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Change the Way You Lead Change: Leadership Strategies That Really Work – Book Review – Jared Cheng

by on November 11, 2008

Change the Way You Lead Change: Leadership Strategies That Really Work. David M. Herold and Donald B. Fedor. Stanford University Press, 2008. 176 pp. $25.00. (ISBN: 0-804-75875-1)

Leaders of change bring change using the following principles: promoting advantageous visions, offering clear communication to gain people’s trust, selecting suitable individuals to empower, creating a short term win, etc. However, does following these principles lead to an automatic successful organizational change? Simply put, the answer is no. According to research and major trade publications, about 80 percent of all change initiatives end in failure. In addition to this, they state that 31 percent of CEOs removed by their boards were removed due to mismanaged change initiatives. Why is this happening? David M. Herold and Donald B. Fedor coauthored a book, “Change the way you lead change”, in response to this question. This book takes readers to explore the “blind spots” that leaders of change often miss while making decisions.

Both David Herold and Donald Fedor are professors at the College of Management, Georgia Institute of Technology, and have a great amount of experience in corporate consulting. In preparation for the book, they “have examined more than 300 organizational changes and over 8,000 individuals who have lived through them” (cover), identified the key factors leading to failure by asking executives recall past change initiative failures, formulated a change model, and validated it against several real case studies. The book, presented by credible authors, is a reliable source for researchers, students, and leaders of change who would like to learn more about change management.

Herold and Fedor challenged the traditional sequence of a change project: “Perceived strategic or business imperatives”
“What do we think needs changing?” (WHAT)
“How should we proceed?” (HOW)
“Implementation” (18)
Personal interpretations, such as leaders’ personal theories, ego, personal agendas, motives, and personality, influence “perceived strategic or business imperatives” and what needs changing. Projects for change that follow this typical sequence usually fail or do not meet expectations because 1) problems are not properly addressed by the proposed change, 2) leaders are inadequate, 3) followers poorly adapt to the change, 4) internal and external events are not carefully considered, and 5) flaws exist in the implementation of the change process (18 – 19). Based on the traditional sequence, the authors add newly introduced components: “who will lead”, “who is expected to follow”, “internal context”, and “external context”. Thorough considerations of these four components determines HOW; HOW leads to three different outcomes: “implementation”, “[altering] elements of the situation” (reconsidering who is involved in a change project), or “[reconsidering] the change” (reconsidering the contexts) (20). This change framework, which takes various components into account to model the complexity of change situations, gives me a different mental image about leading organizational change. Each component of the framework is addressed in detail in the later chapters.

There is a misconception in change management that success or failure is determined by how well the organization does instead of what the organization is trying to do. It is believed by most of organizations that their solutions that address a change imperative are appropriate. However, this is not the case. Herold and Fedor believe that a treatment that addresses a change imperative is just a choice; it may not be optimal and often reflects a leader’s “ego”, “motive”, as well as “personal biases, predispositions, and even deeply rooted and sometimes unconscious processes” (32). Moreover, there’s no corresponding solution that addresses a particular change imperative; for example, restructuring is not the only solution to speed up decision making process. In order to find the best and realistic solution, leaders should take a wide assessment of the change situation and consider the meaning and impact of change to all the subunits (42).

I always thought that leaders influenced followers mainly relied on their positional power and charisma. In chapter 4, Herold and Fedor identified several “reservoirs of influence” that leaders of change can draw on: positional (compliance), relational or personal (personal credibility and change savvy), and impersonal (charisma and reputation) (49). Each of the sources of influence has advantages and disadvantages; leaders of change need to know where their influences are coming from and what situation is most appropriate for using a particular influence reservoir (68).

The authors emphasize change-savvy leadership style, which involves the following:
1. Careful entry into the new setting
2. Listening to and learning from those who have been there longer (respecting the history and culture)
3. Engaging in fact finding and joint problem solving
4. Carefully (rather than rashly) diagnosing the situation
5. Being enthusiastic, genuine, and sincere about the circumstances surrounding the change
6. Obtaining buy-in for what needs fixing
7. Developing a credible plan for making that fix (47 – 48)
Change-savvy leadership can help a leader to cultivate personal credibility and reputation (49). Moreover, “possessing strong interpersonal credibility and the display of change savvy are the most potent and enduring buckets of goodwill” (50), which is the key that “allows leaders to convince followers” (46) to support a change.

Case studies introduced in chapter 5 show some interesting patterns. Outsiders that companies bring in to lead change often encounter doubt of their abilities and resistance from the existing organizational cultures. If the leader has a reputation or the charisma, “she is likely to get a chance to prove it. If quick success follow … relationships may be established as follower begin to trust the leader … and the exercise of positional power will be accepted on the basis of improvements in people’s prospects and outcomes” (61). On the other hand,
“if a new leader lacks reputation, charisma, or both, followers expect him or her to first get the lay of the land … If this approach yields improvements in the organization’s prospects, theses leaders will quickly enjoy a filling of their ‘change savvy’ and ‘personal credibility’ reservoirs, which will make further changes much easier.”(61)
The insiders as change leaders usually possess personal credibility; however, successful change leaders “did it mostly through the display of change savvy” (64). Another implication drawn from the case studies is that change initiatives usually end up problematic if leaders solely rely on exercising positional power and fail to establish trusting relationships with followers.

Herold and Fedor also analyzed the “who” component of the framework from the followers’ perspective. The idea behind chapter 6 is about motivation. The authors believe that not all people resist change; it is how much effort that one decides to make. When people face a chance situation, they usually ask themselves: “can I do it if I try?”, “What will happen if I succeed (or fail)?”, and “How much do I value such consequences?” (73) The answers to these three questions determine the level of effort one would make on behalf of change. Factors that influence the answers to these questions are “follower characteristics, personality, beliefs”, “leader behavior and characteristics”, and “contextual influences”; while the former factor has strong influences over the first and the third questions, the latter two factors (leaders and organizations) have a strong effect on the middle components (74). About the follower characteristics, research shows that changes cause the least impact to people who are emotionally stable and conscientious, if appropriate support from leaders is given (78). Knowing how these factors interact with the components that motivate employees, leaders thus can think about what they or the organization could do to bring the best out of individuals, as well as select or train the right people that will better help them to deal with change situations (84).

People’s capacity for change can be represented by a learning curve. Various factors, such as “skills”, “the amount of time and effort (motivation) devoted to practice”, “assistance or support provided by others” (88), etc influence the slope of the learning curve. When change is introduced, the learning curve shifts downwards; the actual performance goes below the pre-change baseline. The actual performance then goes up to baseline and beyond as time proceeds.
The authors suggested ways to accelerate the performance as they stated, “excellent training and good change management practice will mitigate the depth and duration of the performance dip because they begin to address a lot of the issues we have identified. Having skilled people, or people possessing some of the personal characteristics … will speed up adaption” (90). In order to track the degree to which adaption is taking place, the authors suggested the use of metrics, so that leaders can rely on it to make a realistic projections of performance trajectory (98).

In chapter 8, the authors focus on the internal and external contexts in which the change and its participants are embedded (100). Factors existing in either internal or external environments play a role that would either enhance or detract change effort. Major factors existing in the external environment are “labor markets”, “legal and regulatory factors”, “economic factors”, “affiliated organizations”, “technology environment”, “demographics”, and “regional and national cultures” (102 – 103). Change leaders can perform an environmental scan analysis and then use the result to modify their decisions on change (104). In the internal environment, “resources” (104), organizational culture” (105), and “culture turbulence” (108) are the three major factors that shape change events. To address culture turbulence in an ever-changing organizational culture, the authors believe that change leaders should examine a portfolio of changes, so that “they can space changes better; they can rearrange their sequence; they can eliminate less essential ones; they can improve change support or leadership so that earlier changes take hold more quickly, allowing for subsequent change to be considered” (111).

In chapter 9 and 10, Herold and Fedor revisit their change framework, put the WHAT, WHOs and CONTEXTs together to derive HOW (how should we proceed?), and use real-world stories to support their idea that successful leaders have thoroughly taken all components of the framework into consideration in decision making. Each component (WHAT, WHOs, and CONTEXTs) is treated independently, allowing leaders explore unforeseen events and search for other alternatives while diagnosing a change situation to come up with a tailored solution.

I really enjoyed reading this book; it not only complements my study in change management, but also enhances my decision-making skills. Herold and Fedor introduced a change framework and thoroughly explained why most businesses initiatives failed because leaders ignored the invisible factors that could help better shape their change decisions. Another realization I made after reading the book is that being a change leader is about getting your hands dirty! A change leader really has to be out there to determine and analyze various factors to come up with a solution tailored for a specific change situation; if two companies share a similar business initiative, one’s successful change plan does not necessarily mean it will be suitable for the other with its given context and people. This change framework serves as a realistic guide that helps leaders to comprehend the full situation and make the appropriate decisions.

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