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Gears of Change

Kirjoitettu 25.11.16
Esseen kirjoittaja: Juuso Nieminen
Kirjapisteet: 3
Kirja: To the Desert and Back: The story of one of the most dramatic business transformations on record
Kirjan kirjoittaja: Philip H. Mirvis, Karen Ayas, George Roth
Kategoriat: 4. Johtaminen, 4.1. Johtavat ajatukset, 4.3. Johtamisen ja organisaation kehittämisen työkalut, 4.4. Johtamisen haasteet

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Wake up! Don’t you see what’s happening around you? Market share decreases all the time and workers produce defective products continuously. Let me tell you that this cannot continue like this anymore. And it will soon be too late to do anything about it.

You as a leader must know the importance of change in the organization. To be precise, it is the foundation for success. Leading change in an organization is somewhat leading people in hurry as their life’s would depend on it. This applies as much in personal development as in larger structures. Leader is the one who must first see the need for change and start operations towards growth. In a business environment leader must be ready and aware of the situation all the time so the change process can be implied to the organization early enough.



Leading change in an organization can be seen as a system of gears. There are components which will take company forward towards its goals and in the other hand components which round to different direction trying to slow the process down. This whole system is controlled with proper leadership and management.




To categorize the way of leading change in organization, the key components of change can be sorted into three different phases. These all are necessary to accomplish for the change to be the most effective. This process can be seen in the upper picture and will be explained below in the next chapters. For a leader, turning the gears with lever of leadership and management is very heavy task from the beginning. Furthermore, the leader cannot be prepared to be ready to confront every obstacle even they are well known because every change process differ from each other.

The origins of this whole concept takes its basic ideas from the book To the Desert and Back by Mirvis, Ayas and Roth, which is really inspiring example about leading the process of change in an organization successfully. It tells a story about the transformation in Unilever in the 90’s which staged this company’s unbelievable performance to stand strong also in the future. This story enables us to see how effective leadership can influence people throughout the whole organization.




I. Wake Up Call

What would you do if you wouldn’t wake up every morning? Nothing, because you would be death. And so will be your company if you won’t wake it up from time to time. This first principle of the gear of growth is unbelievably crucial. It puts you in the alarm mode, to be ready to take charge every time it seems that things are getting worse.

Need for wakeup call can be seen in the efficiency of team or organization. People might not recognize how sales go down or some other warning signs such as increased sum of inaccurate products or weak customer service. They will think that everything is O.K. and maybe adding just a little bit more this and that would put everything back in to places. But leader must understand the reality and ask from the people is this really the way they want things to be? For example in Unilever, workers thought that their work was good meanwhile the productivity was going down all the time. They didn’t saw or understood the current reality flawlessly.

The wakeup call can be done in many different ways. It is important to dramatize your thoughts and present them in a shocking way. It can be a diagram of current reality, image of unpleasant future or just an enormous pile of rotten food which have been tossed away because inadequate packaging or other faults on the production line. In the story of Unilever, the last example took its place at the beginning and had an instant effect on people. It might take time to consider the best way to wake up people as they might refuse to accept the alarming situation.


II. Reorganize

If something won’t work well, it needs new structures. When the company has been on a downslope mode for too long time, the wakeup call is not the only thing that is required to turn the organizations course to the path of growth. It requires rebuilding, which will take time to construct.

This reorganizing part might contain layoffs, shattering functions, and recruiting new people or having then relocated in another position in the company. You as a leader have to be the example for others. Dismiss people also from the top end of the company if it is necessary. This whole process can contain risks which sometimes can be essential to grow the business. For example, it might be necessary to employ inexperienced leader to lead the team or invest on some new expensive structures.

Most important thing to remember is that people will make the change. Therefore invest especially on them. Share your time with them and get to know them better. Show your human side as a leader, come down from your ivory tower and connect with workers. Be authentic and really interested in the other people who work under your command. You have to be the first one to trust other people and show them respect. It is the way how real communication can be made. To create real connection with people there must be the bond of emotions.

Leaders should focus on creating an atmosphere where all employees feel that they can share their ideas freely throughout whole organization. Communication is so important in the company that it cannot be mentioned too often. If the communication is inefficient, it will soon lead to misunderstandings and in the worst scenario, to lack of attitude. And to maintain the change successfully there is importance for obtaining the necessity to focus only on things you can change and have under your control.

After the rebuild, it is vital to show the results for people that they will have the feeling of success and motion of going forward. Without it organization will shortly fall back to its old habits. People need to have feeling of onward movement or otherwise they lose their interest and trust towards the change.



How to create the best working team? How to build culture and community? And more importantly, how to turn the course around towards growth? There are some examples which can be found from the book To the Desert and Back.


1. Emotional Lifelines

This particular exercise focuses on knowing others better personally. It helps others to see why someone might act like the way they do when they can hear peoples personal histories. In this exercise people gather together to share their life stories, the ups and downs. With the exemplar of leader all the participants draw a line with hills and downhills adding years to the every important part of their line. Then people share their journeys all the way to the present.


2. Small group workshops

This can mean for example a topic in which team discusses the way how they work together. It can also focus on ways to improve performance or it can be a reflection about how they have worked together in the past. People can also be separated into two groups where others focuses on ways why they should want to change the company’s direction and others will be against it. This enables people to see the whole outlook, what is good at it and why.


3. Free conversations about the topic

There can be a starter for the conversation for example, ”How do you feel about our working environment?” or ”How we should improve our performance?”. This all is good to be done in manners of dialog and conversation method fishbowl can be used as it creates a feeling of togetherness. Openness is really important part of this and sharing your thoughts in the most open way as possible is a way for the leader to connect with people emotionally. This doesn’t mean that you should say everything that comes into your mind but more likely to open up yourself to others. To share the genuine you.


4. Experience together

There are various ways to do this but most importantly you should have fun together and play a lot. But in the end it is necessary to avoid the survival mode when doing outdoor exercises. The acts should not be too rough because then people will not focus to the time they are having together. There is also need for adding enough space and silence because people need these two things to grow. They need to have time to consider things with themselves.


Some experience examples:

– Hard physical work such as mountain climbing, canoeing, cycling, walking in the wilderness or other outdoor activities

– Music, songs and board games

– Apple picking

– Lego building block competition

– Traveling together


III. Share Vision

Humans can achieve remarkable things when they share the image and the vision of the better future together. But that’s not enough to make the most efficient team, people must also live up to the vision. To breath and feel it every day on their everyday tasks. That is the phase when things really turn from the dream into reality. It is necessary that people share the view of the current reality and situation as well.

But how to get people involved to the vision? How to get them to be excited about it every day? Of course this depends of the structure of the organization but one way is to get other leaders behind the vision first and let them share the ideas by themselves. It can be difficult to get people excited about it but for a leader the key is to find a way to create emotional and intellectual bond to succeed. And to state it very clearly, the vision must be compelling. It have to touch people from their hearts. Everybody has to change during the journey to get there and this requires change in mental models and habits as well. Real growth needs everybody behind the vision. Help people to see the opportunities which this vision creates.




I. Resistance To Change

When people hear your worries the first time, they might be surprised. It is not unusual that people feel that when something happens against their current way of acting and doing, it is attack against their personality. This raises a topic about the resistance to change.


”Leaders have to manage emotions to be effective.” – Hans Cornuit, HR Director of UVGN/VdBN


If something is new and unseen it is difficult for most people to accept its healthy effects. Under the surface usually lay basic primitive emotions such as fear and anger. Therefore usually what happens is that people seem to be very skeptical and criticize all the thoughts: ”We don’t need this, why we should do that?”. This is the time for wakeup call to get people to understand the current reality. Turn the mindsets towards collective future. This can be achieved by focusing on customers, markets and rivalries for example, analyzing the way how the company can do its best on these sectors.


II. Individualism

Acting alone might happen when people don’t see the common goals, or they don’t see their part in the whole organization. They might not even know other workers or management board well enough so individualism can occur because they don’t connect with others. It will soon or later lead to a shattered teamwork which is out of focus.

When this happens, organization needs rebuilding. It needs those team building exercises which was described in the reorganizing chapter earlier. Basic line here is that everyone should learn to know the other people from the deep of their hearts. This creates connections which are the foundations for success. Better teamwork happens when people know others better. And this can be only achieved through emotions and openness.


“Improve the performance of individuals and you improve performance of the team. And as the team improves so will the whole organization which will have positive impact on individual again as well.”


To grow, organization needs everybody on board, to act together towards same goals to achieve them. One person cannot never turn the ship around by himself. Therefore leaders should connect the goals of individuals and organizational aims together.


III. Old Habits

Old habits will root very quickly so it is necessary to reflect your work results all the time to improve your performance. To break free of the old structures and habits is a full time job if you want to succeed. And usually it is a process where you take two steps forward and one step back. It will take time and patience to pull off.


”You have to go through the analysis… Because if you allow yourself to continue as you are, results will slowly slide away.”




Process of development happens when people adopt new habits. This enables people to achieve their goals because onward movement happens only when people’s actions change. A compelling vision is one main reason for people to constantly try their best to generate something new.


”You need a very ambitious purpose. If you do not have that, people will fall back into the behavior of the old culture.”



The concept of gears of change is a good reminder for organizations to develop their work. It sums the key components together to create a larger entirety. This will help leaders to understand the guidelines, how change can be implied to organizational structures and gives a hint about the ways to manage it. After all, every process of change is diverse and therefore cannot be achieved in the same manners as it maybe once had. Every method, exercise or wakeup call has to be different to suit the ways of organizational needs and atmosphere.

The organizations must have wakeup calls from time to time. This is important rule for leaders to remember as settling down will eventually lead to failure. It is a constant awareness about the situation which keeps the gears spinning continuously. It enables growth and will eventually lead to success. Now is your time to make it happen.


Juuso Nieminen

Ideaosuuskunta Wire

+358 40 567 3325


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