Food for thought
Last week, professor of Strategic Management Brian Golden visited IFL and gave an interactive workshop on “Leading Multi-level Change that Sticks.” Organizational change and change management are always relevant, with constantly increasing complexity and pace in the world of business and organizations. Though many components in Professor Golden’s change model may have been familiar to participants, he used an innovative teaching aid. The audience watched selections from a BBC television production of a cooking show that generated many ideas and lessons.
The “case” was the ambitious change project declared and executed by British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver: to get British school children to eat healthy food. In other words, it was a huge change project of great consequence. The project, framed as a challenge rather than a change project, was originally documented in the television series “Jamie’s School Dinners,” broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK and in many countries all over the world.
In the workshop, Professor Golden explored issues of change: overcoming resistance to change, using networks and coalition building, stakeholder analysis, timing, the psychology of influence and the role of emotion. Examining the case of Jamie Oliver and the British school dinner, the participants in the workshop were spurred to think about and diagnose the change challenges they face in their own organizations and to share their experiences and how they approached change. The audience was able to identify with parents, kitchen ladies and, of course, children in the cooking program, reminding participants that change goes on all the time in all spheres of society – even on the cooking channel.
From a theoretical standpoint, Professor Golden’s lecture seemed to emphasize change leadership rather than change management by focusing on the emotional dimensions and requisites for successful change. The show illustrated clearly the proposition that change must be managed. It must be planned, organized, directed and controlled. But change also requires effective leadership to succeed. In the words of social psychologist Robert Gill, “Management’s mandate is to minimize risk and to keep the current system operating. Change, by definition, requires creating a new system, which in turn always demands leadership.”
The Harvard Business Review defines management as process and structure, while leadership is defined in terms of relationships. Both are needed. Clearly the relational dimensions were the focus of the television series, telling us something about how our culture views leadership. Watching leaders manage outbreaks of emotion, distress and conflict through leadership triggers our curiosity. Change challenges are truly great entertainment, at least when you experience them on TV. The format for such a TV program emphasizes the leader – in this case, Jamie Oliver – and his or her charisma, vision, and reasoning. The format reinforces the idea of the importance of the leader. Reframing organizational challenges as leadership challenges is clearly intriguing and can teach us a lot, but there is a risk that if we reduce organizational challenges to individual challenges, we may fall into the habit of making leaders too important.
Brian Golden is Professor of Strategic Management at Rotman. He conducts research and teaches in the areas of strategic change and implementation, health system integration and funding, governance, organizational strategy and leadership.