Change Management: Why I Went B-School

By: Benjamin B. Bowman

Change Management. This is the reason why I came to B-school.

Those unedited thoughts reverberated through my head as I ripped the light plastic seal from the spiral bound Notre Dame notebook. A picture of Notre Dame’s infamous “Dome” affixed to the front page appeared to be taken from a bright summer day.

In my backyard, the temperature was about 85 degrees. Jumping into the pool peaked my interest but I also had to hammer out this reading-- the epic battle between head and heart.

I peeked inside the table of contents and read most of the articles the way I prefer to read magazine articles-- out of order and based on the most interesting headlines. Cracking the Code of Change, Leading Change, The Hard Side of Change Management, followed by Tipping Point Leadership.

All of the reading proved to be valuable. But, for now, Tipping Point Leadership resonated with me the most. William Bratton, Chief of Police with the New York Police Department, managed a storybook turnaround for a tattered city commonly referred to as The Rotten Apple.

I found the Bratton’s successes very appealing-- 50 percent drop in murders, 40 percent increase in employee job satisfaction and nearly 40 percent drop in felonies and thefts-- in just two short years. Those numbers, while managing 35,000 cantankerous police officers, was nothing short of incredible or so I thought.

The two authors, W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, explained the methods Bratton used could be applied to many organizations facing the same dilemmas. One of the biggest ideas that stood out to me was that method, and not personality, enabled Bratton to address the following four issues:

(1) Inspiring top performance despite people clinging to the status quo (2) Limited resources (3) Demotivated staff and (4) Opposition from vested interests.

On the issue of overcoming cognitive hurdles, Bratton’s mandate that his staff catch public transportation made staff witness, up close and personally, what was going on in their neighborhoods. Turning a blind eye was no longer an option for staff who might have been only privy to abstract conversations or debate.

I found this particular part of the article interesting given a lively panel discussion I had recently with a senior manager for a national philanthropic foundation.

The central of our conversation was: Is the organization best serving my community by using $100+ million for basketball gyms across the city?

My position can be summed up by the following: the foundation was throwing good money after bad programs because:

(1) The staff gave community what they assumed the community wanted (basketball goals) and not what they needed (education, job training, housing and opportunity).

The decision-making behind how to distribute resources, I argued, was akin to giving your child candy, soda, and marshmallows for dinner rather than vegetables, protein and calcium.

I found her rebuttal pretty incredible: "Our staff is highly trained-- from the best institutions in the world-- and our investments are wise because we implement community and data supported recommendations."

Pretty Intense.

Provoking laughter from the audience, I replied: "sounds like the community needs to cut out the middle person and get a higher wage for lifting themselves up by the bootstraps."

In conclusion, I think that the greatest takeaway for me was the development of a mini framework for analyzing organizational problems and creating solutions to improve organizational problems that boost performance-- both quantitatively and quantitatively.

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