Tag Archives: Change management

Joseph Fiksel, Resilient by Design


For those of us who work in change management in organizations, we are more often used to think of “resilience” as a characteristic of individuals who demonstrate some kind of flexibility when faced with change. Beyond psychological aspects, we can also talk about the resilience of organizations or communities and this is what Joseph Fiksel does. He defines resilience in this way:

“Resilience is the capacity to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change.”

The complexity of considering the resilience of organizations resides in the fact we have to take into account different elements: people, products, processes, assets, markets, and communities. He also suggest that we should think about organizations as systems, but as living organisms rather than engineered systems, to emphasize the ability to flex and adapt to a changing environment.

The approach that he proposes is broader than both classical risk management and business continuity practices that tend to focus on specific elements of the system and fail to consider the broader context. This may lead to a narrow focus than in not in line with the kind of fast, sweeping changes we seem to see more and more nowadays.

The four attributes of resilience that are discussed in the book are: adaptability, efficiency, cohesion, and diversity. Resilience is created by managing the tensions between these 4 attributes and each organization must find its own mix. The author proposes to create a role of “Chief Resilience Officer” which includes the consideration of risk but takes a broader view (and may require an expanded skill set).

While he does not mention the VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) in the book, the kind of world he describes is very much in line with the world that Bob Johansen (2012) describes and what he proposes is an approach to enable organizations to not only survive, but prosper, in this kind of world. What he describes as the “new normal” is a world where crises are commonplace and where our inability to control the world that surrounds us increases the need for resilience.

I’d be curious to see what Fiksel and his colleagues have to say about the current trends in the resource industry (the one where I work), the drought in California (a personal interest of mine), and the economic crisis in Greece (where I have family), situations that have personal significance for me, but for which I could not think of “fixes”. With respect to the resource industry, I have the following questions:

  • If economic growth in China continues to slow, what happens to industries that have banked on demand fueled by it?
  • If China goes bust, what are the economic and social impacts to places like Western Australia? Other parts of the world where high demand for resources may cause temporary prosperity to isolated one-company towns? (Of course, there is nothing new about this, there are ghost towns all over the world but we are now much more concerned about sustainable development and human impacts.)
  • Given the current trends, demand is down for commodities like iron ore and prices are down. Organizations in this industry are cutting costs, reorganizing, outsourcing, off-shoring whatever can work can be, in an effort to ensure the viability of corporations. What will be the impact to locations where the work is eliminated? What will be impacts, intended or not, positive or not, to locations to which work is moved? What happens when fluctuations occur (up or down)? Have organizations built flexibility or have they only found a temporary fix? Have communities and various level of government really considered their long-term options?

Is strategic planning really looking at long term changes in the world? Are we really being strategic and creating organizations and communities where people can live and prosper, and can we ensure that people and in particular leaders have the foresight to design for resilience?

But is it even possible? Fiksel says: “As the world grows hyperconnected and the rate of change accelerates, the future becomes increasingly obscure. Humans have created order on an unprecedented scale, giving us the illusion of control, but we are more vulnerable today than ever.” Furthermore, “the type of order that we create is different from nature’s order; it is more tightly coupled, more rigid, and more brittle. The inevitable waves of change will eventually disrupt even the most elaborate structure.” He challenges us to find ways of integrating resilience and sustainability to create systems that can survive disruptions.

When I was an undergraduate at university, I used to like reading books about ecology, as I felt they gave a sense of the “big picture” of what was happening in the world.  My husband has often thought of my fascination with natural catastrophes (earthquakes and hurricanes!) as a simple morbid interest in human misery, but I am far more fascinated with the ways in which human beings and communities survive than with the events themselves. The newest literature on sustainability and resilience is even more multi-layered and interesting. While it makes the complexity of the world look less amenable to human intervention, it also provides fascinating insights on innovative ways to look at the complex reality that surrounds us.


Fiksel, Joseph. Resilient by Design: Creating Businesses That Adapt and Flourish in a Changing World. Island Press, Washington, 2015.

Johansen, Bob. Leaders Make the Future. San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler, 2012.

On this topic:




Click to access 0608-028.fiksel.pdf


James McCalman and David Potter, Leading Culture Change: The Theory and Practice of Successful Organizational Transformation


There is no shortage of change management books on the market (or in my library!) but new takes on it, given the utter difficulty of successfully implementing change initiatives in the workplace, are always welcome. What I particularly like about this one is the explicit use of tools from the social sciences toolkit (both conceptual models and research methods) and their application to the practice of fostering cultural change in the organization. Of course, my bias as a sociologist shows when I say that. I have so often been asked what was the use of my graduate studies in sociology if I only ended up managing learning and development activities in a for-profit company, as if developing leaders and contributing to organizational change projects was in no way informed by a background in the social sciences. And what is management if not an application of social sciences and psychology?

Given the “messy and unpredictable” nature of change management work, there is no simple recipe that can be applied and rational, linear models emphasizing simplicity are unlikely to work. This is where careful study of the situation using methods developed by the social sciences to study social reality are useful. One has to dig deep to understand the meaning systems that have been embedded in a given social setting to effect lasting cultural change. The authors devote a few chapters to the elements that make up a culture.

They also define organizational development (OD) as the process of managing changes to cultural elements using methodologies from the social and behavioral sciences. The book also contains interesting discussions on power and leadership and on the role of language both in creating and stabilizing culture (or “cultural hegemony”) as well as in changing culture.

The authors make great use of the gardening metaphor, where changing culture starts with planting seeds and creating the right conditions for these seeds to grow. As we all know, the results are not always as expected and this very well reflects the emergent nature of cultural change. We may very well end up with the intended consequences but also with some unintended ones. The authors say:

These cultural seeds may flourish and sprout new cultural themes, or they may fuse with established cultural themes and produce hybrids that continue that continue to preserve established norms but perhaps enhance the positive aspects of these norms, or they may lie dormant and spring into life once fertile cultural conditions emerge that favour their growth and development as new dynamic cultural assumptions, value and ultimately themes. The gardening metaphor is helpful in understanding what cultural change is really all about. It is a form of cultivation. It involves the sowing of symbolic seeds that may or may not take hold. These seeds need the right conditions to mature and it is these same conditions that are required to kill off unwanted cultural constructs. So even when the formal stage of the OD process is supposed to be complete, these symbolic seeds can spring into life as derivatives of the original cultural change work. (p. 218)

The authors present an extensive case study and describe the approach they have taken with their client to effect cultural change. This nicely complements the first half of the book that lays out the theoretical foundations of their approach to cultural change.

In my experience, what I have found to be most problematic is when the predominant culture includes attitudes towards that change that are in and of themselves antithetical to change. In some organizational cultures, strong assumptions are made about the nature of change as being mostly an issue of structure, and it is assumed that implementing the right structure will produce the right cultural changes. In such change projects, new processes and tools are put into place, and no explicit efforts are made to facilitate the culture changes that will help embed these new structures and will generate the desired results, often measured through performance indicators. McCalman and Potter present a solid case for how and why cultural change work must be explicitly planned and managed.

This book has also made me think about how current my knowledge of social science methods is… I still have the basics from when I was a graduate student 25 years ago, but I have not look into any of the current thoughts that may take advantage of new ideas or new tools available. It might be something interesting to dig into.

The book may be quite useful to what the authors call “change managers”, that is, any actors in the organization who intent on effecting change. Paying explicit attention to the cultural aspects of change may not come as naturally as focusing on the structural aspects (new organizational structure and new work processes).


McCalman, James and David Potter. Leading Culture Change: The Theory and Practice of Successful Organizational Transformation. Kogan Page, London, 2015.

Readings About Change Management


If you are interested in change management and are wondering what are the classical texts to read in this area, here is a short article that gives a pretty good overview of that:



Bob Johansen, Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World


Bob Johansen is a ten-year forecaster from the Institute for the Future and he has been making 10-year forecasts for over 40 years. When I first encountered individuals who claimed to be forecaster or “futurists” at various management conferences, I was extremely skeptical. I did not see how you could predict the future and I thought they were just charlatans out to make a buck by making slick presentations to gullible publics. As Johansen says, however, forecasting is not prediction and this is an important distinction. And forecasting is not about stating what THE future will be like, but to describe possible futures, given certain current trends and a whole lot of imagination and creativity. At this point in time, I do not think that forecasting is about creating fiction, but there is certainly imagination and creativity involved.

In Leaders Make the Future, published in 2012, Johansen talks about possible futures as well as the leadership skills required to navigates, as well as create, those possible futures. While the book title highlights that those skills are required in an uncertain world, Johansen talks in the book about the VUCA World, a world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The term has been around for nearly 30 years and the world has certainly been somewhat volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous for even longer than that, but Johansen states that the extent to which it is so is worsening and will keep worsening for the foreseeable future.

It is interesting that many people still see the world as a place that ought to be stable, predictable, simple and clear. When change occurs, these people may be greatly disturbed but try to reassure themselves that the state of chaos created by the change will only be temporary and is bound to be followed by another era of stability, a new equilibrium. And I certainly see this in my current work environment. We are in a process of reorganization that has been forced by rapid market changes, of a scope and scale than our best business planning people could not foresee. While we have some expectations of volatility and instability (we are in a resource industry), many people are greatly distressed by the lack of predictability of that world.

Recently, some of our leaders were talking about the efforts that are being put in place to find the best way to secure the company’s future in these new market conditions. Someone said “we don’t have the answers yet” which suggests that there are answers to be had and that they will find it, and not the people listening to this communication. Preferable language might have been to talk about prototyping a new form of organization, with the expectation that it will not be THE answer. Very different expectations would come out of that… Instead we talk about optimizing end-to-end processes with specific people in charge of the process blue-printing these changes, and “we will keep you informed”. What about capitalizing on employees’ creativity, mob-sourcing possible solutions, engaging as many people in the process and fostering the kind of sense-making that leads to greater engagement? Instead we get something that looks very much like top-down control, even though we are told we are trying to do something different by considering end-to-end processes instead of local process optimization. What I read between the lines is that we are trying to create an organization that in the end will be resilient enough to navigate the VUCA World, but I am not sure that we are taking the best possible means. Well, let’s give it a try…

As usual, I resort to my own method of handling change, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity… “when in doubt, read a book”… It helps me find ideas and words to translate my own experience and make sense of it.

Reading Johansen has so far been both thought-provoking and reassuring… There are ways to take on change and exercise leadership in the VUCA World.


Johansen, Bob. Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2012.


Change Better: Using a Structured Process to Get Ourselves Through Change


This book by Jeanenne LaMarsh, founder and CEO of LaMarsh and Associates, is a find. It takes basics of change management and applies it to the individual change journey through a structured process. The book proposes a series of templates to help individual analyse situations and understand both how they are affected by change and how they can take action to get through it. LaMarsh describes the 3 states of change: current, desired and delta (i.e. transition). One must understand the current state, define the desired state and define the path in between (the delta). This model does not only talk about actions and steps, but also about managing emotions at every step of way. It is an excellent guide, short of having a coach to hold one’s hand, to get through change. The book makes the application of the model very concrete by relying of a series of case studies, showcasing employees at various levels in the organization, going through different kinds of changes.

There is nothing really new in this approach but the familiarity of the concept used makes it a credible tool. In fact it is similar to the training materials I used in a previous job, as well as to Bridges’ transitions model. It also uses Musselwhite’s change styles. I think that many change practitioners and coaches would find this book very useful. It can be used as a tool as is, or the approach can be personalized depending on the situation. I wish I had found this book last year when we were revising the content of our internal course called “Living Through Change”. It would have provided great material to improve the course.


LaMarsh, Jeanenne, Change Better: Survive – and Thrive – During change at Work and Throughout Life, B2 Books (Agate Publishing), Chicago, IL, 2010.