top of page
  • Richard Bistrong

Why Transformation Efforts Fail: Lesson 2.

As introduced yesterday, John Kotter, Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, Harvard Business School, in “Leading Change, Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” (HBR, January 2007) discusses why companies seeking to change the way they operate in a new “more challenging market environment” often encounter internal institutional resistance from “those in the trenches of the business,” and why “leading change is both absolutely essential and difficult.” Today I will continue to follow Kotter’s outline by focusing on his second “common error” as to bring the reader through his thinking  and “avoid the common pitfalls.” For those who are interested in learning more, including the details of eight unique steps to transformation, here is a link to the work.

Lesson 2: “Not Creating a Powerful Enough Guiding Coalition.”

In my own experience, I think this is perhaps one of most deadly of the transformational sins, as it often only takes one person who is out of  alignment in the coalition of change, to impact how change is perceived by those in an organization, especially by those “lower in the org chart.” Kotter recommends bringing in personnel from the organization who are not at the C-Suite level in the reform process as such efforts where the current system is failing “generally demands activity outside of formal boundaries, expectations and protocol.” Kotter spends a great deal of time discussing the necessity of a powerful “guiding coalition” as to not “underestimate the difficulties of producing change.” He adds that “if the existing hierarchy were working well, there would be no need for a major transformation.”

Taking this lesson to the sales field in the context of FCPA, again, I  bring up the oft used sales perception that management needs to pick either “compliance or sales,” as a dangerous zero sum game in the goal of driving an anti-bribery culture and program.  By bringing  sales leadership into the transformational process, which I have yet to either hear about or experience (and I invite comment with examples), the C-Suite demonstrates that they “hear the voice of sales” in the process, and that both global and regional concerns will be addressed and valued by corporate leadership in the implementation of change. Furthermore, I agree with Kotter in that it does not have to be the VP of sales or a high level executive. More appropriate, it might be a regional sales manager in a territory which ranks low on the integrity index, as that person would be able to represent some of the most challenging issues in encountering foreign bribery to management as part of a transformational effort in rolling out an anti-bribery culture and program.

I once worked with someone who had a career in the military (as an Officer) and he told me a story that really had an impact on my thinking, and I think it is relevant to today’s post. He shared with me how he was implementing a major initiative which required a great deal of work among his direct (non-commissioned Officer) reports, if it was to succeed. He told me how he got them all into a room and made everyone cover up their insignia, himself included, to discuss the program.  He then solicited  their opinions of his initiative, and asked for open and honest feedback, explaining that for the discussion, rank did not exist. He shared with me that he got incredible insights from the field, made some adjustments based on those comments, and had great results. Just ponder that for a minute, that as an Officer he did not need to either bring others into his thinking, nor solicit feedback, but as he shared with me, once his reports knew that they were “part of the team” they worked double hard and double-time to make it a success. That’s what I call a powerful coalition!


bottom of page