It Starts with One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations by J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen
From the perspective of the outsider, change management often seems to be equal parts art and science and, as a process, challenging when it comes to defining success and failure. Recent surveys suggest that up to 80% of organizational change initiatives fail. Presumably, these assessment are made by the organizations themselves based on the goals/objectives outlined during the planning for the initiatives. While that figure seems almost incredible — if the process is failing that badly, why hasn’t it been abandoned or in some way reinvented — in my experience, that number pretty much rings true.
Traditional change management is a “top down” process that usually focuses on an organization’s structure and/or reward system. J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen of INSEAD may have identified the core issue that has driven so much failure in the change management world. In their new book, It Starts with One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations, the authors suggest that the traditional process must be turned on it’s head, with the focus shifting to a “bottom up” view to effect real, lasting change. In Black and Gregersen’s view, the key is to change the behaviors of individuals first and the organization will follow.
With more than a hundred books on leading strategic change to choose from, why read this one? The answer is simple. Most other books on change have it backwards. They take an "organization in" approach; in other words, they outline all the organizational levers you should pull to change the company based on the premise that if you change the organization, individual change will follow. Our experience and research commands the opposite conclusion. Lasting success lies in changing individuals first; then the organization follows. This is because an organization changes only as far or as fast as its collective individuals change. Without individual change, there is no organizational change. Consequently, instead of an "organization in" approach, we take an "individual out" approach. To repeat—to change your organization, you must first change individuals, and sometimes (maybe even often) this means changing yourself as well.
The authors spend a significant amount of time exploring the reasons change initiatives fail and discuss the three barriers to achieving the change agenda: the failure to see that change is necessary, the failure to embrace the pathway towards a more successful environment, and the failure to finish as people tire during the process of transformation.
The book concludes with what I consider both the most obvious and most profound insight regarding change management. Beyond overcoming the three barriers, successful change requires an understanding and appreciation of three fundamental types of change — anticipatory, reactive, and crisis. I would guess that the catalyst for the vast majority of change initiatives are reactions to external stimuli that threaten the status quo or dealing with significant crises that arise either internally or externally. Anticipatory change is the proactive, visionary approach to organizational change and the pathway towards sustainable competitive advantage.
Read this book and you will be much better equipped to effect successful change in your organization.