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Will Your Changes Stick?

Change Begins with Leadership

In his masterful contributing article for Forbes, Steve Denning details the successful-- and not-so-successful-- attempts to change the culture of the World Bank by its presidents since 1968. Denning articulates why any attempts to change an organization’s culture are difficult, as that organization’s culture is a multi-faceted, multi-layered system. Culture is immune to quick-fix changes, such as the introduction of teams, and, as if the culture possesses a mind of its own, will eventually revert back to the existing organizational culture when quick-fixes are attempted. In reality, Denning states, any lasting changes are those that affect the minds of the people in the culture, and the most successful strategies begin with leadership.

Inspire, Inform, Intimidate

Successful leaders are those that provide vision, sharing that vision, or story, to inspire those around them. The effective leader can then empower managers and provide tools for those managers to inform the workers or team members. Systems to measure outcomes, define roles, operating procedures, training, and incentives are just some of the tools of management Denning states are necessary in the successful cultural change process. Lastly, and the lowest forms of tools for changing minds, are intimidation and power tools, such as coercion, threats, and punishment.

Leadership or Power?

Many attempts at culture change fail because the power tools are overused, and leadership tools are underused, Denning states. Secondly, leadership may take the blame, as many leaders begin with a vision for their attempts at cultural change, but fail to empower managers with tools that are needed to cement behavioral changes in place. Finally, some leaders don’t even begin with a story for their organization, but attempt changes with power.

The rest of the article gives a snapshot of over forty years of presidents of the World Bank. The attempts at culture change by the various leaders seemed almost an outline for a chapter or two in Denning’s book. Beginning with Robert McNamara in 1968, and ending with Robert Zoellick in 2012, Denning highlights the leadership failures and successes of each.

Do’s and Don’ts

Denning is able to succinctly summarize and apply his insights to these presidents, leaving the reader with more than a few valuable nuggets in the form of Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Don’t change the managers or bring in your own staff

  • Don’t start with reorganizing

  • Do start with a clear vision, supported by story-telling

  • Do quickly implement new systems and processes for management that support the clear vision

  • Do draw on the talents of your staff, enabling managers to become team organizers

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For more information read the article that is the source for this executive summary.

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