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Book Review-Making Change Stick: Twelve Principles for Transforming Organizations – David Gui

by on November 11, 2007

Description of the book
The book Making Change Stick: Twelve Principles for Transforming Organizations is written by Richard C. Reale as an easy and quick manual for leaders who struggle to get their change initiatives to become effective and lasting in organizations. Reale, who had held key leadership positions in organizations ranging from start-up companies to Fortune 500 corporations and had taught in academia, later established Positive Impact Associates and provided consulting services to help create environments that foster performance excellence. His methods combine traditional and leading-edge philosophies to enhance individual performance and group collaboration (pg.167).

In this particular book, Reale first presented the readers with reasons why more than often organizational change refuses to stick. He argued that for many organizations change is more like illusion than reality. “We painted a few eggs gold in the expectation that the goose would be inspired, get the picture, and start laying golden ones. The elements necessary to accomplish and sustain the change were neither identified nor implemented.” (pg.2) Reale also argued a physical, mental, and emotional process is needed in order to produce a sticky change. “Sticky change takes commitment.” (pg.2) Then in the following chapters, Reale presented the 12 principles that he believed would contribute to the physical, mental, and emotional characteristics of the change process.

These principles, derived from Reale’s industrial experiences, were:
1. Know where you are going
2. Challenge your thinking
3. Involve and be involved
4. Align your culture
5. Honor emotions
6. Confront fear
7. Don’t wait for perfection
8. Communicate intentionally
9. Set people up for success
10. Catch people doing something right
11. Measure stuff that matters
12. Lead from the heart

These 12 principles were accompanied with relevant cases which Reale talked about his experiences when he was in the manufacturing industry and consulting business. Each chapter was also provided with inspirational quotes from notable personalities, such as Albert Einstein and Colin Powell. In the end of each chapter, there were also bulleted questions Reale threw out for readers to ponder, and guidelines on how to put the principle into practice. For example, for principle 5 “Honor emotions”, where Reale discussed that during change people’s emotional transition should be recognized and taken care of, he asked the question “How do I feel about the people who appear to be resisting the change?” (pg.66) following the wrap-up section, and then suggested “Become a student of behavioral styles and the change process by observing your own behavior and other’s during the change. Don’t expect everyone to experience the transition the same way you do, or to be at the same place on the curve.” (pg.67) Though the question and the suggestion were not clearly stated as a problem-solution type of writing, this could definitely arouse readers to think deeply about their connections and go ahead to associate them with the similar situations readers used to or currently be in.

What’s good about the book
The book is short in length and easily understandable that does not require its readers to spend a big deal of time on reading, while the content is interesting and instructive enough to keep them engaged. The questions raised in the end of each chapter can also stimulate readers’ to think critically to apply the principle into their daily work. One theme of the book that I particularly appreciated was its focus on the human factors in the change process, and I believed that is one important aspect that contributes to success or failure of any change effort but frequently gets overlooked by change leaders. Throughout the book, Reale has intensively used another famous change management expert, William Bridge’s change model that contains three phases described as endings, neutral zone, and new beginnings to represent his idea of behavioral and emotional transition of people during the change process. Reale believed if an intended change is to be implemented and maintained sticky, not only the organization’s physical and intellectual aspects need to be transformed, its people’s behaviors must also be adjusted to better comply with the change, therefore their emotional reactions must be well recognized and taken care of. This point made me to draw a connection with what often happens in reality: organizations make changes and assume that everyone in the firm will follow; however, this is often not the case and instead failure will happen. I think that the reason behind this phenomenon is that the way organizations approaching change is often inappropriate. They ignore the core component of change, the humans, while insisting other less important, arbitrary types of change elements. Unfortunately, as always, what determines the success or failure of change relies on humans, on their emotions and behaviors. Therefore it is surely fatal if this aspect is ignored or only partially given attention.

After reading the book, I realized that it can be easy enough to make directional plans for the change, but fulfillment of them is difficult. The 12 principles outlined in the book suggested leaders to focus on people in order to get organizations fruitful through the change, rather than the traditional machine-like manipulation. To me, the book raised an important point: if getting the individual to change is hard, then getting the entire organization to change is even way harder. Therefore rather than throwing out an arbitrary change initiative and then try to manage through it, it is essential to solve the puzzle piece by piece, in order to manipulate the whole picture. I can nearly be certain that the 12 principles or their likes could be found in other literatures, and therefore they might not seem as amazing and eyes-open to many readers; however putting these principles into practice is difficult. For this reason, Reale has done a good job for explaining each principle relatively well while also making it simple to understand, and providing his own experiences to support the point. Just think about this, when being provided with principles that due with setting right plan for change, “walk the talk”, helping people to cope with fear, encouraging people to follow through by praising their effort, setting them up for success, and choosing right metrics and monitoring them, etc., wouldn’t it be helpful to get better illustrated by having a resourced practitioner offering his relevant experiences?

What’s not so good about the book
The cases presented in each chapter that showed Reale’s relevant experiences were highlights of the book, they strongly supported the principles. However, a few of the cases were appeared to me being not illustrative and supportive enough to the points he was trying to make. For example, when trying to illustrate the point of starting measurement as immediate as possible for principle 11 “Measure stuff that matter”, Reale gave an example where he provided consulting services to a small printing company on measuring on-time shipment to customer expectation. In the case, Reale talked about the entire process of how they had gone through to dig the possibilities and reach several options on how and when the measurement will start, but eventually the option picked was an ad-hoc one, which appeared to me was the one had less legitimacy and credibility than others. Also, that marked the end of the case; the outcome of the decision was never indicated. Therefore it made me thought that it might cause readers to question the point the case was trying to make-value of immediate measurement during a change effort.

Simplicity was another advantage of the book. However, a few of the chapters were being oversimplified that I felt they could be somehow expanded to further explain the principles. For example, for principle 7 “Don’t wait for perfection” and 8 “Communicate intentionally”, Reale gave a general statement about the former one and two specific points about the latter. For principle 7, one of Reale’s main points was that there are always risks associated with implementing systemic change so organizations shouldn’t expect to have a perfect plan for change. However, the most significant rationale Reale used to support this thought was Thomas Edison’s quote; he did not provide any further meaningful backing, such as a success or failure example. This appeared weak to me; despite I was in agreement with the point. For principle 8, Reale explained two specific points of using multiple communication approaches, techniques, and media, and the critical impact language has when people communicate. However, communication is such a big topic when it is involved with change management; therefore I felt that Reale did not fully covered problems in this aspect, as he only simply revealed the non-communicating issue attributed to the classical pyramid structure of organizations but without giving more insightful details. I think if more details were given on it readers could more fruitfully understand the concept and it would also effectively second the point of using multiple communication approaches, techniques, and media.

Overall, I think the book is a worth reading as it provides insightful perspectives about the “soft” side of change-the people, behaviors, and emotions. Reale’s rich experiences have also helped strongly to support the principles. I also think that collectively, the 12 principles can work as a powerful tool for leaders to create a resilient and change-capable workforce for their organizations. While the book serves as a valuable resource for leaders of organizations of any size, it is lacking details in a few of the principles and not illustrative enough in a few cases. And I think one possibility may be the author’s intention to leave room for readers to speculate. However, I believe all these are minor flaws and they would not hurt the quality and value of the book; if achieving an effective and lasting change is the goal, then this book is absolutely an excellent guide which will show how to do it successfully.

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