Leading Organizational Change through large group interventions

I like to watch people dancing. In some cities during the summer there are some places where you can find a DJ or people drumming while everyone manages to integrate in the larger group. People may be dancing with different steps, but everyone is contributing to the sense of harmony with their own movements.  I see strength, coordination, passion.  However, in more structured environments, like in a wedding, when you see couples dancing at the same time every couple or person is following their own direction. Everyone is achieving their personal goal, but they don’t feel like a group with a bigger goal.

Something similar happens during meetings. If the meeting doesn’t call for everyone’s collaboration, the more people you have in the meeting, the less gets done. There is no sense of harmony and everyone is trying to achieve their own goals. Unless of course you organize a large group meeting with the large group in mind. The way of organizing and facilitating critical mass meetings is radically different than a regular business meeting, as it needs to allow people’s creativity and energy be explored and used effectively.

If you haven’t been into a Search Conference, a Participative Work Redesign,  a World Cafe, an Open Space or similar interventions, it’s time for you to check it out. Large group interventions, also called  Critical mass events, are the kind of events that can really generate Change with a capital C in an organization. They’re based on the Socio-Technical Systems Theory, that approaches OD analyzing the organization in three levels, allowing people to have a whole systems view:

  • Outside forces – customers, market forces, community, competitors, and change
  • Technical systems – the processes used to create and deliver products and services
  • Human side of the organization – rewards, motivation, talent development  and the relationship among people

This has created a “new” (although it has been around for several years) way of leading change in organizations. Instead of having a committee that would collect data about the organization, which is a slower and biased way of promoting change, that requires the committee being able to sell the change initiatives to the organization, now we can bring the entire system in a room and work intensively in designing initiatives that consider everyone’s point of view. In this way, the changes will be sustained as people that participate (and whose voices are heard) will be already committed to new ways of working. Everyone who can make a decision is in the room, so there is no need to wait weeks for an answer.

Working this way also has the benefit of improving teamwork, increasing employee engagement and working more efficiently, because the system can re-design the way it works and get rid of the processes that no longer support the organization’s goals.

If your organization needs a real change, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about a large group intervention.

Person/job fit mistakes and how to prevent them

A little quote

An HR executive I met years ago used to say: Having the wrong person in a position creates additional expenses to the company. When they make a mistake, it will cost the company.  You will pay the  cost for their mistakes (not doing things right on time),  the cost of repairing them,  the cost of re-training people or firing/hiring again and the cost of the bad example for the rest of the employees.  

I have seen some mistakes in my 15 years of experience, and yes, some of them are learning opportunities, but the truth is, the cost of the mistake is often higher than what we learn from it.

Why is this important?Right-Job-Match

Recruiters and HR planners usually try to prevent this problem by hiring/promoting the person who already has all the experience needed for the role. What they probably forget is that people that are career-minded will challenge themselves and look for positions where they can acquire NEW competencies.  I often see middle-management jobs that require 8 or more years of experience in a similar role and industry, which is very good indicator that the company may not invest much in Talent Development and that the people that applies is no longer looking for something exciting and challenging.

Experience does not mean competency. We tend to forget that is not the same to have 5 years of experience in recruitment, than to repeat a year 5 times. This is the reason why we should hire by competencies, not by experience, although competences might take more time to be assessed. A simple way of doing it is with the behavioral interview, which you probably know already.  Another one a little bit more complex is through cases, where you ask the job seeker to work in a case that s/he could work on when hired. The case has to be prepared carefully to provide relevant information and then discussed to understand why the candidate took those decisions.

In places where there is a lot of diversity in the workforce, using cases could also be a fair tool to select the best candidates. There are cultures that traditionally have a stronger presence, cultures that we don’t appreciate due to a stereotype, and people who haven’t taken/mastered the local accent yet and can be easily discarded on the screening of a regular interview.

If you want to go with a Case interview, don’t forget the following points:

-Prepare and include all the information that the candidate will need to solve the case.

-Write down the instructions on the case description,  and describe the points that will be evaluated.

-Give the candidate enough time to prepare it and the resources needed.

-Organize the case information in a clear way and ask someone else to read it.

-Ask questions related to the case and to the analysis process. Make a clear assessment of the competencies and the level of development that the candidate has.

-Be fair. Tell the candidate what the interview is about in advance (tell them it will be a practical case, I don’t mean disclosing the topic of the case).


Making sure that you have the right person in the right place will only increase the talent pool, the employee morale, and the profits of the company.

Why is difficult to sustain Change?

Several companies fail in their attempts to achieve excellence. A common reason is that the so much needed change wasn’t planned or implemented properly, and it will be rejected by the organization, as the organizations are auto-regulated (autopoiesis, Maturana dixit). Often, companies (or consultants) use a packaged change program: “Whatever worked for X company is good enough for company Y.”  Additionally, everyone wants a quick fix that makes them look better in no time, and more often than not, structural changes are messy.

We often forget that things that developed or deteriorated for years, cannot change in a couple of weeks, with just a few meetings. We need to change people behavior and often, beliefs.  As this is frequently a very important and not always  evident obstacle for change: organizational defenses.

To achieve organizational excellence, organizations should focus on learning, competence and justice, instead of morale, satisfaction and loyalty which are the frequent concerns of HR, as Chris Argyris says. Learning will allow us to detect errors and correct them; competence will help us to solve problems definitely and justice will improve the organizational health. Regardless of the change agents’ efforts, if the organization doesn’t really focus on these three issues, change won’t be sustainable.



Argyris mentions seven worldwide errors that top management considers crucial, and that have been proved through research:

1. Actions intended to increase understanding and trust often produce misunderstanding and mistrust.  Think of all these meetings that large companies have between the head office and a local office.  Head office executives think that everything has been cleared out and local office executives wonder what is the head office really planning to do.

2. Blaming others or the system for poor decisions. No one likes to take the blame, and no one wants to admit they made a mistake.

3. Organizational inertia: the tried and proven ways of doing things dominate organizational life. We have all heard the typical comment: “it has always been done this way”, or “I don’t have the authority to change it”. People tend to stick with what they did yesterday, often forgetting that if there is a new competitor, new technology or new need, what worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today.

4. Upward communications for difficult issues are often lacking. No one wants to bring the bad news,  Upward communication from employees often disappears at management level.

5. Budget games are necessary evils. Everyone in a medium or large company knows the different applications of this defense.  People tend to undersell to make sure that they can deliver, conceal unattractive programs in a more attractive one, require authority from different parties to make difficult to come to an agreement, promise future results instead of being clear on what the program does, etc.

6. People don’t behave reasonably, even when it’s in their best interest. A lot of irrational responses can be found here: rejection, indecision, procrastination, sabotage, lack of follow-up, etc.  People think that just by being (or appearing busy) things will change or fade away.

7. The management team is often a myth.  



There is no magic pill to change our behavior in organizations, but we can start by understanding these errors and finding which ones apply to our organization. We need to process our fears and work as individuals and in groups, to understand what is happening to our organization and what do we need to do to change it. We need to get rid of the “fancy footwork” that protects this defensive routines.  We need to understand and challenge the assumption that is behind each defensive behavior.

When we talk about changes that impact the entire organization, there is never too much communication or training.  But both process should be a two way path. We need to listen and learn what is really happening in the organization.  Our Change  Management efforts cannot be superficial, otherwise we risk the trust the organization may have on it.

We need to unlearn and re-learn a new model of thinking. Analysis, reflection and humble inquiry are needed if we are to get to the bottom of these defenses.

Do you have any example of question? Please, share it in the comments section.

Managing Change vs. Leading Change

Some days ago, I attended a conference and realized Lewin’s change model is still in use. The simplicity of the model is useful to illustrate the process, but in my perspective, it could be misleading.  If we haven’t experienced a deep transformation process, we can think the change process is linear and looks like this:

Lewin change model

It consists in providing the conditions for people to see what needs to be changed and why, what resources do they have and which ones they need.  Then, during the change process it refers to planning and adopting new practices, and modifying behavior to adapt to change. Finally, coming back to the normal conditions, using and incorporating change.

In a strict sense and in retrospective, an organizational change may look like that. However, transforming human behavior is not so easy and for sure it’s not linear.

The ADKAR model developed by Prosci, is one of the most comprehensive models businesses use nowadays.


Regardless of the type of change your organization is going through, understanding the stages of change will reduce confusion, but having more clarity on what are the pitfalls and what is needed to move from one stage to another is relevant.  However, as John Kotter says,  it is important to remember that managing change is not the same as leading change. “Management” implies a system or process that can and should be constantly monitored, whereas “Leadership” suggests assembling and inspiring a group of people who will design and own a self sustaining program.

A lot of companies talk about Change managers (or even champions), when what they actually need are Change leaders that can instill the urgency to change and motivate the entire organization to go through an unpredictable, difficult and long process, that will end up changing the culture of the company. We need to remember that although the goal may be the same, the process is quite different and therefore, requires a different set of skills.


I’m sharing this experience with the intention of inviting my two readers to reflect on the common misconceptions we have when our knowledge of a certain topic is not extensive. As a tourist, and even as a temporary worker, it’s easy to believe that we understand the culture of a country, when in reality, we’ve only dipped our toes into a different world. There is an additional layer of difficulty when we’re not really proficient in the local language.

Over the years, I’ve learned that a lot of people tend to think that Latin America is mostly beaches, colonial cities, and old buildings. Also, I’ve seen that people who are not familiar with other cultures tend to imagine that immigrants from the Third World are mostly refugees running away from poverty and crime. And while in a general sense, we all look for a safer and better place to live,  a lot of immigrants come from a not-so-impoverished place. Latin America is huge and encompasses all these contrasting realities.


While working and studying in Canada the last 6 years, I have been exposed to  several organizations, national and international large companies, as well as small local companies, and I did not find any unknown and exceptional practice, except for fairly new trends, such as recruiting using Social Media, or designing training for mobile devices.

Furthermore, in different occasions I found outdated practices and when I designed new projects, part of my inspiration frequently came from projects I did ten years ago.  Of course, I realize that this contrast is due to organizational competencies and individual skills, and not because is a regional or national trend.

Latin America  has a lot of  industrialized cities, with large companies that have cutting-edge technology and practices. Cities that have a bigger population than Canada, for example, tend to become industrialized, have high level of competition, welcome foreign investments and are not limited to a certain type of industry. Foreign companies continue using their own global practices, perhaps adapting them to the reality of the market. I had the opportunity to see how the Japanese, North American and Mexican practices were integrated in one culture in our plant.

Professionals from industrialized third-world cities are quite similar to the first-world professionals: they tend to travel to different countries, read relevant books and other resources from global experts, and network with professionals from any number of countries.  I went to Brazil in 2010 and met people from Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil that were using the same techniques than our colleagues in the US and Europe.

Additionally, it is not unusual that these professionals learn different languages, obtain Master and PhD degrees (regardless the country where they’re offered), and are open to learn, try and adapt best practices, to meet their needs.

I would like to share a reflection that my husband had when talking with someone from NASA who said that they have the “brightest minds” from India and other countries:  NASA probably has the brightest minds that were willing to immigrate to the US.  Often, the brightest minds will stay in their own countries, unless there is no real opportunity to grow there.

As HR/OD professionals, we need to remember that talent and innovation need to be cultivated, and both are needed to generate competitive advantages. If we hire people that we are familiar with, that watched the same movies, read the same books, went to the same schools, we’re excluding our organization from the rich and abundant experience other people have.

Change Management competencies

“The Opposite of Resistance is Assistance”. Steven Fieldman

The first time I heard about Change Management at work, it was from one  of my colleagues saying that organizational change processes are similar to upgrading a plane while it’s still flying. Unfortunately, we cannot stop all that we’re doing, change and then resume our activities.

Frequently, organizations engage in a change process without any help or only with the support of a Project Manager, forgetting that when there are people involved, additional support needs to be provided. Although Project Managers could be aware of the resistance from the people involved, their skills are not necessarily the right ones to create the engagement needed to facilitate and sustain the change.

Change Management specialists have a different skill set than PMs, as CMs will evaluate organization readiness and work through the resistance to change, while PMs are more concerned about resources and following the plan, in order to deliver on time and budget.

From my experience,  these are the most important competencies that are needed:

Behavioral Competencies

  • Analysis, decision making, strategically savvy
  • Persuasion and influencing
  • Emotional intelligence to deal with pressure, setbacks, etc, (including self-awareness and and a genuine interest for understanding other people’s behavior)
  • Systems Thinking
  • Negotiation/persuasion
  • Communication
  • Patience and Optimism
  • Flexibility

Functional Competencies

  • Keen business sense
  • Project Management
  • Organizational change
  • Process facilitation
  • Group Dynamics


What do you think? Please, share it in the comments section.