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Reluctance to Change: Not Unique and Not Profitable


Do you plot a route to a destination that your car will take you?  Or do buy a car that can take you to your destination?  This is the set of questions at the heart of both strategy and strategy execution.  And the answer is you can do either.  It does not matter which you choose, although the practical side of me says, stick with what you know and what you have.

But do you really know your car’s capability?  I knew my semi-broken down car very well.  I was all too familiar with its brake problems and its reluctance to start in cold or damp weather.  A major problem, since I lived in the Northeast at the time.  But I knew how to work around these two problems, and therefore, was able to travel around the region.  However, what really worried me was what I did not know – what would my car surprise me with next?  After all, I only could carry around a finite number of brake parts, brake fluid cans, jumper cables and other paraphernalia.  Equally important was my limited mechanical knowledge and skills.

Despite my worry about what I did not know, I was very reluctant to take my car to a mechanic for a full check-up, so that I would be aware of what was broken and needed immediate repair, what was on the on verge of breaking, and what was relatively durable.  Despite understanding the need and the certainty that something else must be ready to break, I never went to the mechanic.  I could not afford to pay for the check-up, but that was only an excuse.  The truth was that I did not want to know.  I was stressed enough cutting classes, playing sports, and socializing in college. I was doing well enough as things were, and I did not want to worry about a potential car problem that might not happen immediately.

Years later, I encountered my old mindset in others, whether as a strategy execution consultant or as a therapist.  Most of us are content to accept what is, usually with much complaint, and not want to know what lurks beneath the surface.  The medical profession encounters this all the time as well.  People do not want to have regular check-ups because of what they may learn.  Therapy patients do not want to change, yet they want the problem to go away.

So how is this typical human trait connected to strategy execution?  Most executives have more than enough worries about a million issues in their firms.  They and their teams know how to address and resolve most of the issues, which by nature are often repetitive.  What they do not know is what lurks under the surface.  What are the deep drivers of their operation?  What variables in their organizational DNA cause the repetitive problems?

Perhaps a deeper dive – a look at their DNA backbone might be helpful?  But only if they wish to change.

Deviant Power

I was working with a manufacturing company that was desperately trying to engage its employees.  A new COO had been hired, and he was amazed at how disengaged the people on the floor were.  He was frustrated by the employee reactions to his new approaches.  As a first step in his change effort, he introduced new ways of working to his supervisors, trained them, and supported them.  But little changed.

He then tried meeting with the employees directly.  He carefully planned his presentations, provided snacks for the meetings, and made sure that everyone was paid for attending his meetings.  However, as he spoke, he saw some employees looking out the windows, avoiding eye contact with him.   Other employees whispered to each other and chuckled quietly.  Still others simply stared off in space.  Yes, a few dutiful employees – usually those that sat in the front rows – paid diligent attention.  Yet the vast majority of employees were clearly disengaged, and a small portion was deliberately hostile or rude.


After a number of these meetings over several months the executive was complaining to me about his employees and his supervisors.  “They just do not understand that we have to change or have no future.  I am trying to save all our jobs, but they just do not get it.”  I told him that I understood his depression, but that actually I saw great deal of opportunity.  He was surprised and thought I did not understand the situation.

So I explained to him the power of deviants.  The employees that were openly defiant and chatting among themselves had revealed who they were.  If we made allies of them, then they would drive the change for him.  His reply was not positive (or printable). I continued to explain to him that the deviants were those who broke the company’s and social cultural norms by being rude, because they were angry.  And if they were angry with the company, they cared about the company.  And if they cared about the company, then if we listened to what they thought need to be changed, we would learn the keys to engaging most, if not the entire, workforce.

The executive looked at me and said that my logic actually made sense.  The next week I met with his team and presented the same logic.  They were highly skeptical.  I asked only that they hold their judgment for a week or two, let me meet with the deviants, listen to what they had to say, and then make the decision if harnessing the deviant influencing power was a good idea.  One of the team members asked why I thought that the deviants had any power to positively influence anyone.  I simply replied that they were angry because they knew what drove the disengagement and were powerless to stop it.  They were simply people who were willing to voice what everyone else knew, but would not say.

The deviant meeting was a huge success, yet almost derailed at the opening, when the deviants asked the lone executive team member “what the f… was wrong with the executive team?”  “Are they really that stupid?”  The executive started to reply; I interrupted and said we were here to listen, and yes the executive team was stupid from the deviants’ point of view.  “Educate them.” And they did.

Within a month after the meeting, with representative deviants sitting on a Change Management Steering Committee, the new COO had a comprehensive plan to change the manufacturing facility.  The plan was lead by the locals on the floor – the deviants – who knew the terrain, the flora, and the fauna.  They safely guided the whole facility though the turbulent change process.


Do You Let Someone Go Just Because He Doesn’t “Get It?”


Firing someone is a terrible thing to do just before, just after, during vacation; why is he still here anyway?  Didn’t we decide he had to move on last year?  What got in the way?

Sympathy; inertia; the devil that you know….

Lack of succession plan; special skills; “different strengths.”

He’s always willing to open the building, close the building, work Saturdays.

He knows the inventory.  We have to keep him until this year’s physical is done.

There are no documents in the file supporting termination.  Don’t worry:  this is an At Will state; we’ll let him collect unemployment; we’ll offer him his accrued vacation as well as his earned time; we’ll help him retire early.

He can set up and run every machine in the building; he knows where the bodies are buried; maybe another seminar….

We’re too busy to make a change now; we don’t have time to train someone.

We’re too slow to make a change now; we’ll never get a replacement authorized now.

I can’t believe you’re thinking of giving him an increase!  Give the money to the two new supervisors or the old guard that you are keeping or spread it out among some of the key hourly people.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?  Well, no reason it should, of course.  You don’t allow yourself to be backed into a corner by inertia; you always grab the bull by the horns.  You know how important it is to move aside those who don’t understand their role.

Oops, he’s still here, isn’t he?  But we said last year, for Pete’s sake, that we all agreed it was time.  He doesn’t understand the changes.  He doesn’t see the real problems when he’s looking at his department.  He doesn’t like to talk to his people.  He’s better chasing minute details than figuring out how to do more with fewer folks.  He would rather post an unsigned memo from “Management” than speak to an employee about their behavior, quality, productivity, restroom breaks, sneaking out early to lunch.

We sent him to a seminar.  We carried him several years.  We have a lot invested in him.  He’s unfailingly loyal.

He doesn’t call for help if his line stops; we only find out when the parts dry up in Final Assembly.

He keeps his people busy even if they are not producing a quality product.

There’s always a reason….but is it a good enough reason to keep a person in a leadership position who doesn’t understand or buy into your philosophy of how to run a competitive company?

You must each figure this out for yourselves.

Linking People and Strategy


Executives are continually making decisions to improve and fine tune the performance of their organization.  The key to improving performance is to link the deep drivers of strategy with those who do the daily work, the employees.  Linking the strategy drivers with the organizations’ employees requires executives to identify and understand their organization’s unique mix of drivers, and to engage employees in a continuous process of aligning drivers with the daily work.

The drivers of strategic operations are the mindsets, behaviors, and processes that create the organization’s DNA or strategic backbone.  The unique mix of these three sets of strategic drivers determines the organization’s ability to execute, and defines its capabilities.  A shift in any of the three, due to strategic changes or tweaks, necessitates a change in the other two.  Failure to rebalance the organization decreases organizational alignment and creates clumsier performance.

Everyone in the organization shares the risk of the strategy failing and the reward of it succeeding.  Everyone in the organization must, as part of their job responsibility, ensure that the organization performs at the highest level.  Everyone has a vested interest in the success of the whole organization.  And everyone will make a personal assessment of the risk and reward of continuing to work in the organization.  The risk and reward of strategic success or failure is therefore a compelling way to engage executives and employees in continually realigning the organization.

Books and Articles

Books & Articles:

1. “Building Flexible Organizations: A People-Centered Approach. “ Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., Dubuque, Iowa, 1996.


2.  “Weaving Organizational Behavior: Rich and Complex Tapestries of Organization Design. “ International Conference on Advances in Management, edited by Allan H. Church, W. Warner Burkes Associates, 1999 (co-authors Connally, Harrington, Lopez).

3. “Organizational Behavior: Tapestries of Design. “International Conference onAdvances in Management, edited by Allan H. Church, W. Warner Burkes Associates, 1997., (co-authors Dr. Thomas Harrington, Dr. David Lopez).

4. “Organizational Impact of Technology and Change.”Handbook of IS Management, edited by Robert E. Umbaugh, Auerbach Publications, New York, 1996 (co-author K. P. Prager).

5. “Technology and Change: The Organizational Impact.”Handbook of IS Management, edited by Robert E. Umbaugh, Auerbach Publications, New York, 1995 (co-author K. P. Prager).

6. “Ethical Considerations for Strategy and Change. “Handbook of Business Strategy, Faulkner & Gray, New York, October 1994 (co-authors Connaly, Prager)

7. “Changing People, Changing Organizations.”  “Achieving Organization Success Through Innovative Human Resource Strategies, edited by Charles H. Fay, Karl F. Price, and Richard J. Niehaus, Human Resource Planning Society, New York, 1994 (co-authors L. J. Kroeger and K. P. Prager).

8. “Managing Transitions by Managing the Informal Organization.” Human Resource Strategies For Organizations In Transition, edited by Richard J. Niehaus and Karl F. Price, Plenum Publishing


9.  “Coaching Across Genders.”   Diversity, MediaTec Publishing Co., November 2012. (co-author Mary Lippitt).

10.  “High Performance Organizations: Finding the Elements of Excellence.” People and Strategy, The Human Resource Planning Society Journal, Vol. 31.1, 2008 (co-authors Jamrog, Vickers, Morrison).

11. “Strategic Commentary: Metrics – Contextual Thinking is Essential.”Strategic HR Review, 2006: (co-author Jay Jamrog).

12. “Strategic Commentary: The Future of HR Metrics.” Strategic HR Review, 2005: Volume 5, Issue 1, (co-author Jay Jamrog).

13. “Managing Strategic, Cultural and HRM Alignment to Maximize Customer Satisfaction and Retention.”Journal of the Human Resource Planning Society, 2002, Volume 25.2 (co-author Elena Granell).

14. “The Strands That Connect: An Empirical Assessment of How Organizational Design Links Employees to the Organization.” Human Resource Planning, Vol. 23.2, 2000 (co-authors Connally, Harrington, Lopez).

15. “An Empirical Assessment of the Interdependent Relationship between Organizational Culture and Employee Culture.” Human Resource Planning, 1999 (co-authors Connally, Harrington, Lopez)

16. “Using Leadership Discipline to Maintain Organizational Balance and Employee Satisfaction.” Corporate Controller, Warren Gorham Lamont Publications, New York, December, 1997

17. “The Value of Middle Managers. “ Corporate Controller, Warren Gorham Lamont Publications, New York, Vol. 10, No. 5, March/April, 1997.

18. “Flexible Organizations: Using Organizational Design as a Competitive Advantage.” Organizational Dynamics, 1997, Volume 20.1.

19. “Getting Down and Dirty: Organizational Design as a Competitive Advantage.” The Small Business Controller, Warren Gorham Lamont Publications, New York, Fall, 1996.

20. “How to Create a Changed Organization: Successful Implementations.” Information Systems Management, Auerbach Publications, New York, Summer, 1994. (co-author K. P. Prager).

21. “Change Management: A People Centered Approach.” Small Business Controller, Warren Gorham Lamont, New York, 1994.

22. “TQM: A Fading Fad or Misunderstood Tool?” The Small Business Controller, Warren Gorham Lamont, New York, Spring, 1994 (co-author L. J. Kroeger).

23. “Change Strategies.” Executive Excellence,Excellence Publishing, Provo, UT, Vol. 10, No. 6, June, 1993, pp. 15-16.

24. “Retaining the Survivors of Downsizing.” Human Resources Professional, Faulkner & Gray, New York, Winter, 1993. (co-author L. J. Kroeger).

25.“The Future of Organizational Change.” The Small Business Controller, Warren Gorham Lamont Publications, New York, Fall, 1993.

26. “Facilitators as Devil’s Advocates.” Training, Lakewood Publications, Minneapolis, MN, September, 1993. (co-authors L. J. Kroeger and K. P. Prager).

27. “Controllers’ Options: Dealing With Diminishing Sources” Small Business Controller, Warren Gorham Lamont, New York, Fall 1993 (co-author L. J. Kroeger).

28. Two Analyses That Will Help You Do More with Less. “ Corporate Controller, Faulkner & Gray, New York, March/April, 1993. (co-author L. J. Kroeger).

29. “Implementing Change Internally. “ Planning Strategies Newsletter, September/October 1992. (co-author L. J. Kroeger).

30. “Managing Transitions. “Executive Excellence, Executive Excellence Publishing, Provo, UT, Vol. 9, No. 6, June, 1992, pp. 12-13.

31. “Rebuilding After Downsizing. “ Executive Excellence, Executive Excellence Publishing, Provo, UT, Vol. 8, No. 5, May, 1991, p. 12.

32. “Games Employees Play. “ Executive Excellence, Executive Excellence Publishing, Provo, UT, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 1990, pp. 9-10.

33. “The Evolutionary Road of Consulting. “Journal of Management Consulting, Institute of Management Consultants, New York, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1989.

34. “Participative-Process Consulting: The Hard and Soft Of It. “Journal of Management Consulting, Institute of Management Consultants, New York, Vol, 4, No. 3, 1988. (co-author W. Altier)

35. “Vision & Values by Any Other Name.”

36  “Making the Most of Your Resources. “OR Nurse, August, 1983.

37. “Fitness Exercise: Ensuring Teamwork for Your Sales Staff. “Transport Topics, May, 1983.

38. “Are Quality Circles Right For Your Company. “Personnel Journal, November, 1982. (co-author A. R. Ambler).

39. “Changing Systems. “Delaware Valley Business, 1981. (co-author A. R. Ambler).

40. “Tactical Options for Breaking up Faulty Communication. “Management Review, American Management Association, July, 1983. (co-author A. R. Ambler).


41. “The Keys to Strategy Execution.” Human Resource Institute, University of Tampa, 2007, (co-authors Jamrog, Dennis, Bear, Lee, Vickers, Williams).

42. “State-of-the Art Strategy Execution.” Strategic HR Review, Human Resource Institute(co-authors Jay Jamrog, Mark Vickers, 2006

43. “Strategic Commentary: The Future of HR Metrics.”Strategic HR Review, 2005: Volume 5, Issue 1, (co-author Jay Jamrog).

44. “Measuring Organizational Effectiveness.”Canadian Management Centre Special Report, Human Resource Institute, 2005 (co-author Jay J. Jamrog)

45. “Customer-Focus in US Companies:  Managing Strategic and Cultural Alignment to Maximize Customer Satisfaction” Human Resource Planning Society, New York, 2002 (co-autho Elena Granell).

46.“Quantum Change at Light Speed.” The Human Resource Planning Society, 2001 (co-authors J. Stewart Black, Hal B. Gregersen, Robert Jensen).

47. “New Perspectives in Assessing Organizational Flexibility and Change.”American Psychological Association Symposium, August, 1997.

48. “Feeding the Strategic Partnering Mind: The Impact of Organizational Design on Behavior.”Human Resource Planning Society’s Research Symposium Proceedings, New York, 1997, (co-authors Harrington, Lopez).