Change: Less Management, More Leadership, Better Results

by Randy Pennington, principal
Pennington Group

Research shows 70 percent of all change efforts fail to achieve their desired results. The sad reality is that change – as it is addressed in most organizations – fails because it is over-managed and under-led.

To make change work, you must stop thinking of change as a process to be managed and start viewing it as an opportunity to engage people who must be led. Here are four ideas to help.

1. Change the way you think and talk about change. You change a light bulb when it burns out. Athletic teams change coaches when they consistently lose. Organizations change when …

If your initial response was, “when things aren’t going well,” then you have an opportunity to change your perspective on change. Companies that can quickly identify, anticipate and adapt are the winners in a world where business demands change overnight. Examine the language you use to describe and promote change. Are new ideas encouraged or ridiculed? Are changes only discussed from the perspective of a crisis to be averted, or do you reinforce opportunities for proactive improvement? Our language reflects our thinking, and when it comes to leading change, our thinking drives our action.

2. Involve others in crafting and implementing solutions. People support what they help create. Most importantly, people support and take positive action to change for their reasons, not ours. Do the hard work of communicating the need and opportunity for change based on what is important to those from whom you need support. Compliance can be mandated, but commitment is volunteered.

3. Use resistance as your friend. The normal reaction to resistance is emotion. When employees push against change, we want to push back. We try to reason with the resistors. If that doesn’t work, we resort to bargaining, manipulation, using power to mandate compliance or ignoring the people and the problem.

That perspective is wrong, however. If there is no resistance, there is no change. Ask questions and listen. Be patient, and realize that the concerns raised by a few are probably shared by others. Doing so allows you to identify potential barriers to making change work and increases your odds of building support.

4. Go first. All change creates moments of instability and anxiety. Substantial change that comes at you in waves can either make you bold or make you timid. Timid organizations don’t anticipate the future. Timid people don’t invest in themselves or take the actions that enable them to quickly adapt.

Those who you seek to influence want you to be bold. Focus on adding so much value that anxiety and fear are minimized. Strategically invest in the future, and inspire hope.

Change rarely fails because of a faulty process. It often fails because of people-related reasons. We increase our opportunities for success when we invest less time managing change and more time leading it.

The Great Depression of the 1930s saw the demise of many companies, but also gave us many of the most recognizable brands of our day. The same will be true of today. Fifty years from now, we’ll look back on this time as the crucible that spawned legendary brands and businesses. They will be the ones who made change work.

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. For more information, visit or email