Leading Strategic Change, by J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen

Leading Strategic Change, Black and Gregersen, cover“To change the organization, first change the individual.” This statement, on the back cover of the book Leading Strategic Change: Breaking Through the Brain Barrier, encapsulates the main idea of this book. The authors, J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen, present this idea, then suggest that changing individuals requires changing mental maps, but that changing mental maps requires breaking through certain brain barriers. At the core, there are three basic barriers to change: failure to see the need to change, failure to move even though you see the need to change, and failure to go far enough or fast enough to finish.

Before tackling these barriers, Black and Gregersen first identify four stages of change that every organization faces:

  • Stage 1 – Do the right thing and do it well
  • Stage 2 – Discover the right thing is now the wrong thing
  • Stage 3 – Do the new right thing, but poorly at first
  • Stage 4 – Eventually do the new right thing well

The fundamental premise, therefore, is that breakthrough change is the process of successfully moving from Stage 1 to Stage 4. However, the three barriers to change have a tendency to inhibit or prevent that process. Therefore, a strategic change agent must intentionally change the mental maps of individuals in order to address those barriers. The proposed solution is develop a plan, with the appropriate tools, for conceiving – to address the barrier of seeing; believing – to address the barrier of moving; and achieving, to address the barrier of finishing.

The book finishes with a look at the change curve, and provides three points in time at which a leader can spot and then respond to change. These three change responses are labeled as:

  • Crisis Change – responding to change late in the game, when the signs are undeniable and most others have already begun the change process, if they have not already changed;
  • Reactive Change – this (the most common approach) is just what the name implies – reacting to signs that change is needed, and initiating change;
  • Anticipatory Change – the most difficult to start, but with the greatest potential benefit, this change response involves seeing the signs on the horizon, anticipating the need for change, and getting out in front of it.

Overall, the book seemed to be very practical, and provided a useful framework with tools for leading change. Useful enough, in fact, that I am using the framework to walk through some needed change in my current organization. The ideas are simple (see, move, and finish; conceive, believe, and achieve) and make sense. The result is a good roadmap for leading an organization through strategic change.

Black, J. S., and Gregersen, H. B. (2003). Leading Strategic Change: Breaking Through the Brain Barrier. Prentice Hall: New York, NY.

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