During our research, we stumbled upon an interesting concept: a formula for change. It was promoted by Dick Beckhard (Organizational Transitions, 1977) and Reuben Harris while attributing its creation to David Gleicher. While David Gleicher did propose an earlier version of the formula, the formula used by Beckhard was taken actually from Kathleen Dannemiller’s version.
The formula compares the success of change programs to the relative strengths affecting that change. It is as follows:
C = D x V x F x CL > R
- C = Change
- D = Dissatisfaction with how things are currently;
- V = Vision of what is possible and tangible;
- F = First concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision;
- CL = Creative Leadership to navigate toward the vision.
If the product of these four factors is greater than:
- R = Resistance,
then change is foreseeable.
D, V, and F are multipliers, because of that, if a particular factor is missing or low then the product will be low and the resistance to change will be stronger. The idea is that if you are seeking some significant, system-wide change there are several core elements that need attention.
We need a critical mass of the organization to:
1. Be dissatisfied (D) with the way things are (in relation to the proposed change). This often doesn’t come until some force from outside the organization creates a crisis for the organization.
2. To have a vision (V), an image or an idea of what improvement would look like, that is grounded in the hopes and dreams of employees or members. An old saying among leaders is – – “Being right is only one-quarter of the battle.” It’s not uncommon for leaders to have a vision of what improvements are needed. The problem is that just communicating the vision (or mission, or strategic plan) will not bring change.
3. With a clear sense of what needs to be done as first steps (F). This means having a picture of what we can do differently in the short term that will move us toward that vision.
Four major factors for leaders to take into account are:
- What competencies need to be developed or strengthened for people to be able to function in the changed situation? People don’t like to feel incompetent and change often creates that feeling.
- People are often hesitant to accept and implement the change because they fear losing friends and colleagues who are in opposition.
- Having the needed resources to make the change.
- Beginning to create an alignment of structures, processes, and practices that will be in harmony with the new way.
4. Creative Leadership could be a consultant, mentor/coach, or other measures. It is most often an outside set of eyes. Remember IBM’s Business Transformation in 1993, in which Louis Gerstner Jr., who had recently joined the company as CEO, had the advantage of being regarded as an outsider, allowing him to kick-start the process.
Resistance (R) is likely to be present in all change efforts. The combined weight of the dissatisfaction, vision, and first steps needs to be able to overcome that resistance. That means if any of those elements (D, V, F) is “0”, the change will not be possible.
It is useful to use Chris Argyris’s intervention theory in applying the change formula. The theory suggests that the more people you get involved in diagnosing the situation, exploring options, and shaping a picture for the future, the more likely you are to develop a commitment in people that is sustainable under pressure and over time.
- Beckhard, R 1969 Organization Development: Strategies and Models, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA.
- Dannemiller, K. D., and Jacobs, R. W. (1992). Changing the way organizations change: A revolution of common sense. The Journal Of Applied Behavioral Science, 28(4), 480-498.
- Jacobs, R. W. (1994). Real-time strategic change: How to involve an entire organization in fast and far-reaching change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
- Wheatley, M. J., Tannebaum, R., Yardley, P. Y., and Quade, K. (2003). Organization development at work: conversations on the values, applications, and future of OD. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.