general understanding of the nature of change and high level awareness of the process that might be required for straightforward transitional change.

Underneath this broad definition though is a deeper, more powerful, resource – what I term “People Change Management”.  It is increasingly recognized that this so-called “soft stuff” represents the highest risk to transformational change.  It also represents the greatest opportunity for driving value and for competitive advantage.

The deep definition – People Change Management (PCM)

Kurt Lewin got us started and many others have continued the work of understanding how to help people traverse change.  The business notion is that the faster we can get employees to stop doing the old thing and start doing the new thing, the faster the ROI comes in.

Some of the renowned names in the field include: William Bridges, John Kotter, Peter Senge.  Others have gone deeper and applied it to the “hows” of  managing change faster and better:  Linda Ackerman-Anderson, Dean Anderson, Rick Mauer, Jeff Hiatt and our own Daryl Conner.

How do I think of  People Change Management?  It:

  • Reduces people-related risks (eg resistance and misunderstandings) that effect costly delays, re-work, error / waste and turnover
  • Increases and expedites user “adoption, proficiency and ultimate utilization” (Prosci Learning) thereby optimizing business results
  • Encompasses a structured process and tool sets
  • Includes: Leader (Sponsor) support, stakeholder management, change readiness, business impact, communication, training, and change metrics as well as contingency planning and interventions as required
  • Engages users in the change, shares information, improves solutioning and expedites the transition to the ‘new state’ 

How does Conner Partners define “Change Management”?

Change management is the orchestration of change in a way that identifies and addresses the human risks involved in implementing change. This strengthens the individual and organizational ability to handle change well and increases the chances that the change will be put successfully into practice.

Of note, this very tactical and process-driven application of Change Management is deployed within Programs and Projects.  It is substantively different than the generic competency requirement on position descriptions and job posting.

Mastery at this level prepares Leaders and Practitioners to deal with high risk, disruptive change – transformational change.  Mastery often encompasses Organizational Development capabilities associated with: organizational behaviour, organizational design, learning and development, compensation, culture change, etc.

PCM Current Maturity Levels?

Prosci Learning has a neat little Maturity Model here that articulates a development path from novice to mastery.  My experience is that few organizations have reached level 5 – and even fewer have an integrated, end-to-end, execution approach (a PMO is not “it”).

Most organizations are great at some components of change or they would not be around today. However, few (very few) are great at the whole array.

What a great opportunity for developing competitive advantage!  In fact, many Fortune 500 companies are going beyond adding the generic competency onto position descriptions and beyond adding Change Management checklists into project management methodology.  Many are in the process of developing Enterprise capability through Change Management Communities of Practice, Centres of Excellence and even dedicated leadership positions.

Deeper still – specialties within Change Management

In a recent discussion on LinkedIn one of the practitioners I have come to respect, Faith Fuqua-Purvis, proposed the notion of specialists within Change Management (much as within engineering there are Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, etc). I see this as key, for example “Communications” in Change Management is NOT the same as broadcasting information – it is not a PR or MarCom definition – it requires engaging Change Targets in 2-way dialogue. Furthermore, the notion of “risk communication” is also important here – effectively communicating with people who are “in crisis” is very different than day-to-day communications.

The specialities could include:

  • Defining strategic intent at an operational level with a realization focus, e.g. developing Vision and Mission Statements (not as simple as it sounds – I have seen many a project set the wrong trajectory with the wrong vision / mission statement – and this is NOT something that should be a whimsical engagement ploy)
  • Training and coaching sponsors and agents in change leadership/management
  • Enrolling sponsors and targets in this change.  Surfacing and resolving resistance.  Building and sustaining commitment.
  • Developing and deploying communications (informational and conversational, commitment focussed)
  • Anticipating, designing, resourcing and deploying specific types of interventions
  • Risk Management (against proven risk frameworks)
  • Etc

And, by the way, these are not mutually exclusive requirements – to the contrary, they have mutually compounding benefits.

Only when practitioners can clearly delineate

the different specialties and competencies within Change Management,

 describe their benefits and understand their relationships

– only then are they are really prepared to deliver “Change Management” value.

So, while this does not require that our definitions be identical, I ask my colleagues to give more consideration to contextualizing what you do and relating it to what other specialists within the same space do, i.e. don’t sell just your capability. Please consider the breadth and depth of change management and build up the team to meet the client’s best interests.

If you are researching Change Management to deploy within large-scale strategic change, I’d be delighted to share more with you – you can reach me at gail.severini@connerpartners.com .

_ _ _ _

Faith and I both believe that Change Management is a critical component of successful business change.  As such, and along with some others, we are committed to expanding the general understanding of Change Management and will be posting multiple articles on this topic over the next several months.  Some articles will be collaboratively written, others written and posted individually.

We hope you will visit both our sites.  To see Faith’s blog, follow this link.

If you want to know more about who we are, you can find us both on LinkedIn. You can also read more about Faith here and if you want to contact us, you can reach Faith here and me at gail.severini@connerpartners.com.

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How can you change your organization’s culture? Book Review: “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture (1)

If you recognize that your organization needs either a wholesale culture change (as Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop expressed this week (2)) or tweaking in certain units, this book will provide you with an excellent framework and the language to discuss it.  The authors, Cameron and Quinn, are renown in this space and the book is an expansion of decades of academic research and field application.

The foundation, Competing Values Framework, sets out a 2×2 matrix with 4 different organizational culture types (Clan, Hierarchy, Adhocracy and Market Cultures) and the authors maintain that most organizations exhibit differing degrees of each.

The beauty of the framework is that it takes the intuitive (and sometimes not so intuitive) and makes it plain, gives it structure that can be measured and discussed.  As I peeked ahead to read the model, I could immediately recognize characteristics s of organizations that I have worked with.  Even rough plotting current and desired state values seemed intuitive and suddenly easy to talk about. Further reading illuminating much more meat on the model worthy of further study – the Management Skills Assessment Instrument and Organizational Change Assessment Instrument (OCAI) are simultaneously straightforward and comprehensive.

The book claims that the approach provides six advantages: practical, timely, involving, quantitative and qualitative, manageable and valid.  I have to concur – this book delivers. 

Evidence is emerging every quarter that our most established and revered organizations are only reactive to change – are not demonstrating the capability to evolve at the pace that the market is demanding.  In my opinion, these organizations are constrained by three factors: the vision of leadership, the effectiveness of their strategies and … the ability to change the cultures of these organizations.  The success of our economies and our communities going forward will depend, to large degree, on whether we accelerate our commitment to these areas. 

In correspondence with Professor Quinn I asked for authoritative online description of OCAI to share with you and he referred me to the Competing Values Company where you can access much more information.

Of note, the third edition, published by John Wiley, is due for release in Canada on March 9th 2011 and will contain a downloadable online version of the Management Skills Assessment Instrument and the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument.

Also of note, I think we can expect to hear the reference to “the burning platform” a lot more in 2011.  It would be appropriate to acknowledge Daryl Conner who coined the phrase following the Piper Alpha explosion to articulate the notion of choice between certain death (failure) and potential life (hope).  He was interviewed recently by Luc Galoppin and described this in his own words “Burning Platform: The Misunderstanding ” (Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

Footnotes:

(1) “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture”, Kim S. Cameron and Roger E. Quinn, John Wiley & Sons, 2006, USA.

(2)“Nokia CEO Says Company Is Standing on a “Burning Platform”, Mashable, Feb 9, 2011.

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Fatal assumptions and setting projects up for success

“If we always do what we always did, we’ll always get what we always got” – True and so what? 

Well, often (usually) we need to move ourselves and our people out of comfortable situations in order to achieve different (hopefully better) results.  And as ‘easy’ as this looks when we put together analysis and business cases – then convince ourselves even more as we buy into the initiative vision statement – we often have a nagging doubt that implementation and benefits realization are rarely that ‘easy’. 

What are the, often fatal, assumptions that could free us – could liberate our approach to do things differently?  That we ignore at our own peril? continue reading here



“Rethink, Reimagine, Reset”

Please do read this blog post “Rethink, Reimagine, Reset” – Idris Mootee, CEO of Idea Couture, is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats. His post challenges us to think harder about leveraging existing technology to improve the world around us. 

My response?  Here we go:

Agree completely – vehemently. I hear a call to action to leaders to THINK HARDER – good intentions are no substitute for good work.  And nothing less than great strategy and great execution will preserve our standard of living. Shake ups are required – paradigm shifts.

Not convinced? Peer into the future by considering the trends described here :

“For the first time since Bloomberg BusinessWeek began its annual Most Innovative Companies ranking in 2005, the majority of corporations in the Top 25 are based outside the U.S.”. 

And, by the way, expand your horizon beyond the US to the North America continent – there are ripple effects.

It is not clear that technology innovation alone will compensate for the gross growth we are losing however there is likely no single silver bullet – we need to think in terms of ‘and’ not ‘or’

I particularly embrace Mootee’s call to action:

We don’t even need to look into the future, just look around us, there are plenty of technologies that allow us to change the world. We just need more design thinking and imagination.

This reminds me of one of my favorite affirmations – a quote from Teddy Roosevelt:

“Do what you can, where you are, with what you have!”

This is the start – the thin edge of the wedge. Critical to creating traction for change.

Next?  We can ignore the change that is evidencing itself around us (and by all accounts we do this very successfully) but until we acknowledge that fundamental shifts in our economies are occurring we cannot begin to change the trends.



Change the world

Had a couple of conversations recently with friends and colleagues bemoaning various states of affairs from gun violence to proroguing Parliament.  The conversation generally drifts to ‘but what can I do’, ‘I am just one voice’. 

From time to time, when I find some cool way to answer Eric Clapton’s call to action “Baby if I could … change the world” (“Change the world”) I will post it here. 

Think you can’t change the world? Think again: “The future is always changing … in the largest of ways by the smallest of things”, PUSH, the movie.

Even the smallest of actions can begin change.

Example? Okay, it’s a bit sappy but fun and funny – you’ll get the point – start somewhere! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao

How about we start with what we can do and work from there?

Maybe change begins with the decision that “yes, I can” and the next obvious question: “how?”



New Year’s Resolutions 2010 – tips

Jan 1st 2010. Toronto, Ontario.  Wonderful.  There is nothing like a blank slate at the beginning of the year.  No mistakes, yet, to regret and 365 days of promise ahead. 

New Year’s Resolutions are drafted, firming them up today. 

Some excellent pragmatic tips from a UK coach here:  “Set yourself EXACT 4P goals you will WANT to keep and achieve all you aspire to!” http://bit.ly/6xIaTv

And a perspective on leveraging the thin edge of the wedge here:  “Deviation…New Habit” Leading from the Future Blog – http://shar.es/a94HG

 As an agent of change I continue to find it fascinating why we do, and don’t do, all the things we do, and don’t do.

Onward and upward in 2010.  Wishing you success and happiness.




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