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Driving Change: Eight Learnings.

For the past 15 years I have helped my own companies as well as Clients address change. Here are some tips I have picked up along the way.

1. Change Sucks: While many folks prattle on how “change is good” and should be embraced, the reality is that change means doing new and different things and trading in the comfortable, the tried and true and what one knows for months or years of stumbling, inventing things on the fly and looking quite incompetent. Lets be honest with folks who we would like to help change and acknowledge that it is difficult.

2. People are analog: As much as the world is going digital, people remain analog. We have emotion and we make decisions that are not entirely rational. We care about how we are perceived, we love our turf and we fear uncertainty. Unless one can understand the human needs and concerns when one is looking to deliver change it can get very difficult.

3. Incentives are critical: As Stephen Levy the author of Freakonomics makes clear, to understand someones behavior it is critical to understand their incentives. We behave like we are paid to behave. So whenever anybody asks me for how to drive change I start with reminding them to change incentives. So many industries continue to reward and provide incentives for the status quo while churning out press releases about change. Change only happens if it makes economic and career sense.

4. Fear must be reduced. Because change is associated with fresh and new things it is also associated with a higher degree of failure. Cultures that penalize failure find themselves ossified to the past. The big difference between Silicon Valley and Japan is their perspectives on failure. In Silicon Valley failure is a badge worn proudly while in Japan it often leads to suicide due to loss of face. There are no second chances in Japan and multiple chances in Silicon Valley. If a company had a high fear level (do people whisper?, are folks afraid of the boss?) than the change I recommend to folks is to quit and find a better place.

5. Culture must be paid attention to. Every company has its culture. Some are strong and some weak but often successful companies have very strong cultures. This culture has often been the reason for the companies success but sometimes may be its weakness in the future. Changing or attacking a company’s culture is very intricate and requires both the patience and the precision of a surgeon. Eliminating some key parts of a Company’s culture without understanding its importance or role it serves can not only be detrimental to change but also cause the change agent to be tossed out. The best change agents are experts at understanding company cultures.

6. Tell all the Truth but tell it Slant. This advice is from the poet Emily Dickinson. She goes on to say ” the truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind…”. Full frontal attacks, hysterical statements about “dead business models” and other melodrama may make good blog copy or conference panel grist but rarely is effective in getting large successful firms to navigate change. The facts must be stated without personal attacks or offering choices that must be made at gunpoint or under fear. Let the facts speak for themselves. Let the reality dawn and rise versus going from darkness to high noon.

7. Bring Data, Facts and Examples. Once a company gets emotionally ready to change, it still needs a lot of facts and examples and here one must be ready to interrogate the company’s legacy metrics of success. For instance, most content companies are under the mistaken belief that their content is valuable and can be monetized when the truth is that access to content and new ways of monetizing content is really the future. Data and examples that illustrate this gets the attention of the money folks and the strategic leadership of a firm whose support is key to drive change.

8 Inspirational Leadership is key: At some stage the numbers can be supportive, fear can be reduced, peoples incentives aligned and the cultural issues addressed but that alone is not enough. At some stage there is a jump into a void that must take place. It is here that the leadership of a company must stand up and inspire. People follow people and not power point slides and excel spreadsheets.
‘[tweetmeme source=”@rishadt” only_single=false]’

8 comments on “Driving Change: Eight Learnings.

  1. Greg Satell says:

    Great post Rishad!

    I especially liked :

    “Full frontal attacks, hysterical statements about “dead business models” and other melodrama may make good blog copy or conference panel grist but rarely is effective in getting large successful firms to navigate change”

    I recently wrote a post ( about two popular books, The The Power of Pull and The New Capitalist Manifesto that do exactly that – histrionically posit false premises to argue for change.

    One of the authors, (Umair Haque) responded on Twitter basically saying (and I’m paraphrasing now), that it didn’t matter if he was using false premises because he still believed his conclusions were right.

    I think you hit it spot on when you said creating false choices is rarely effective in creating change. In fact, hysterics are more likely to undermine the credibility that you need to make change happen.

    Unfortunately, too often people confuse loud, shrill voices for your last point: inspirational leadership.

    Thanks again for this.

    – Greg

  2. rishadt says:


    Glad you liked the post.

    Actually Umair liked it a too and promoted to his 100,000 + followers!

    Believe he sometimes may use extremes to get reaction but overall his approach is quite nuanced and learned, for a lot of folks do listen to him.

    Sometimes the extreme comments made by folks are to get a discussion going or a cry of frustration when the patient refuses to listen. Am sure both of us have often been in that position.

    Continue to be a huge fan of your blog and thinking !

    Thanks again

  3. Greg Satell says:

    Yes. I agree. There is a lot of value in what Umair has to say and I think the point about externalities and the potential for improving internal performance by eliminating them is really interesting and important.

    However, I do think there are better ways to further the argument than making up facts.

    – Greg

  4. Joe Gray says:

    I would add, Shared Vision. This can be achieved through Inspirational Leadership, but may be more effective if developed through the ground up approach. Once developed on a ground up basis an Inspirational Leader can help lead to fulfillment.

  5. Sue Redeel says:

    Hi Rishad!

    Great post – to me two things really stand out – learning and leadership. Constant learning and remodeling is the only way to grow no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. And great inspirational leaders can make you believe you can get there.

    all the best,

  6. Carla Gates says:

    As a marketer, I look at these lessons through that lens; in other words, we marketers should acknowledge these learnings when thinking about getting customers to change behavior, i.e. buy our product. Excellent!

  7. Bob Marsh says:


    Excellent post(s)! Several points in the latest reminded me of a quote from my favorite book:

    “The Truth about Truth”

    “Argue for what you believe to be true, but never expect to win an important point with words alone. Valuable theses are not proven by unassisted reason but rather by concoctions of reason and time – words forcefully and quotably phrased, calmly delivered in speech and writing, patiently repeated at intervals. Indeed, you know the truth only when you know the truth about truth, which is that it is often startlingly unfamiliar to its audience, that it is not self-evident but becomes clear only through repeated contact, and that its bearers must be not only perceptive but persistent.

    People are not convinced by the truth so much as inhabited and colonized by it; they will not come back to you and say that you were right so much as they will, after lengthy periods of incubation, repeat your ideas to you as though they had thought them up themselves. By the same token, distrust an individual who rushes his proof or your response to it. This is no teacher but rather a salesman, who is right, if at all, only partially and by chance.”

    Robert Grudin
    Chapter IX.13
    “Time and the Art of Living”

    I think you’d love the book, too…

  8. Susan Wayne says:

    Rishad – Great to run into you last week! Loved your post on this. One thing I’d add based on our work is that yes, fear needs to be reduced. But what we often see in our change management efforts is that people try to repress or negate or ignore fear. We work with a principle to “use fear and resistance as allies.” Fear is normal in change (to your point about people being analog – loved that quote :), but we believe that fear and resistance can be proactively and constructively worked with to make change work. Enjoyed see you and reading your post. My best, Susan

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