Change Agents

Photo: Scott Cresswell

If you want to change an organization, you might begin by changing yourself.

“After years of collaborating in efforts to advance the practice of leadership and cultural transformation, we’ve become convinced that organizational change is inseparable from individual change,” Nate Boaz and Erica Ariel Fox write in McKinsey Quarterly. “Simply put, change efforts often falter because individuals overlook the need to make fundamental changes in themselves.”

The authors recommend “developing profile awareness and developing state awareness.” By “profile awareness” they mean what sort of person you are—“habits of thought, emotions, hopes and behavior in various circumstances.” “State awareness,” the authors explain, is “recognition of what’s driving you at the moment you take action.”

In sum, to become a successful change leader, learn how to be as personally effective as possible.

Boaz and Fox offer plenty of sensible thoughts on how to do this, many of which are familiar to anyone who has read Peter Drucker’s classic essay Managing Oneself: Find out how you work best. Find out what contributes to the work of your colleagues and what gets in their way. Learn your disabling weaknesses.

For all of this, Drucker would have been cautious about using the word “change” in precisely the way the authors do—but he would have endorsed the broader point. As he put it in Managing Oneself: “Do not try to change yourself—you are unlikely to succeed. But work hard to improve the way you perform.”

Boaz and Fox also point out that it’s generally easier to know what we ought to change and improve than actually to do it; they call the difference the “performance gap.” This was also something Drucker was familiar with, relating (as we’ve mentioned) the story of the farmer who rejects advice because he knows how to farm much better than he actually does farm.

As Drucker noted in Post-Capitalist Society, we contain within us a great deal of un-integrated knowledge and information, so “we need also a methodology, a discipline, a process to turn this potential into performance.”

Do you think leading organizational change starts with knowing yourself a little better?