Has business entered a new era, one that means that the old paradigms governing change are no longer the road to success? Daniel Cable, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, studies organisational culture and its effects on sustained competitive advantage and leadership development. His research and book, Change to Strange: Create a Great Organisation by Building a Strange Workforce (Prentice-Hall, 2007), laid the groundwork for his belief that business has entered a new era, one that means that the old paradigms governing change are no longer the road to success. He shared his current thinking with Georgina Peters.
How do you view organisational change in 2012?
Today, the basis of change is small changes in human behaviour, rather than grand organisational changes. It is a matter of hundreds (or even thousands) of individuals acting in new ways; and, by this, people inside a firm bring about organisational change that customers can see and respond to.
This must be challenging.
Basically, it is a matter of making the employees’ individual patterns of behaviour build up to substantial organisational change. It’s critical that all those different ways of acting add up to one thing; and that is the difficult part because lots of little changes that don’t move in the same direction, that aren’t made coherent, end up in confusion. It takes leadership to make the changes have a beneficial effect.
Are you saying that today’s workforce is different, more self-motivated?
Yes. It is a workforce that is more sceptical and questioning than ever before. It is more sophisticated, more cynical, more educated — a more tuned-in and plugged-in workforce, in large part because so many people now are enlightened by the Internet and social media. These are workers who already know the old models of change, such as John Kotter’s eight-step model, often better than their leaders do. Today’s workforce has been through so many ‘change initiatives’ that change is a bad word. Today’s workforce is much more aware of the world around them, of the struggles that the world is facing, such as the sustainability of the planet. They also are aware of the value of self, their lives outside of work. They want to feel that the work they do makes a contribution and is not just a way to move their arms and legs for 10 hours a day in return for money. They also have greater awareness of their competition, of what other companies similar to theirs are doing; and they want their own company to succeed, both for personal reasons and as a point of pride.
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