The Science of Successful Organizational Change

The Science of Successful Organizational Change

This week Steven dives into Chapter 8 of Paul Gibbons’ book The Science of Successful Organizational Change.  Change is a central activity of every organization.  Three more weeks are left Steven intends to spend two weeks on Chapter 9 and then we will have a grand finale.  Remember to use the link in the essay to buy a copy of the book to support the author, the podcast, and the blog!

Special note – I will publish a poll for the next book early next week soon.  Are there other suggestions?

The current list of suggestions are:

Peter Senge – The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization
Daniel S. Vacanti – Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability (An Introduction)
Kahneman – Thinking fast and slow
Burrows – Kanban from the inside
Kruse – 15 secrets successful people know about time management
– Tom


This week’s chapter concludes Part III Change Tactics of “Paul Gibbons book “The Science of Successful Organizational Change” (get your copy).

Chapter 8 – The Science of Changing Hearts and Minds

We learned last week several ideas to help people through change – like changing people’s habits.  This week we start by learning to identify and categorize change resistance we observe in people.

Understanding Resistance to Change

Gibbons presents three views about change resistance – the views become more expansive; we start with the (1) 4 Ds, (2) the 5 causes of resistance, and (3) Giibons’ Holistic Model of Resistance to Change.

– The 4 Ds

1.       Destruction

2.       Delays

3.       Dissent (*)

4.       Distancing

Gibbons tells us that overt dissent is good because at-least a conversation is possible.

“The next time you are leading a change and someone dissents publicly, before giving them the corporate “red card”, remember how much worse it is if they “go covert” with their dissent.” (p. 224)

And what Gibbons implies, the called-out dissenter becomes part of the “Destruction” camp.

Gibbons also gives us advice about the nature of resistance to change – DO NOT assume the dissent is caused by lack of information.  There is MORE to resistance to change than reason and emotion.  Gibbons provides 5 areas from his experience and are supported by current research (p. 225).

– Causes of Resistance

1.       We are tribal and social influences are very important.

2.       Network effects means nonlinear uptake on ideas.  Certain people can have a huge influence on the uptake of ideas.  On the flip-side, if the change does not generate a “buzz”, people may ignore it and seek to continue with the status quo.

3.       When beliefs and facts contradict each other, facts often lose.  We read about this same idea when establishing new habits in Chapter 7.

4.       Habits can be very strong and often prevent us from doing what we know we should do and actually want to-do (e.g., quit smoking).

5.       We are cultural and political creatures – group norms, allegiances, group events have strong influences on our actions.  We may want the change, but do not dare cross the “party” line.

– Holistic Model of Resistance

Gibbons presents a Holistic Model of Resistance to Change (Table 8.1, p. 226) that includes one-word category and a brief explanation as to why the resistance of change can exist.


1.       Rational – insufficient or wrong facts.

2.       Habitual – want to change, but is hard to break the habit.

3.       Emotional – angry or afraid of the change.

4.       Identity – change threatens “who I am”.

5.       Ideological – change is contrary to the person’s values.

6.       Social – change will cause social disruptions or others that we care about would be harmed.

7.       Culture – change challenges existing organizational norms and values.

8.       Political – change to the current power structure or loss of perceived power and influence.

Change versus Transitions

William Bridges (Transitions) – do not confuse the Change with the Transition, a common error Change Leaders make.

Gibbons recommends the book Transitions as one of the top-5 books on Change Management.  However, Gibbons points out Bridges’s notion of the transition involving a loss is not always true.  Many people actually want to change and both the change and transition is exciting – even though there is an uncomfortable feeling because of not-knowing and the learning curve.

Your job as a change leader is to understand which people want the change and which people fear the change – who may be experiencing feelings of loss during the transition.  And then, plan and respond appropriately.

Gibbons helps us put change and transition in perspective (p. 228),
“attachment (to the illusion of stability) is the source of all suffering”

Back in Chapter 1, Gibbons quotes Heraclitus (p. 23)
“Everything changes and nothing remains still …and… you cannot step twice into the same stream.”

Change Management 101

Change Management 101 includes (p. 229)

1.       How to deal with resistance

2.       How to resolve conflict

3.       How to develop change leaders at every level

4.       How to engage the workforce

5.       How to build skills and capability

6.       How to analyze and influence stakeholders

7.       How to communicate optimally

8.       How to develop a network of influencers and change leaders

“Change Management 101 works extremely well in situations with low social and technical complexity, that is where stakeholder diversity is slight”  (p. 229).  As typically found in a corporate setting where the organizational culture and values are similar between key stakeholders.  Where the common organizational culture is often focused on making great products and achieving profitability.

One of the key tenants of Change Management 101 is to get people involved in both the change process and decisions.  Gibbons highlights three mistakes made by Change Managers (p. 231)

1.       Not involving people enough causing poor compliance or even active dissent.

2.       Insufficiently directive, being too hands-off.  For example, people expect and welcome directive leadership in a time of crisis.  [Note:  not as common as #1 above]

3.       Involvement pretense; asking for collaboration and then ignoring it anyway.  Involvement includes being able to disagree and to help shape the outcome.

How can change leaders engage?  Gibbons refers to Peter Senge’s 5-level engagement model (p.230) from the book “Fifth Discipline Fieldbook” (and similar to Jurgen Appelo’s 7-level delegation model from his “Managing for Happiness” book).

1.       Tell

2.       Sell

3.       Test

4.       Consult

5.       Co-create

Know which level you are using and be transparent about it.  For example, do not fall into the “involvement pretense” trap where people see the Change Program as open for input (#4 Consult) when the leadership is really focused on #2 – selling the Change Program as-is.

Wicked (Social) Messes, resolving through LGIs

Change Management 101 was not designed to for situations where “social complexity meets technical complexity” (p. 232).  Co-creation is needed here.

Gibbons shares one body of knowledge Change Management consultants use to wrangle these complex situations – Large Group Interventions (LGIs).  And shares a formula for thinking about LGIs (p. 235), he learned at PwC  – O = E² — Output = Excellence times Engagement.

The idea is for people to move from thinking they are “change” victims (done-to) to “change” participants (doers).

“LGIs focus pragmatically on a solution that creates optimal engagement because expert solutions with which people are disengaged are useless.” (p. 234)

Gibbons shares five high-level examples where LGIs were used (p. 236).  One of the LGIs examples involved “aligning four consortium partners, unions, and antagonistic internal groups with a leadership team’s strategy”.

Influencing with Facts

We already know from Gibbons that facts often give way to emotions and established habits.

Gibbons points out that providing facts can be ineffective and can strengthen the opposition to an idea.  People fill-in the counter-arguments to facts they don’t like.

Gibbons provides us with a very current example:  facts about climate change.

Therefore, change leaders need to be careful how to use facts when influencing groups and people with strong opinions.  And for that Gibbons tells us to use those change resistance models presented earlier in this chapter and identify the causes of resistance.

Gibbons provides guidelines on using facts effectively (pages 239 -240)

1.       Present the facts first

2.       Fewer facts are more effective (do not overwhelm)

3.       Use pictures / graphical data

4.       Audience self-esteem matters (do not attack your audience)

And then Gibbons summarizes the 6 principles of Influence from Robert Cialdini [table 8.2, p.241] – The MINDSPACE Framework from Cialdini’s book “Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion”.


Gibbons provides information and a narrative on Mindfulness to finish up this chapter.  Mindfulness is about training our attention so we are more aware.  I briefly mention Mindfulness for completeness of the topics covered in Chapter 8.  There are 10-pages written on Mindfulness in Chapter 8!


Gibbons covers six topics in Chapter 8

1.       Resistance to Change – and information to identify and classify the resistance

2.       Change versus the Transition

3.       Change Management 101, for most organizational situations

4.       Large Group Interventions (LGIs) for those “wicked” change situations

5.       Influencing with Facts

6.       Mindfulness

Next week Gibbons concludes “The Science of Successful Organizational Change” with the book’s major theme of “Leading with Science” and management becoming more evidence based.

Previous entries in the re-read of the book The Science of Successful Organizational Change (buy a copy!)

Week 1: Game Plan

Week 2: Introduction

Week3; Failed Change

Week 4: Change Fragility to Change-Agility

Week 5:  Governance and the Psychology of Risk

Week 6: Decision Making in Complex and Ambiguous Environments

Week 7: Cognitive Biases and Failed Strategies

Week 8: Misunderstanding Human Behavior