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If you're like me, you probably have a stack of business books somewhere in the corner of your office, just waiting for the mythical day (or month) when you have nothing else to do but read.  Except that when you finally make some time, you discover that most of those books have one or two good points, buried in a whole lot of stuff you already knew or which isn't all that relevant to your day-to-day working life.

That's why, when Bruno Gebarski asked me the other day for my recommendations on great change management books, I didn't have to think too hard about my choices.  There are lots of business change management books out there, but only a handful that I read cover to cover, and refer to and reference often in my work. If you don't have time to read any other change management books this year, these will give you lots to work with.

Aftershock: Helping People Through Corporate Change
by Harry Woodward & Steve Buchholz

change management books beth banks cohn

This is my all-time favorite book about change, and in many ways it's the first book which really addressed the issues around what happens to the people in an organization when they're faced with huge changes.  Even though it was written in 1987, the points the authors make about how to manage people through change are still relevant today, and I find myself referring to Woodward & Buchholz's principles time and again.  If you want to understand - and I mean really understand - the people side of change, this is the book for you.

Leading Change
by John P. Kotter

leading change john kotter beth banks cohn

Of course, you can't talk about change management writers without talking about John Kotter.  He's been one of the leading voices in the field for years now.  I have to admit that I'm not the most passionate devotee of Kotter, but I really like this book because it speaks the language of business.  I can reference it with my clients - some of whom are familiar with Kotter already, from conferences or workshops - and they understand immediately.  I also use his concept of a 'guiding coalition' (making sure you have a team comprised of people with the right amount of power, expertise, credibility and leadership) on all my projects - it's one of those practical tips that make a huge difference no matter what kind of change initiative you're undertaking.

Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change
by William Bridges

managing transitions william bridges beth banks cohn change management

First published in 1995, this book is now in its 3rd edition, which gives you some idea of just how useful it must be.  It's designed for employees and managers, to help them get through change by understanding, accepting and even embracing the new status quo.  Not every change fits into the 'transition' category, but I find the model particularly useful in cases where the change initiative has potentially negative implications for individuals.  I also use it when I work with my executive coaching clients - we don't go step-by-step through Bridges' model, but I use the principles to help clients who are in that space between 'endings' and 'beginnings'.

ChangeSmart: Implementing Change Without Lowering Your Bottom Line
by Beth Banks Cohn

changesmart by beth banks cohn adra change architects

What would this list be without a shameless plug for one of my own books?  Written for middle- and higher-level managers, this book is all about leveraging the power of your employees to help a change go more smoothly and productively, and with the best possible effect on the bottom line of the organization.  It's got a field-tested framework that can be applied to almost any business project plan, has real-life examples, and, best of all, it can be read in under 2 hours!

What about you?  Which change-related books have been most influential in your day-to-day work?  (Share your recommendations on Twitter @BethBanksCohn.)

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Sometimes I like to check out some of the change management-related videos on YouTube - you’d be surprised what you can find there.  The other day, while watching another video, YouTube suggested I watch this one: 


Rick Ross’ premise here, in case you’re not inclined to watch the video yourself, is that ‘change management’ is an outdated relic from the ‘industrial age’.  Judging from his website, I think that when he refers to the ‘industrial age’, he means ‘before technology dramatically changed the way organizations function’.  The implication in this video is that ‘change management’ is outdated and doesn’t adequately allow for the organization to have input into change strategy before a change is implemented.

However, the truth is that recognizing the need for adequate organizational input - and Ross’ suggestions for how to make this happen - is already a best practice in change management.  We’ve talked about listening to employees before; in fact, it was the subject of our very first blog post.  His suggestions aren’t a modern twist on the dinosaur that is change management - they’re what every good change management practitioner is already doing.

Ross mentions a company called Humana, which got 26,000 of its 40,000 employees to start using a social networking tool for better internal communications.  That sounds okay - though as a change management professional I’d be looking for better than a 65% adoption rate - but according to this article, if Humana had done a better job of soliciting input from different parts of the organization, they could have achieved a much higher level of compliance across the company, faster.  

Of course, there’s always a “but…”

Sometimes, a change doesn’t lend itself to large-scale organizational input. 

In the Humana example, the CIO didn’t spent a lot of time engaging the organization prior to the change because he decided that it was more important to just get started with the social networking tool quickly rather than waiting months while they collected input from 40,000 employees.  And sometimes that kind of approach makes sense.

There are other situations in which large-scale organizational input isn’t appropriate:  Maybe the changes are part of a plan that needs to be kept under wraps for legal or competitive reasons; maybe a decision is made to try a small pilot program before the change goes organization-wide; and even I can admit that some changes are too small to warrant a lengthy dialogue period.

At the end of the day, it’s still ‘change management’

Whether you spend a lot of time on organizational input or not, the strategic plan and implementation of change is still ‘change management’.  You are still managing yourself and your organizations through change change.  Change management is really just the act of harnessing the power of your people in order to achieve a certain goal. That's never just a relic of a bygone age - it's your silver bullet to success.

Published in News
Wednesday, 14 August 2013 05:46

Word of the Day: Salutogenesis

Aaron Antonovsky was a social scientist at the Ben Gurion University in Israel who studied what he called salutogenesis, or “how people manage stress and stay well”.  The goal of his research was to understand how some people remain healthy their whole lives, no matter what happens to them, while others do not. 

He said that our orientation to life was comprised of three main areas:

  • Comprehensibility (how we make sense of our world)
  • Manageability (our sense of control and our belief that we have the skills to do what needs to be done)
  • Meaningfulness (how interesting and purposeful we find life to be)

These ideas are particularly relevant when we’re thinking about change within an organization:

  • Change is most likely to succeed when the people affected by it also understand it (comprehensibility)
  • Change is most likely to succeed when the people involved are confident that they will be able to cope with it (manageability)
  • Change is most likely to succeed when the people affected by it feel that it has meaning and purpose for them (meaningfulness)

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that addressing comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness in your change strategy is crucial to success.  Here’s what I mean:



I’ve written before about how communication is the #1 factor in the success of change.  Comprehensibility happens when you establish the right ‘story’ around a change, and then communicate it clearly, consistently and often.


It sounds trite, but it’s true:  People really are capable of great things when they know that the people around them (especially those in leadership positions) believe in them.  When you empower your employees, and let them know that you have faith in their ability to successfully navigate a change, you’ll find they’ll exceed your expectations, every time.


Want to derail a change initiative, fast?  When your employees ask “Why are we doing this?”, answer them with “Because head office says so.”  (A close second is “Because we’re driving shareholder value,” when you know the person you’re talking to doesn’t actually own any shares.)  If you want people to put in the extra effort required to implement a change successfully, you need to help them understand why and how it is important to them:  “It will make your day-to-day job easier,” or “It will allow our department to contribute more to the bottom line, which means our bonuses will increase.” 

And now, I dare you to use ‘salutogenesis’ in a sentence this week!

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Reading this article about organizational culture in the Harvard Business Review the other day, I was reminded of my long-standing belief that the term 'organizational culture' shouldn't just be a noun that describes a 'thing', but also a verb which describes an action - the action of creating and maintaining a culture.

The notion that organizational culture exists has been around for a long time, though the term itself wasn't yet popular - I can remember having conversations in the 1990s about whether so-and-so was a 'good fit' for this or that organziation.  We might have used terms like 'corporate environment' or even 'company vibe' to describe the way a particular organization operated, but what we really meant was 'culture'.

Then the dot-com era arrived, along with Herman Miller furniture, free snacks in the lunchroom and super-cool offices in converted downtown warehouses, and suddenly 'culture' was a big selling point for fast-growing companies who were competing for top talent.

The problem is that you can't just give people Aeron chairs and unlimited free diet Coke and assume that will create a culture.  'Culture' may be a noun, but creating and sustaining organizational culture is an ongoing activity which isn't top-down or bottom-up - it's more like a scatter graph with arrows and squiggles and dotted lines connecting everyone in the organization, and even lots of people outside the organization, to each other.

Culture isn't a static thing; it's constantly in flux.  And it's not just imposed on an organization on a Monday at 9am via a memo entitled "Our New Culture".  It's created through individual activities over an extended period of time.  That's why when I was writing my doctoral thesis, back in 2000, I coined the term 'culturing' - using a verb rather than a noun is a good way to remember that it's a process, not an event or a finite state.

Organizational culture is really all about relationships:  The relationship the organization has to its employees, the relationships those employees have to the organization and to each other, and the relationships the organization - and its individual employees - have with outside stakeholders like clients and suppliers.  Relationships are the product of a series of interactions over time:  When the interactions are positive, the relationship deepens and is lasting; when the interactions are negative, the relationship deteriorates and finally ends.

But it's more than that.  The nature of individual relationships is a product of the nature of the interactions, too:  When your interactions with person A consist mainly of weekly golf games, and your interactions with person B consist mainly of romantic dates, you naturally end up having a different relationship with person A than you do with person B.

With that in mind, 'culturing' is the term I use to describe actively creating specific interactions designed to build the organizational culture you want.  It's not enough to hand people a list of "Our Core Values" and then hope for the best.  Culturing is about helping the individuals within an organization - from the senior leadership team right down to the junior interns - to apply those values to their day-to-day activities.  It could be as simple as reminding people that since one of the organization's core values is 'responsiveness', on a day-to-day basis they should be making an effort to respond to phone calls and emails as promptly as possible, or it could be as complex as ensuring that 'responsiveness' is reflected in a commitment to a nimble supply chain functino.

And here's the thing:  When you start thinking about culturing rather than culture, you'll end up getting the culture you want, faster - and more effectively.

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journaling  (jûr-n-l -ng)


1.a. The act of keeping a personal record of occurrences, experiences, and reflections on a regular basis; keeping a diary.

journaling for change management


I recently listened to a talk given by leadership and psychology lecturer and author Tal Ben-Shachar, formerly of Harvard and now with the IDC in Israel.  Dr. Ben-Shachar cited study after study which demonstrated how effective journaling is for our overall well-being.  In fact, scientific evidence suggests that regular journaling can deliver all kinds of benefits, including reducing stress, helping us solve problems more effectively and resolve disagreements with others, not to mention improving our emotional and physical well-being.

So what does this have to do with change?  Quite a bit, as it happens.

At the individual level it's clear.  If you're in the habit of journaling and something drastic happens in the workdplace (the loss of your job, a major reorganization, the sale of the company, etc.), you'll be better equipped to process the events and move through them more productively.

But what about using the concept of journaling organizationally?  How can journaling help an organization?

Well, of course one way to promote organizational journaling is to hand out notebooks as part of the announcement and encourage people to write about how they feel about it as the change progresses.  It's an interesting idea, and if your company was so inclined I'd tell you it probably wouldn't hurt.  However, you'll get mixed results:  Some people will take to journaling and others won't; some will journal in a productive way, while others won't; still others may be concerned that what they write in a 'corporate sponsored' notebook won't stay private, so they'll write only platitudes, not their real feelings.

On the other hand, what if you take the concept of journaling and use it across the company?

According to Dr. Ben-Shachar and others, journaling actually rewires the brain and creates alternative neural pathways which help an individual cope.  It releases tension and adds a sense of coherence, or narrative, helping individuals make sense of their situation.

Organizationally, we can do the same thing.  After a change announcement is made and people being to think about how it will affect them, I suggest bringing people together and using journaling principles to facilitate communication.  First, give them a chance to write their thoughts down on paper.  Use the 15-minute rule (though others studies show that as little as 2 minutes may be effective).  Then encourage discussion where you, as the facilitator, help them make sense of what's happened within the organization.  (An added benefit of gathering similarly-affected people together is that they can then form an informal support group and see they aren't alone in their situation.)

By creating a sort of 'live journaling' opportunity, you've accomplished several things at once:

  1. You've acknowledged that the announced change is going to affect individuals
  2. You've provided the opportunity for individuals to process that change
  3. You've provided a forum to express feelings/reactions/fears
  4. You've created an opportunity for the team to 're-gel' in light of the new changes (because significant changes can cause even a productively-working team to fall apart)
  5. You've created an opportunity to say goodbye and/or establish closure to the 'old way' and progress forward into the 'new way'

Even better, this kind of exercise can be facilitated by a manager or director - you don't have to wait for HR or senior management to approve or schedule an official activity.

As far as I'm concerned, it's simple:  When we know that journaling can have so many pronounced benefits for individuals, there's no reason not to facilitate journaling at the organizational level.



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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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