Why change programs don't produce change

Harv Bus Rev. Nov-Dec 1990;68(6):158-66.

Abstract

Faced with changing markets and tougher competition, more and more companies realize that to compete effectively they must transform how they function. But while senior managers understand the necessity of change, they often misunderstand what it takes to bring it about. They assume that corporate renewal is the product of company-wide change programs and that in order to transform employee behavior, they must alter a company's formal structure and systems. Both these assumptions are wrong, say these authors. Using examples drawn from their four-year study of organizational change at six large corporations, they argue that change programs are, in fact, the greatest obstacle to successful revitalization and that formal structures and systems are the last thing a company should change, not the first. The most successful change efforts begin at the periphery of a corporation, in a single plant or division. Such efforts are led by general managers, not the CEO or corporate staff people. And these general managers concentrate not on changing formal structures and systems but on creating ad hoc organizational arrangements to solve concrete business problems. This focuses energy for change on the work itself, not on abstractions such as "participation" or "culture." Once general managers understand the importance of this grass-roots approach to change, they don't have to wait for senior management to start a process of corporate renewal. The authors describe a six-step change process they call the "critical path."

MeSH terms

  • Administrative Personnel
  • Industry / organization & administration*
  • Institutional Management Teams
  • Motivation
  • Organizational Innovation*
  • Planning Techniques
  • Problem Solving
  • Role
  • United States