Posts Tagged ‘change management’

Successful Triple Bottom Line Sustainability Depends On Board of Directors’ Leadership

May 23, 2011 Leave a comment

The notion of organizational leadership has traditionally been viewed in a top/down reductionist thinking fashion. At the pinnacle of the organization is the CEO, followed by the other C-Suite incumbents, then senior executives, then middle management and so on and so on. The idea that an organization’s board of directors has the ultimate leadership responsibility is either not typically considered, or the role of a CEO has become so dominant that no Chairman wants to fight that leadership battle anymore.

This is no trivial mater in regard to who should lead sustainability initiatives, and triple bottom line sustainability (tbls) in particular. It’s one thing to report good intentions through a Corporate Social Responsibility report, but another entirely to envision and lead the complex long-term business changes entailed in a tbls strategy, since this is one of the most systemic and challenging change-related journeys on which any organization may embark. The complexity of triple bottom line sustainability has been emphasized in previous blogs, and is further inferred from the following tbls definition adopted by The Leadership Alliance Inc: “Triple bottom line sustainability is the result of the activities of an organization, voluntary or governed by law, that demonstrate the ability of the organization to maintain viable its business operations (including financial viability as appropriate) whilst not negatively impacting any social or ecological systems.”

The board of directors in principle is ideally placed to envisage and lead this demanding journey, given that it has responsibility for the interests of all the stakeholders, not just shareholders, as its mandate. Without the board of directors’ interest, broad experience, vision, knowledge, and leadership, regarding a chosen sustainability variant, it is not likely that anyone else in the organization will pay much attention, other than for “window dressing”, and this has been born out through our research [1].

Furthermore, even a top management that is committed to sustainability does not last forever, and the responsibility for maintaining a change initiative falls back on the governance structure. If the board of directors does not understand the essence of an organizational change, the risk is that top management will be replaced with new managers who have new ideas of their own – organizations are replete with change-credibility “black holes” created when change sponsors have moved-on from much hyped initiatives without accomplishing their objectives.

As I look around at sustainability initiatives in progress, I see more and more evidence of the application of the traditional reductionist approach, whereby responsibility for sustainability is parceled out to individual organizational entities without regard for the need for a new and innovative organizational strategy plus an overarching planning process capable of addressing systemically the unpredictability and dynamic complexity in which today’s organizations operate. All too often innovation, the key to sustainability, is targeted to saving electricity, reducing waste, or preventing usage of non-biodegradable materials; of course such initiatives are important, but typically they are cherry picking, and no consideration is given to applying innovation to business planning that could lead to restructuring of the organization, and the optimal redesign of its strategy to eventuate in an organization truly designed for the tbl sustainability journey.

This kind of bold new thinking must come from the board of directors which has the power and the mandate to exercise leadership in setting organizational direction for the CEO and the C-suite … when will you directors heed the call? If someone in leadership is reading this blog and would like to know how we at The Leadership Alliance Inc. can assist an organization to set-off optimally on the tbl sustainability journey, please contact us, and as always your comments are of great interest to us.


[1] Smith, P.A.C., Sharicz, C., “The Shift Needed For Sustainability”, The Learning Organization, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2011


Survey Results: Which Leader Would You Follow? Which Leader Gets Results?

December 14, 2010 1 comment

This blog summarizes some of the results from an informal online survey that I conducted recently with respondents participating from 22 countries around the world. The survey was intended to help clarify attitudes toward leadership across different generations and geographic cultures. In regard to culture, respondents were asked to indicate in which country they were born, educated, and work. In addition, respondents were asked to identify their gender, and to indicate the business or other sector in which they work. They were also asked to identify the occupational title that most accurately defined their own organizational role.

It is noteworthy perhaps that far more males than females responded to the survey, and that this was the most noticeable in the youngest and the oldest cohorts. In particular, in the youngest cohort, only 15% of respondents were female.

With regard to business or other sector in which respondents worked, most sectors were represented; however, the educational sector had the largest representation at 42%, with the business/professional services sector next largest at 17%.

Respondents in the older cohort all occupied senior roles in their organizations (supervisor on up to CEO).

The following notes  and the table below set out the principal results:

No significant correlations with respect to country of birth, education, or work were identified.

No significant correlations with respect to the type of business or sector in which respondents worked were found, except that respondents working in the Not For Profit sector indicated on questions #1 and #2 a preference for a leader who had gained influence through a designated management position – as is shown in the table, this is contrary to the preferences shown by the majority of respondents.

From the responses to questions #1 and #2 we can see that all cohorts will more readily follow a leader who has gained influence through social interaction rather than from a designated management position. In addition there seems to be a trend corresponding with increasing age to more readily follow a leader who has gained influence through social interaction, and also to believe that such leaders are likely to be most effective in achieving results. This is consistent with research that has shown that most senior leaders spend a lot of time “schmoozing”, and rely on social interaction to influence results and get things done through others. The belief that leaders who gain influence through social interaction are likely to be most effective in achieving results seems less pronounced in the oldest cohort, perhaps because members of this cohort all claimed to hold senior positions themselves and have come to believe in having “power over” (see Blog “Power Over vs Power To ..” at

The responses from question #3 indicate that no generational cohort would choose to follow a leader from their own generation over a leader who shares their values or who displays leadership behaviors important to them. Members of the youngest cohort do slightly favor following a leader who shares their values rather than one demonstrating leadership behaviors important to them, and this is opposite to the preference shown by the two older cohorts.

Successfully Developing Triple Bottom Line Sustainability: #3

November 2, 2010 1 comment

This is the third of six contiguous Blogs dealing with TBL Sustainability to be published over the next few weeks. All these Blogs are being co-developed with my colleague and TLA Associate Tia Carr Williams. In this third Blog further cultural implications of Sustainable Advantage (SA) are explored.

“It is not who is influential that counts but who acts as a catalyst for conversation” – Keith O’Brien

Sustainable Advantage (SA) has been discussed in Blogs #1 & 2 of this series dealing with TBL Sustainability. It is clear that change is fundamental to SA, and change is a constant continuum – a flowing circadian dynamic that yearns to be harnessed. The ability to purpose the momentum of change is colored by an organization’s prior experience of change. When starting to contemplate SA as an organizational change opportunity, and how it might be managed, it is useful initially to spend time reviewing and learning from previous change-related experience, and re-assessing the organization’s culture and design.

Change takes root best in a culture of innovation that incorporates an inclusive collaborative mindset, and that embraces change as an organic evolutionary process of co-production. As emphasized in Blog #1 of this series, a decentralized organization has distinct market advantages over a wholly centralized organization. In particular, the sense of incorporation from many perspectives in a decentralized organization creates a balance and an harmonious relationship with change, rarely the case in current or previous models of ‘change management’.

How well or badly churn has been integrated into the daily work flow is also an indicator of sustainability potential. Churn is typically viewed as deleterious from an organizational harmony viewpoint, but for a decentralized organization focusing on SA, churn is integral to its change momentum, and new and existing incumbents can champion innovation from a place of congruence, comprehensively cognizant of choices and challenges.

An organization seeking SA must cultivate a culture enfranchising sustainable principles and innovation at its foundation. There must be a synergistic co-operative culture that fosters thinking on how everything can be improved. Management must seek a balance between financial viability and strategies to gain and maintain market uniqueness through environmentally sustainable practices, including product and process innovation, as well as the development of sustainable supply chain management. There must be a motivational visionary strategy allied with a deep human context structure, and workforce integration systems of high efficiency, capability and efficacy. Costs must be reduced, and there must be task agility for optimal productivity. Leadership is at the heart of a healthy organization, but it must beat with the ring of authenticity – people will follow where their heart is engaged.

This kind of strong organizational culture confers a fundamental and unique advantage. If building and sustaining an innovation culture focused on commitment to the organization’s goals remains central to all activities, the potential for sustainable success is increased immeasurably. To promote creativity the organization’s leaders must pull the culture into being by giving the right incentives to key people, encouraging them to think creatively, and with every achievement, giving them the confidence to think ‘out of the box”. This can only be accomplished where the environment supports such activities. ‘Soft spaces’ within the formality of the corporate environment nurture such engagement to great effect; it is no surprise that the factors that most strongly predict rapid change, adaptation, and innovation introduction, are related to collegial, participative and open organizational systems, and cultures that permit joint problem solving without boundary interference. These are the kinds of decentralized organizations where individuals have the freedom to take risks and develop new ideas, be creative, and challenge existing organizational norms.

In the upcoming fourth Blog of this series, the implications a Triple Bottom Line approach to SA will be explored.

Change Proofing

November 21, 2009 Leave a comment

In 1995 I co-authored a paper [1] about “Change Proofing” – the ability of a commercial organization to manage change stimulated by largely unanticipated, hard-to-predict events and shocks. Examples up to that time included trauma due to third world debt in the 1970s, the energy industry in the 1980s, and commercial real estate and corporate buy-outs in the 1990s.

History shows that the consequences of failing to recognize and interpret harbingers of change can be devastating. It is said that the ancient Peruvian Indians were unable to “see” the sails of the invading Spanish fleet, and dismissed them as mirages. More recent historical (hysterical?) examples of myopia include US automobile manufacturers who were blinkered to Pacific-Rim competitors, and even IBM, which was long unprepared for opportunities presented by the explosive growth of personal computing.

Clearly-identified business trends, such as globalization, technology, demographics and new social orders, had often been cited up to 1995 as drivers of change. However, little attention had been given to management of change stimulated by largely unanticipated, hard-to-predict events and shocks, such as rapid oil price changes or the sudden collapse of centrally-planned economies. Few models of such change, or techniques to plan or cope with it had been presented in the literature in 1995 or since for that matter, although even in 1993 according to such an authority as Ed Schein [2]: “…the problem is not management of change but the management of surprise”.

Change Proofing was not intended as a means to resist or avoid change, but rather a process for becoming more flexible and responsive in order to cope with it. The Change Proofing paper proposed that environmental shocks and surprises could best be managed by increasing the ability of the organization itself to anticipate, recognize and respond to them – surprise surprise – before hand! The paper set out theoretical reasoning, but more importantly it detailed a straightforward practical Change Audit that would help organizations of all types and sizes frame and address critical factors for Change Proofing; form more realistic and objective views of radical environmental change; and develop better means of coping with surprise. The paper also recommended that the Change Audit should cover organizational learning processes and their impact on strategic focus, motivation and core capabilities.

So what can one say about current events? Too bad so many of today’s organizations haven’t read the paper or didn’t heed its message?! Well, it’s not too late to plan for next time – and there will be a next time – so I invite you to have a look at the paper now …

[1] Drew, S.A.W. & Smith, P., The Learning Organization: Change Proofing and Strategy, The Learning Organization, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1995

[2] Schein, E.H., How can organizations learn faster? The challenge of the green room, Sloan Management Review, Winter, 1992; pp. 85 – 92

Developing Sustainable Organizations Using the Sustainability Score Card™

September 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Blog by Peter A.C. Smith and Dr. Carol Zulauf-Sharicz (Suffolk University, Boston)

Definitions of sustainability range over many different domains such as profit, viability, energy, ecologies, natural resources, organization, and society to name just a few. Most of these definitions are different and none of them totally satisfy requirements to cover all aspects of the subject.  We feel that since a complete definition is not feasible at this time a pragmatic approach based on relevant current research and practical concerns is valid. Therefore we focus here only on the sustainability of commercial organizations, especially organizations functioning in complex environments such as those that face firms locally and globally today and for the foreseeable future. This is not to say that some or all of the following may not be more generally relevant. Further, we define sustainability as the capability of an organization to be viable over extended periods of time in a commercial sense whilst being an exemplar in avoiding potential or real negative ecological and social impacts related to its activities.

What makes an organization sustainable?  First, achieving “Right for Market™” (R4M™).  R4M™means introducing the right products and/or services at the right time in the right contexts at the right price with the right supply chains, and then continually updating, optimising, and retiring them as necessary; and secondly, making sure that achieving R4M™ does not negatively impact relevant ecological or social systems. These two points demand extensive internal and external knowledge and awareness. This may only be satisfied if the organization is founded in complexity and learning based on systemic approaches.  In particular sustainability demands innovative approaches and fresh thinking for the necessary transformative changes to take place and organizational self-actualization in terms of sustainability to be achieved.

With respect to individuals and their self actualization, Abraham Maslow developed a well-known hierarchy of needs.  Maslow postulated that human beings have an innate drive to satisfy these needs, and that they form a hierarchy – Maslow drew the hierarchy as a pyramid. At the lowest level he placed a person’s physiological needs e.g. food, water. Once the physiological needs are met humans look to satisfy what Maslow called the safety needs e.g. law, stability.  When the two lowest needs are largely gratified, there emerges the need for belongingness e.g. love, community.  According to Maslow, only when the three lower needs are satisfied will the individual seek esteem.  Maslow divided this class of needs into two sub-classes.  The first involves the need for self-evaluation e.g. self-esteem, confidence; the second involves the views of others e.g. reputation, prestige.  There is a further less-well formulated stage that often, if not always, develops even if the lower needs are satisfied whereby individuals feel a new discontent and restlessness unless the individual is doing what they are fitted for – this is epitomized in the expression “What a person can be, they must be” and relates to self-actualization.

Maslow made the point that some needs are under the control of others (in the others’ domain), for example safety, recognition, enumeration. Other needs can be satisfied by the individual him or herself (one’s own domain), for example self-esteem and self-actualization. In this regard, Maslow had the further notion of “threshold limits” making the point that individuals should set a target for satisfying their own needs “in others’ domain” at the boundary between “justifiable appetite” and “greedy desire”.  Maslow further postulated that the energy used in seeking to satisfy “greed” saps the individual’s capability to satisfy needs “in one’s own domain”.

So what does this have to do with sustainability? Turns out by analogy “quite a lot”! We can view the needs and development of organizations in a similar way to those ascribed to individuals by Maslow. Further, by equating this development as a journey toward self-actualization in sustainability terms, we can identify organizational behaviors and stages of sustainability development. For example, the initial stage is related to making a profit sufficient to stay in business; short term viability is the key concern and other sustainability aspects are not of concern. The second stage is related to having standards and laws that protect the organization and sustainability other than viability is seen as burdensome. The third stage involves lip service to the communities and the ecological and social standards in which it operates; the organization no more than complies with regulations that govern organizational conduct. It is not until the organization has satisfied these needs that the organization will address Maslow’s “esteem” level when what employees think becomes important, and the organization is confident of its viability and its place in the world of business. After this what others in the broader community think becomes very important, and since this organization now yearns for high reputation and prestige it will take the initiative in preventing negative ecological and social impacts. Finally, an organization will truly become sustainable when it applies the idea that “what an organization can be, it must be” and it then operates as an exemplar of all that is included in our sustainability definition. Further, as Maslow suggested, such an organization will operate at a commendable boundary in “others’ domain” and will be thus able to channel its energies internally to appropriately satisfy the needs of “its own domain.”

For organizations to meaningfully contribute to their own sustainability their activities need to be reported and measured against identified goals. To this end the profit/ economic survival balance sheet must be amended to include bottom lines for environmental and social accountability. This has become known as the triple bottom line and there may yet be other measurements that will be added.  This new way of assessing an organization’s performance is one of the biggest challenges facing organizations today; however, the application of the Maslow hierarchy to an organization allows stages and behaviors on the journey toward sustainability to be described, and a “Sustainability Score Card™” developed, that allows the organization readily to track progress and report measurements.

Please clic the link to if you would like information concerning the related Seminar. To get to  know more about building & leading sustainable organizations and how the Sustainability Score Card™ enhances your potential to achieve this goal, please give us a call through The Leadership Alliance Inc. …. our best to you, Carol and Peter

The Titanic Syndrome

July 21, 2009 Leave a comment

The wealth of material in books, journals, and our tribal memory addressing change as a topic in one form or another is overwhelming. This accumulated lore has surely been building since the dawn of mankind, and includes the scholarly, the populist and the futuristic. Unfortunately, if current business news is to be believed, this body of knowledge contributes little to organizational survival.

Most managers are constantly preoccupied by change, reacting to threats and opportunities, and initiating activities based on their beliefs and aspirations. They design their organizations to ‘tame’ change, and they train their employees to ‘manage’ it. Indeed the literature is replete with authors who see this mastery of change as critical to the survival of the modern company.

Unfortunately, if current news sources are to be believed, organizations have not made a very good job of it. So if our capability to successfully address organizational change is at least adequate, why are things so bad? I believe the answer lies with what I have called for many years the ‘Titanic Syndrome’ – once the entrepreneurial business cruise is over, managers simply don’t believe their particular Titanic is sinkable.

Like the officers of the Titanic, managers don’t see any need to slow their ship down when warned of looming business icebergs. When the inevitable happens, they seek to create the illusion of progress through ‘change management’. This is almost invariably an exercise in ‘learning to do things right’ rather than ‘learning to do the right things” – even as the business is sinking the emphasis is on the best way to re-arrange the deckchairs.

The dilemma is that the managers responsible for the disaster are the same managers who are notoriously disinterested in objectively examining their own mindsets, and the part they played in the creation of the problem. I agree with the host of authorities who claim that change-related problems cannot be addressed by managers whose mental models obscure and/or contribute to the problems. All of an organization’s competitive strategies come to nothing if its managers’ business paradigm is not appropriate. When managers fall victim to the ‘Titanic Syndrome’ believing their ship to be ‘Unsinkable’, it will make perfect sense to agonize over where the deckchairs should be stacked. As Kuhn said “Learning within an existing paradigm is puzzle-solving”.

In spite of the vast sums spent on management development, management thinking is still mired in industrial age thinking. Because of this, managers easily succumb to the ‘Titanic Syndrome’. Predictability is still the basis on which most organizations are run, and managers in general view the world as a big piece of clockwork. How then can we break free of the paradox that “The greater the corporate success the stronger grow the seeds of future corporate failure”? What then are we to do? Abandon ship and lose everything or ‘right quick’ come up with a new plan? But what plan? The answer lies in keeping management mindsets from hardening by changing activities and tools so that new habits of thinking and learning are developed naturally and continuously as individuals do their jobs.

In my experience this tall order can indeed be achieved by deliberately re-designing and re-developing the systemic organizational structure, processes, roles and tools to specifically develop an environment where learning will be essential to successfully carrying out the work of any employee. By changing the rules, all employees including managers are forced to change their habits of thinking and learning without necessarily being made aware that this is happening. In this way seventy-five percent of the community will be learning rather than just the fifteen percent natural learners. Indeed, since the emphasis may be placed on performance, driven by business outcomes, the whole organization will concentrate its energies towards its own continuing business viability.

If you would like to explore these concepts further or learn more about the real life work on which they are based please contact me – I’ll be delighted to dialogue with you.