28 August 2009 • 7:00 am

The Case of the Undermined Change Program – Part V

In Parts I through IV of this case, I recounted the history of an engagement I had several years ago with a particularly challenging client, WorldCo, a division of a large U.S. corporation. We met Reggie, the head of the WorldCo division, Karen, his head of strategy, and Linda, Karen’s deputy (all names and some details have been changed). Please read Parts I, II, III, and IV  now if you haven’t done so already.

The afterglow of the strategy map workshop didn’t last very long. Working closely with Linda, the next step was to recruit people in the WorldCo organization to identify prospective measures for the strategy map objectives. This process was designed to require minimal participation from leadership team members – the work was to be delegated deeper within the WorldcCo organization.

But even with this minimized commitment, we found it quite difficult to reach the eight members of Reggie’s leadership team – not only were they traveling, but they often simply didn’t respond to e-mails and phone calls. When we approached likely persons to become involved in measurement, they were unable to help without the approval of their managers (the members of the leadership team). Without any apparent cause, we had lost our momentum.

During our brief status meeting with Reggie a couple of weeks later, Linda and I (Karen cancelled at the last minute) fully understood the extent of the climate change. Reggie’s engagement was simply gone. He listened to our updates with impatience; each concern was met with a crisp “Got it, move on.” We only got about fifteen minutes of the promised hour with him. He acknowledged our concerns, and said that he would look into it and let us know about our requested actions to get the program back on track.

We never met with Reggie again.

It was later uncovered that not long after the strategy map workshop, several members of Reggie’s leadership team had met, without Reggie or Karen’s knowledge, to discuss their concerns about the strategy management and change programs. As we understood it, the expressed concern was about how much people time the program would entail, and how the leaders simply didn’t see a way to clear enough of their people’s time to do the work properly. It was never clear whether Reggie was informed of this separate meeting, but in retrospect, his loss of engagement may have been a reflection of his disappointment in his people, or in his own lack of real power to change things in WorldCo.

In retrospect, I believe that the post-workshop pushback to the program arose from the leadership team’s realization that the program would result in objective, and public measures of their performance. Rather than rallying around the change agenda, the leadership team rallied around their fear of the program, and were easily able to orchestrate the campaign of benign indifference that was ultimately fatal to the change program. The sabotage that killed WorldCo’s change program, seems all too similar to the tactics now playing out in the healthcare reform debate that is dominating the U.S. today. I shudder to think.


With little support from Karen, Linda made a valiant effort to keep the WorldCo strategy program alive, to no avail. Although she found some opportunity to drive more successful change programs elsewhere in WorldCo’s parent enterprise, Linda soon left the company, and is now an effective independent consultant in the field of strategy execution. Karen, for all of her limited involvement in the heat of the effort, actually accepted a number of public speaking engagements in which she spoke glowingly about WorldCo, her change program, and Reggie’s leadership. But Karen, too was gone from WorldCo within two years. Reggie, of course, was promoted to a senior role in WorldCo’s parent two years later. And Reggie’s change agenda at WorldCo has not yet been accomplished.

Does WorldCo resemble your organization? Have you ever worked for a Reggie? Did you enjoy reading a five-part case study? Do you have a case you’d like to share? Please comment below.

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