Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.

What is THE critical organizational capability for 2011?

Well my vote won’t surprise – but this might – just before the recession hit (BTW are we back to this point yet?), Boston Consulting Group did a survey of 4700 executives in 83 countries “Creating People Advantage: How to Address HR Challenges WorldWide Through 2015”, April 2008 (1). The coverage in Bloomberg BusinessWeek pointed out a surprise:

“1/3 of US companies anticipate installing a head of change-management

with authority and standing similar to that of a chief financial officer by 2015” (be still my heart)

 … “only 11% of executives say their companies have such a position”

However, the current reality is that VERY FEW organizations (including those who say “we do that internally already”) are really fully leveraging the current array of Change Management thought leadership.

What might the full array look like?  This is a white paper we produced in Sept this year addressing CM in the context of innovation – a 3×3 matrix identifying 9 components: “Call to Action: Power innovation bandwidth with the 9 pistons of the Change Management engine” (here). 

To be very pointed, this is to say that transformational change requires MUCH MORE than “leadership”, “communications” and “training”.  It requires all of those but also much more and much more deeply than most organizations currently practice. Do we have a point of view on what this might look like – well yes here.

Why is this important to me? Well I do believe that the organizations that are the life blood of our economies (yes, it’s that big and important) need to evolve – it’s more than a “culture of innovation” although that might be the thin edge of the wedge.   And that Change Management is a critical organizational capability to achieve this in any deep and sustainable way.


(1) So the link on the BCG site for this report actually goes to an updated version dealing with the financial crisis – so here’s the BusinessWeek article

What is THE critical leadership capability for 2011?

My vote goes to “Integrative Thinking” attributed to Roger Martin:

“The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and,

instead of choosing one at the expense of the other,

generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea

that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.” (1) 

How will this play into our ability to innovate and evolve our organizations? How do we balance execution of individual initiatives and Business As Usual (BAU) and developing a more Nimble Organization? More from Daryl Conner in his post this week “Constrained or Nimble” here ( and in his book “Leading at the Edge of Chaos (2)”.

What would an example look like in real life? “Strategy for Success in Afghanistan : One Tribe at a Time” (special thanks to Luc Galoppin) here  More from Luc on his blog here (

(1) “The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders win through Integrative Thinking”, Roger Martin, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA, 2007.

(2) “Leading at the Edge of Chaos: How to Create the Nimble Organization”, Daryl R. Conner, John Wiley and Sons Inc, Canada, 1998.

Must we really look at organizational culture to get ROI and sustainability?

I am almost done reading “Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture” by Kim S. Cameron and Robert E. Quinn (renowned thought leaders in this space).  This book directly addresses culture in the context of Strategic Change. It offers very tactical and pragmatic approach, framework and tools.

I have come to believe that true Transformational change (of the ilk organizations must face to re-position for the next 10 years) requires attention to organizational culture – it is ignored at the peril of Project ROI and Strategy sustainability. We must not be intimidated by the risk rather we must take courage from the imperative.

Having said that few practitioners (leaders or consultants) have the breadth of knowledge and experience to bring to bear – hence our further research … and alliance with Conner Partners (

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 Strategic success into 2020 requires new social contracts with employees

WikiLeaks Paradigm Shift
December 7, 2010, 4:46 pm
Filed under: - Personal Reflections | Tags: , ,

The headlines on the latest WikiLeaks events focus on the information disclosed and particular situations but are there larger issues at play here?  Perhaps we are looking at a paradigm shift that presents some dangerous dilemmas.

Many have said such exposure will force openness and transparency.  Actually I am concerned that it will either eliminate difficult but necessary conversations or force them further underground.  As far as a world where we all participate – well, as much as I’d love to believe that we could have a “townhall” of equally informed participants to have rationale debate about our political options I have never witnessed this – have you, really?  We are not capable of that in our small town of ~45K inhabitants on a single issue!  I just don’t think it is feasible. continue reading here

Strategic success into 2020 requires new social contracts with employees

In the transformational change that we support we are often asked (implicitly) to change the original ‘contract’ that employees ‘signed up for’. This immediately positions a before / after and opposition.

In organizations who take a more nimble approach, usually newer organizations and often technology-driven, this is less of an issue – why? My hypothesis is that the ‘social contract’ is different – more along the lines of ‘we have a culture of innovation’ i.e. the signal that change will come, frequently and often, is established as a part of the original agreement to work together. Yes, we deal with loss of control and fear of failure but within a completely different context from long established industrial-age cultures that presumed the original set-up would run forever (providing for life-time jobs, job security, etc, etc).

The world has changed forcing organizations to change more often and more quickly.  Organizations who do not update their ‘contracts’ with employees set themselves up for real resistance from the get go. The alternative is equally intimidating but far more sustainable.

Is it time to re-set the expectations of employees?  Do we have any other viable alternatives?

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Must we really look at organizational culture to get ROI and sustainability?

“Presence of mind” – a game changer
December 4, 2010, 9:34 pm
Filed under: - Personal Reflections, - Strategy and Imperatives | Tags: ,

The first time my young son got the puck in a game and purposely did not fire it off his stick immediately, I saw the power of “presence of mind” in action – it was a game changer. 

For those who do not know, hockey it is a ‘ball’ sport where passing the puck between players to get into a scoring position is key.  Sound a little like strategy? Well, there is strategy to it.   

The “ah ha” here is that when we get an “extra” moment to make a better decision we should take it. The time it takes to assess options is almost always less than the time (and cost) it takes to fix a poor choice – and, the difference in the quality of the decision can define trajectory. 

In fact, even when we don’t think we have that moment (competitive pressure is too high, internal political tension is too great), we should perhaps MAKE A MOMENT.