Cracking the code of change

Harv Bus Rev. May-Jun 2000;78(3):133-41, 216.

Abstract

Today's fast-paced economy demands that businesses change or die. But few companies manage corporate transformations as well as they would like. The brutal fact is that about 70% of all change initiatives fail. In this article, authors Michael Beer and Nitin Nohria describe two archetypes--or theories--of corporate transformation that may help executives crack the code of change. Theory E is change based on economic value: shareholder value is the only legitimate measure of success, and change often involves heavy use of economic incentives, layoffs, downsizing, and restructuring. Theory O is change based on organizational capability: the goal is to build and strengthen corporate culture. Most companies focus purely on one theory or the other, or haphazardly use a mix of both, the authors say. Combining E and O is directionally correct, they contend, but it requires a careful, conscious integration plan. Beer and Nohria present the examples of two companies, Scott Paper and Champion International, that used a purely E or purely O strategy to create change--and met with limited levels of success. They contrast those corporate transformations with that of UK-based retailer ASDA, which has successfully embraced the paradox between the opposing theories of change and integrated E and O. The lesson from ASDA? To thrive and adapt in the new economy, companies must make sure the E and O theories of business change are in sync at their own organizations.

MeSH terms

  • Commerce / economics
  • Commerce / organization & administration*
  • Investments
  • Organizational Culture
  • Organizational Innovation*
  • United States