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Published: November 30, 2004

 
 

Best Business Books 2004: Change Management

He tells the story of an executive famous within his organization for turning around failing business units. The executive was temporarily placed in a dying unit with the promise of inheriting the top job at the company's largest business, regardless of his performance in the interim position. For the first time, this executive found he was ineffective at fixing a broken situation. Quinn recounts asking the executive what he would do if the job in the other business unit were not there waiting for him. In response, the executive began to run through the changes he would make. As a result of the conversation with Quinn, he decided to excuse himself from taking the other leadership position, and instead rededicated himself to turning around the failing business unit. The workers in the unit immediately saw the change in his engagement and began to change their own behaviors as well.

"Tough love" describes the leader's ability to encourage people in the organization to reach for a higher standard while also holding them accountable for meeting those standards. The prime example Quinn gives is GE's Jack Welch, an executive renowned for pushing his team to reach for the highest standards of performance, but having limited tolerance for those who fell short. Testimonies from managers who reported directly to Welch demonstrate that the first time someone missed the bar, Welch provided considerable support to help him or her shore up his or her skills and prevent the person from repeating the mistake. Only if the individual missed again -- after receiving support -- were the consequences serious. Jack Welch left no doubt that he believed in his subordinates' abilities and backed them. But at the same time, these executives knew that if they could not live up to his expectations, they would be let go. Quinn argues that supporting individuals as well as holding them accountable for adopting new behaviors is essential to motivating those individuals to challenge themselves and improve their performance.

Communication Levers
When a top executive team has decided on a change initiative, the new approach must be communicated effectively before it can change the way people behave. Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People's Minds, by Howard Gardner (Harvard Business School Press, 2004), shows how leaders can develop different strategies to communicate change to different stakeholders and audiences, helping these groups to internalize the change more effectively.

Gardner, a psychologist and professor at Harvard, was one of the first to propose the theory of multiple intelligences (such as logical, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal) in his earlier books, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Basic Books, 1983) and Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice (Basic Books, 1993). Changing Minds applies his theory to the business community. Because people with different types of intelligence respond to different stimuli, the process Gardner proposes for changing minds appears to be an almost artistic endeavor, in which messages are crafted to speak to the hearts and minds of specific audiences, and are enhanced by the natural talents and sympathies of the person leading the change.

At the core of Gardner's approach are six levers for changing minds. Four of them are obvious: reason, research, rewards, and real-world events. Two others are less obvious. "Resonance" is the language in which an argument is couched. The choice of language can either make an argument seem trivial to the listener, effecting no change, or make it "feel right," causing the argument to move the listener toward a new frame of mind. "Representational redescription," he explains, is a way to present an argument in different modes -- through mathematics, graphics, or language. This is necessary because people respond differently to these modes of expression. He also describes what he calls "resistances," which are the specific hurdles that must be overcome using the other six levers for changing minds; these are the assumptions and ways of thinking a person develops beginning in childhood.

 
 
 
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