Change Management Can Be Like War

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

The Washington Post (1/29/07) reports that Patricia Sullivan looked at all conflicts between UN Security Council members and weaker nations since the end of World War II. She found that in all 122 conflicts, the stronger nation failed to win 39 percent of the time.


Another study found that the more powerful nations won 75 percent of their conflicts when they didn’t need cooperation from their foes in order to win. But, they only won half those conflicts when winning meant that the defeated had to change their behavior.


This has real implications for managing change in the workplace. Too often leaders believe that since they have “the power,” they can force change. Last week, a manager told me that sometimes leaders just needed to take charge to get things done, and employees just needed to go along. You could feel the frustration in his voice. He said something like, he was “tired of all this emphasis on consensus.” Maybe so, and maybe consensus isn’t he way to go all the time, but a show of power doesn’t guarantee success.


Cooperation is key to “winning” inside organizations. You’ve got to live with these people the day after the war ends. And most changes demand that multiple stakeholders support major changes by changing their behavior, volunteering, taking leadership roles, etc. Therefore, force is less likely to get us there.