Engagement isn't working. Here's why.

Engagement isn't working. Here's why.

We are the most disengaged people in the history of work!

We are disengaged because of perceived poor leadership and bad management. The figures correlate quite well.

  • 86% of employees believe there is a leadership crisis
  • 85% of employees are disengaged
  • 75% of employees say their boss is the worst part of their job


This costs the U.S. economy $860 billion annually. And that's a conservative figure. It might be as much as $1.06 trillion. 

But what's $200 billion between friends? 

Note, these figures only refer to the U.S.A. Globally, the figure is in the trillions. 

You want evidence? 

Things are slowly getting worse. We've become static. Locked into leadership, management and organisational theories and practices that have no place in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. 

It's not really managers' and leaders' faults. They are generally decent people. But they've been trapped into following outdated ideas and theories. And we don't know how to get out of them. As Jeffrey Pfeffer writes,

The enormous resources invested in leadership development have produced few results. Estimates of the amount spent on it range from $14 billion to $50 billion a year in the United States alone.

So, what to do? It's a big task and some difficult truths need to be processed.

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How to get the best out of original thinkers during complex change

How to get the best out of original thinkers during complex change

Our businesses are crying out for creative, original thought. But we are training it out of our children. And developing management practices that inhibit it.  

In this post, I will look at how the practices of change management are hindering original thought. And preventing the people who can best help the change succeed from being involved.  

Why are original thinkers so much more creative than the average human being? 


This is the question that has made Adam Grant famous. He's arguably the leading organisational psychologist in the world today. The youngest tenured professor at Wharton. The top-rated professor for five straight years.

He's one of the world's 25 most influential management thinkers.The author of two New York Times best-selling books. And a number one national best seller. 

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Does 70% of change fail? If so, so what?

Does 70% of change fail? If so, so what?

What do we know about organisational change ? We know that most change is step based, underpinned by Kurt Lewin's unfreeze-change-refreeze model. We know that it causes a lot of psychological and emotional stress for those experiencing it. And, according to HBR, 70% of it fails. 

But is that all true? 

Recently, we've discovered that Lewin's foundational step-based change model doesn't exist. He didn't design a model. He didn't even write unfreeze-change-refreeze. He just speculated, in a tiny minor subsection, that you might think of change like this. It was made "real" by one person telling us that's what Lewin thought ten years after Lewin's death. And then many other people assuming he wrote it (of which I was once guilty).

So, no surprise that 70% of change fails, huh? If the model sucks, then change will suck. But does it?

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Our Irrational Fear of the Negative Employee

Our Irrational Fear of the Negative Employee

Conditions of change. The only constant for leadership, management and organisation. How to plan change. How to implement change. How to react to change. How to cope with change. 

How do people deal with conditions of constant change?  Research suggests in three ways. In the exciting terminology of business, people can be early adopters or late adopters to change. In between, a range of middle-stage adopters. You can read vital research on the exact percentages if you wish. 

This article is about how badly we understand the middle-stage adopters. How our fear of failing to change has marginalised them. And turned them into focus pieces.

Marginalised focus! That's oxymoronic. A paradox. How can this be?

Because change "science" tells us we must focus our efforts on this group. Work hard to get them accept and cope with change. Train, teach, guide, cajole and bully them. For if they don't go along with it, then change overpowers the company. Hence the focus. 

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HBR says, "You Can't Fix Culture!" Well, duh!

HBR says, "You Can't Fix Culture!" Well, duh!

The cover of HBR's April 2016 issue. Big, bold and bright orange. You Can't Fix Culture! An article explaining how culture emerges from good business practice. It's not something you can impose. Or design. Or change from the top. It just happens. 

This challenges conventional thinking about culture. And about time. But it doesn't go far enough. 

It only looks at how a few CEOs have launched new initiatives that are more strategically purposeful than the standard cultural model. A new culture will then supposedly emerge from the new purposeful direction. It's a shift. But not much of one. It's still about designing culture. Just from a different direction. 

It's not widely known, but there is a bunch of research that predicted what HBR is now saying.  Some of it written a quarter of a century ago. Shows how the culture model is decaying. Illustrates the environmental conditions of a failing culture. And the characters who live in it. 

But those that write for HBR rarely read this type of research. Because it isn't "serious" enough. Isn't manager-centric enough. Is too critical. Too challenging. 

But, hey, HBR has made a strong claim. So let's take this opportunity to talk about this research. On a public forum full of professional people. See if it strikes a chord. Because it's too important not to extend the argument. Make it deeper and richer. Try and put out there. 

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How to Survive (and Thrive in) Organisational Change

How to Survive (and Thrive in) Organisational Change

Moan, moan, moan ... the change management industry doesn't comprehend change ... moan, moan, moan ... recruiters have developed socio-technological constructs and methods that actively prevent them from finding the type of candidate employers are looking for ... moan, moan, moan ... models of personality aren't worth the paper they are printed on ... moan, moan, moan ... 

That's what my wife tells me my LinkedIn posts read like. She says, "it's all very well to complain, but where are your answers?"

Well, OK then....

Nobody is an Island

When people talk about organisational change, they generally mean changing the behaviour of the organisation on a wide socio-technological scale, introducing new cultural modes of behaving and new ways of doing things (systems and processes). They don't actually realise that the most important point of change is themselves. You cannot be a static island when everything else is fluidly swimming about around you. You will end up having your shores slipping away, your habitat exposed and your relevance blown away by ever-increasing turbulent winds.

We have slipped into a mindset that people should be "authentically themselves" at work, which, for me, suggests we should always guard against our core-self being changed by the chaotic ambiguity of change-based stresses and emotions swirling around us. I don't think it is a particularly helpful image. Flexibility of self is as natural to us as breathing. We constantly differentiate between requirements to be caring, forceful, helpful, demanding, relaxed, energetic, studious, active (and many more) during everyday activity. We make snap behavioural decisions thousands of times without any cognitive or psychological stress. We switch between different personas often and without a second thought. Somehow this has been forgotten in a desperate rush to discover our real, authentic selves! And that's not good. 

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Why Change Fails: 3 Things to Think About

Why Change Fails: 3 Things to Think About

Jon Kotter, Ken Blanchard and McKinsey & Company say 70% of change or transformational programmes fail. IBM are more optimistic, suggesting about 60% fail. Harvard Business Review notes that this rate of failure has been consistent for 45 years. Reviewing this, they note:

The content of change management is reasonably correct, but the managerial capacity to implement it has been woefully underdeveloped.

This, of course, places the blame squarely on the leaders, managers and organizations that fail to change. The change agent gets off scott free, having delivered a working model and only been let down by entrenched and resistant attitudes. Is this a fair summary? Let's hope so. What would be terrible would be an industry worth billions of dollars per annum promising one thing (evidence-based, professionally managed successful change) and delivering something else (chaotic, ambiguous uncertainty that requires mental fortitude, wittily innovative thinking and, possibly, blind luck to struggle through).

They say it is a sign of insanity to continue doing the same thing and expecting different results. Is the change management industry insane or is it right to criticise poor leadership and management for its continuous failure to successfully deliver change?

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Everything You Know About Change Is Wrong

Everything You Know About Change Is Wrong

Everything you know about change is wrong. And I mean everything. A recently published essay written by Todd Bridgman, Stephen Cummings and Kenneth Brown uncovers the following. 

  1. There is no theory underpinning the foundational model of change management
  2. Further elaborations of the theory by academics and consultancy firms, therefore, have no underlying foundation on which to rest
  3. Contemporary conditions of constant change make this non-existent foundational theory obsolete, but it’s still pretty much all we’ve got.
  4. Given the above, it’s not very surprising that research into the successful implementation of change suggests two-thirds of change initiatives fail. As change models are built on smoke and mirrors, perhaps we should be applauding the great success rate!

Now, if I were a leader who’d just sanctioned another $100 million change program and just discovered this, I’d be angry. Very angry. Livid even.

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Resilience and Self-Awareness during Culture Change: The Socratic Example

Resilience and Self-Awareness during Culture Change: The Socratic Example

You are reading the blog of the ironic manager website and are hopefully somewhat interested in the relationship between irony and organisational change. Now, it seems to me that you can't talk about irony without mentioning Socrates. I could talk about Socratic irony for hours but (a) you'd stop reading after the first paragraph and (b) it would take me equally as long again to explain the theoretical resonance between irony and organisational change. In short, it would be a waste of time for us both. What I'm going to do instead is use Socrates as an exemplar of two de rigueur psychological qualities of great transformational leaders in uncertain, ambiguous and changing environments; resilience and self-awareness.

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Changing the Model for Playing Tennis in Australia

Changing the Model for Playing Tennis in Australia

Having read this very interesting post about declining participation in tennis in the UK and been part of similar conversations in Australia, I thought I'd leave behind my usual academic geekiness and give my two cents worth on why tennis in both countries is struggling. Although I will generally refer to the Australian system, I believe much of what I say still pertains to the UK. 

I was one of the lucky few invited to participate in the Tennis Australia Places to Play conference in 2012, from which I took away a lot of inspiration and excellent information. I also met lots of people extremely passionate about tennis in Australia. The conference was fundamental towards my building a working relationship with Paul Hoysted, once a board member of Tennis NSW and, in my opinion, one of the best and most innovative tennis coaches in the country.

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