Heifetz Halle Consulting Group


Roadmap to This Book

Suppose you could focus an organization on a worthy change objective, sustain commitment to the change effort, overcome the inevitable resistance and practical hurdles, keep the implementation on track, and reach the point where the change itself becomes the norm and its benefits are tangible. Imagine completing one change and leveraging your organization’s new confidence and capability to launch an even more ambitious change effort.

Unfortunately, most change efforts do not fare so well. Change initiatives may start with great enthusiasm, visibility, and upper-management support - but often die out before the goal is reached.

Sometimes the effoets bogged down in implementation; sometimes management attention or commitment wavers; perhaps day-to-day issues and priorities interfere. Maybe the organization doesn’t buy into the need or the value of the change, or right in the middle of one effort, another gets launched. Sometimes an organization holds on to its way of doing things, regardless of the risk in doing so, even to the point of self-destruction - going out of business, losing credibility with clients or constituents.

Leading Change: Overcoming Chaos was written for managers in business and government who are responsible for making change succeed in their organizations. This book is intended to help you:

  • Effectively target a change
  • Plan a straightforward path to accomplish your change
  • Create a conducive climate for change
  • Avoid or solve problems along the way
  • Realize all the benefits of the completed change

Field Testing the Change Cycle

For more than twenty-five years, as an internal and external consultant, I have tried to understand how to achieve lasting change in organizations. My business partners and I have worked with organizations large and small to manage a wide variety of change efforts. Working with these clients gave us the opportunity to participate in successful change efforts, and to deal with the problems that often prevent changes from developing and stabilizing. Certain characteristics of successful change leaders and their methods became clear. We also began noticing recurring patterns in the way successful changes developed. These insights led to a description of how change evolves through seven distinct stages. I call this the Change Cycle.

The utility of the Change Cycle has been extensively field tested. It has proven to be a valuable tool for clarifying what needs to be done to achieve change and for alerting managers to typical roadblocks. The Change Cycle can help you become more effective in leading change.

Leadership Versus Chaos

Leading Change: Overcoming Chaos was chosen as the title for this book because of the fundamental dynamic tension that exists throughout any organizational change effort. This is the tension between two opposing forces: Leadership and Chaos. Leadership, on the one hand, is the force which drives the change. Chaos is the resisting force which must be overcome or reconciled in order for the change to be completed. The force of Chaos takes many forms throughout the change process, but can always be recognized as resistance to the desired change. The term Chaos is used to connote the complex and powerful nature of the resistance to change, as well as its unpredictability.

Because of the powerful resistance any change effort faces, there is an overriding need for strong, able leadership. In order for it to work, someone must supply the initial activating force, the vision of what the change should look like, the wisdom and skills to guide the ongoing effort, and the perseverance to see the job through in the face of a continuing stream of problems.

In any change effort, leadership capability is pitted against formidable opposition - Chaos is not too strong a term for this opposition. There is quite a bit of inertia to overcome before any change effort can get started. Entrenched attitudes and values, habits, formalized procedures, existing skills, and personal preferences can all be inertial factors resistant to change. But inertia is only one of the barriers any change effort will face. As the change process takes form and begins to move through predictable stages, a continual stream of challenges will inevitably arise. The cost of the change in time, money, and required effort represents both initial and ongoing resistance to the forces driving the change. Along the way there may also be competitive activity which interferes with your process. There may be economic forces at work on an industry or national level that add complexity and frustration to your change effort. The marketplace may inject its own resistance to the desired change. There may be technical problems with new systems and procedures that crop up and stymie your best efforts. Internal political opposition may undermine the process, or simply defocus the effort.

Some of these challenges can be predicted and planned for, while others will be unexpected. The leadership will have to find ways and means to address all of these issues effectively in order to sustain movement toward their goals. This requires all the strategic, analytical, political, technical, and creative skills leadership can muster. It also requires a high degree of focus and commitment, for these challenges will not yield easily.

The importance of leadership within the change process is hard to exaggerate. Similarly, it is difficult to deny that leadership requires quite a diverse and well-developed skill set. Unfortunately, this rare set of abilities is often missing in organizations, regardless of size. The ideas in this book can enhance leadership skills by providing valuable tools to augment existing skills and talents. Several critical leadership capabilities are discussed here, and methods are presented to develop them. Examples and discussions are filled with useful principles, perspectives, insights, and techniques which can improve leadership capability. These examples have been chosen not only to clarify the Change Cycle, but to stimulate your thinking about actual day-to-day leadership issues.

The subject of leadership is not so much highlighted as a separate topic as it is embedded throughout the book. Almost every example given and point discussed is directed at the leader or the potential leader. You can also extend practically all of the ideas discussed to a general point of view on how to lead organizations, not just change efforts. In addition to the general leadership skills discussed, the Change Cycle itself is a powerful tool in the right hands. Once you can effectively manage change, you will be able to better manage a wide variety of other problems. In short, mastering the skills discussed here can substantially enhance your leadership capability, regardless of the challenge you face.

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