ADLT 625 – What I Have Learned About Organizational Change

Mexican Food for Easter = Change Strategies 2011

Well, I was all settled in for the traditional Easter dinner when my family requested Mexican food instead.  Mexican Food???  But after a while, I thought why not?  So, I created a menu and everyone enjoyed the meal.  My kitchen certainly stayed cooler and I spent much less time in food preparation.  Of course, I did miss the traditional turkey along with all of the sides that are usually part of our Easter dinner.  It’s Tradition!!!  But I got over it and actually had a less stressful day because of the change. It occurred to me that this was much like the discussions that we have had over the course of the semester.  Often, when things change, we spend time mourning the loss of the way things were while trying to embrace the new processes. 

As I consider the journey that we have had over the course of the semester, I think about the different styles of change management we have reviewed.  We interviewed change agents, learned about Paul Farmer and discussed Traditional Organizational Change along with Large Group Change Strategies.  Quite a bit to discuss and absorb in a matter of months!

Interview with a Change Agent:

I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Miller for this project.  Christine is a former VP of HR at Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.  As we spoke, I recognized that I had been through change efforts which used the strategies that we studied in class.  The notion of “equifinality” as discussed in Warner Burke’s Chapter 4 (2011) was a common thread throughout the conversation.  Burke cited Von Bertalanffy’s (1950) principle “an organization can attain the same goal from different starting points and by a variety of paths.”  She also referred Senge’s philosophy of need to maintain “Creative Tension” to hold onto the vision while being mindful of the current situation. As we keep the tension between the two, there may be a need to rethink our course of action and make small changes to get to the same end result while never letting go of the vision we have in the change effort. 

As we reflected on the change strategy for a large merger, it became clear that Kurt Lewin’s “Unfreeze, Move, Freeze” approach to change was implemented.  Bernard Burnes (Gallos, 2006) quotes Lewin in our text “to be stable, a cultural change has to penetrate all aspects of a nation’s life.  The change must, in short, be a change in the “cultural atmosphere” not merely a change of a single item” (p. 136).  I observed this first hand as this multi-year change effort came to fruition.  According to Burnes (Gallos, 2006) who quotes Kanter, “bold strokes often need to be followed by a whole series of incremental changes (a “long march”) in order to align an organization’s culture and behaviors with the new structure” (p. 152).

 This interview was a terrific starting point for learning about the change strategies in our course work.  As our class discussed each strategy, I was able to relate back to those that I had been involved in with new/educated eyes and appreciate the work and grit which was required to make it happen.

Dr Paul Farmer:

Reading about Dr Paul Farmer was another step into the realm of change strategy.  It was interesting to learn about his philosophy and methods for changing the view of infectious disease and attempting to cure it.  I was amazed by the amount of change that one man with a wonderful support system could accomplish.  He was a tireless individual committed to transformation.  I particularly enjoyed the quote from Margaret Mead, “never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world.  Indeed, they are the only ones who ever have” (Kidder, 2003, p. 164).  It seemed to be very true in his case.

In thinking about what Paul Farmer’s credo may be, we had a lively class discussion.  He had a different lens to view the world than most of us.  My interpretation of his mission is that he seeks to redistribute some of the “wealth”.  In his case this is medical attention for those who couldn’t otherwise have it.

Large Group Change Strategies:

We reviewed the traditional change strategies, many of which were the origins of the more recent strategies.  The traditional strategies will always have their place in our organization change tool belt.  It becomes a matter of the type and scope of change required by the organization.  It is also a matter of the speed required for change.  A key observation that I had on the traditional process was that it was driven top down and time spent on each component of the change process was different.  Traditional OD works very well when working at the unit or department level, but it takes a considerable amount of time.


Appreciative Inquiry vs. Traditional OD 


As we went through the large group change strategies; Open Space, Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry; I couldn’t help but compare and contrast each of the strategies.  It was a great experience to be part of a reader’s digest version of each of the strategies to get a taste of them.  Not only that, but I I also think differently about communication technology and health and wellness differently now due to the conversations and exercises which were part of that experience.

Both Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry have their roots in Open Space.  They have many kindred qualities between them.  Self management, everyone is equal in their ideas, seeking common ground, hands off facilitators and the fact that you can use them across all cultures are just a few of the commonalities.  As Whitney and Trosten-Bloom explain, they borrowed many practices for designing and facilitating large scale meetings from the “mother” of “Whole-Scale” change, Kathleen Dannemiller.  From Peter Senge, they learned to value the practice of dialogue. From Harrison Owen they learned the power of self organization and from Weisborg and Janoff they learned the importance of bringing all stakeholders in the room.  Weisborg and Janoff go further and mention how Future Search can be integrated with both Appreciative Inquiry and Open Space.  Letting go of the past is essential to a successful AI, and Future Search uniquely helps people do that.  The link to Open Space is the ability to organize conversations on topics that concern the participants (2006, p . 162).  I can see why practitioners would use them together and interchangeably.

Each of these methods are very prescriptive in a certain area of the process.  While I studied and participated in Open Space and Future Search, I felt immersed in Appreciative Inquiry. When you observe facilitators taking a back seat in the process, you don’t realize how much effort is put into the facilitation and process of the large scale change interventions.  As a facilitator, you have absolutely no idea what the outcomes will be.  This can be daunting to the organization. But we learned that if you trust the process, it will all work as it should.

Originally I felt most comfortable with the Future Search process.  It seemed to resonate with me.  But as I continued to learn more about Appreciative Inquiry, I saw the advantage of framing things in a positive point of view.  We have heard many times that “Words Create Worlds” and “Acting As If” can inspire us to a direction and determine the actions that we take.  I liked the idea of focusing on what we do well and imagining what a perfect future would look like.  Physicality and engagement are quite important and help participants in moving forward towards the goal.  It becomes a part of their mantra for change.


As I go back and reread the credo I created at the beginning of the semester, I still adhere to the philosophy behind the credo, but realize how much I have learned from the readings and my fellow classmates.  I don’t think that I will look at change strategy quite the same again. 

I also realize the great benefits of the group creating and leading the change to move forward into the vision for the future.  Bringing consciousness into the change intervention is imperative.  As Weisbord and Janoff explain, “the fastest way to help ourselves change is to fully experience, accept, and take responsibility for out thoughts, actions, feelings and desires (2010, p. 64).  I couldn’t have explained it better and I observed it first hand in our classroom.

ADLT 625 – Thoughts on Future Search – blog 3

I thoroughly enjoyed the learning experience created by the Future Search Team.  Kudos to Alan, Jess and Steve.  I left feeling that you had given us all a taste of how this strategy works as a large group intervention.  Participating  in the classroom simulation was engaging and I left feeling that I had a sense of the concepts.  It was interesting to see the two perspectives of the customer and the producer and how they often complemented each other.

 It seems with both strategies that we have reviewed so far, Open Space and Future Search, that you could not have foreseen the outcomes.  I think as we progress through the debrief of Future Search and Open Space we will begin to see similarities in the philosophy behind both large group change strategies.  Some similarities that I have noticed are:

  • The whole system in the room
  • Self management
  • Facilitators are in the background
  • Diversity of background of group members is preferred

According to  Weisbord and  Janoff, they consider Open Space Technology a twin in spirit to Future Search.  In OST people select their agendas and groups.  In Future Search predetermined groups work the same tasks toward a common future.  Both models invite participants to manage their small groups, and both build a strong communal spirit (p. 11).  These authors also mention that Appreciative Inquiry, developed by David Cooperrider, is also a related process that incorporates many aspects of Future Search.  One large difference between Appreciative Inquiry and Future Search is that Future Search accepts all experiences as relevant.

As we embark on the third large group strategy, Appreciative Inquiry, it will be interesting to compare all three strategies.  Our team will be seeking to simulate as much as possible in a two hour experience to provide a taste for as many concepts as we can.   Our hope is to make it as realistic as possible and provide a great experience for our class.  We will see!!

Open Space Technology – ADLT 625 – blog 2

I enjoyed going through the Open Space exercise and the thoughts that came out of the group.  Even though it was very quick by regular standards, I was able to grasp the process as Dr Carter set it out for us.

I thought the book was composed well.  It was helpful that it contained the tactical information that one would require to facilitate an Open Space session.  It was interesting how all of the components were applied around the room.  These would include the 4 principles, The Law of 2 Feet and the invisible facilitator!  Seeing the process in action gave me a greater appreciation of how the broad category of diversity could become so many different categories.  However, when all was said and done, we were able to discuss 3 different diversity categories.  The participants took the ball and adjusted the schedule to ensure that we covered everything of interest to the group.  All had a chance to be heard.

It was enlightening to hear the views on tatoos (thanks Jess), bumblebees (thanks APT) and generational/white men diversity.  It seems that diversity really depends on where you sit in the world.  In one place you can be in the majority and another spot you would be in the minority.  Interesting thoughts to ponder.

I hope that our Appreciative Inquiry session will go as smoothly as this!

ADLT 625 – Values Based Leadership – blog 1


I found the discussion with Tom from Luck’s Stone quite interesting last night.

Tom’s company was able to rehaul their culture and strategy to a Values Based Leadership model.  Not an easy task.  I found the honesty helpful when reviewing the past missteps in attempting to move from a more hierarchical form of leadership.  Certainly not a task for the faint of heart.   I was struck by the courage of the leadership to become their authentic selves and be open to feedback on their roles.

As with any culture change, it needs to be down into the very center of the organization and permeate the whole.  Just as we read in our Gallos reader about Lewin, “The change must, in short, be a change in the “cultural atmosphere” not merely a change of a single item”.  I found it facinating that the company was able to use complements to the culture in many areas.  The examples of the use of space for collaboration as the physical expression of values, the development of the town in Spotsylvania that will reflect the values they hold for education and green space and in the way they make business decisions.

This is a great example of a company and a CEO who embraces the culture and walks the talk.

ADLT 625 – A Change Agent’s Philosophy

When I begin to think about a “philosophy” or “credo” for a change agent, I can’t help but recall other standards of practice.  These standards could be the HR Standards of Practice or something as simple as Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten“.  I think of them  as responsibilities to ourselves and others. 

“You must be the change you want to see in the world” – Gandhi

1.  Respect for others.

This may seem very simple, but so important in our roles as Change Agents.  To me, this means treating co-workers, team mates and other colleagues with respect and fairness.  I have seen those in power who have used this in dealing with others and those who did not.  I have always respected those who treated others /employees with respect and dignity in the challenges of organizational life.  I have always strived to do this myself in my professional and personal life.  Often something as simple as respect can make a difference in the relationships of those you work with.  Relationships are extremely important in trying to forge any type of change and facilitating groups of people.  Change agents work with and through people to make change happen.

2.  Be an advocate for change

An advocate for change means seeing beyond what is the “status quo” and always seeing what could be improved.  We are in a world of continuous change and we see it occuring  in most organizations today.  We need to look beyond the scope of any problem and find the actual source of the trouble.   It often requires risks to step outside of the boundaries for change to be effective.  Often this means being willing and open to the possibilities.  We need to make correct use of the “tools” and “processes” we have in any given situation and have an understanding of the process we are reviewing.  Not only do we need to know that a change needs to occur, but after our review we need to be able to sell the change to those in charge as well as to those who the change impacts.  Change often has more impact than we know at the beginning stage. 

3.  Integrity

When we act as change agents, it is possible to see how the change may have an impact to ourselves.   When faced with this type of situation and the difficult questions which arise, we must determine what best represents the organization’s future.  We must look beyond any conflicts of interest and maintain objectivity in the presence of change.  In this state, we put the needs of the organization above our own.  Not an easy task, but necessary for any change to be effective. Integrity may also mean maintaining confidentiality of the information entrusted to you.  Often as change agents and  leaders, we may have more information than the general employee within an organization. 


When we go into situations armed with this philosophy and our expertise, it enhances our credibility and opportunity for success.