My Comments on Built to Change

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

You may know the book Built to Change by Edward Lawler and Christopher Worley. (Jossey Bass, 2006)  My friend, Sally DeWitt, highly recommended it to me last year. Well, it went on my stack of books and there it sat. I’m sorry I waited so long to read it. It is an important book on change in organizations.

Here are a few things that stand out:

In spite of all the books and attention change gets, organizations are not getting better at leading change.

Change tends to be viewed as a necessary evil. Most organizations are designed for stability, not change. This bias toward stability builds resistance to change into the system.

The authors believe that organizations should be “built to change.” Organizational change whether planned or by accident, is essential for continued success. Organizations need to be willing to reexamine strategy and execution continually and adapt when needed. Change is part of who they are, and not some necessary evil. Change is the new status quo. . . They also argue that transformational change, moving from one type of business to another, usually fails. Even United Airlines’ attempt to create a discount carrier failed because the company is not built to do what discount airlines are set up to do.


Organizations often strategize to deal with the current environment. They must be able to anticipate possible future states and plan for those as well.


They need to focus on the external environment and consider making adjustments as the norm.


In their words: We think of an organization’s identity as something very stable. It is an important source of effectiveness, and is, potentially, a primary reason why a b2change (built to change) organization can reorient itself easily. So strategies need to change based on changing conditions, but they must be based on the underlying identity of the organization. They talk about Japanese auto makers. They started as low cost alternatives to “expensive” cars. And then for decades focused on quality. A few years ago, US automakers began to catch up on quality. Consumers now take quality for granted, and now focus on “intangibles such as design, customer experience, service, and image.” Once again, the Japanese lead in service, design, and social responsibility. They know how to change. Competitors have also embraced quality, and build on that base.


The book is provocative and sound. If you are interested in change in organizations, be sure to read the first three chapters for an overview of their thinking, and then the rest of the book to see how they suggest bringing these ideas to life.More...