Getting Change Right

"Shared value takes place when people get together to construct the meaning of a new idea or application. Imposed value happens when one person or one group sends an idea out – as if all that is required is that others understand their intentions."

- Getting Change Right, page 1

Everything changes.

…or needs to change, especially organizations. And without a true understanding of how positive change really happens in a large corporation, you’ll either be running in place or causing damage like a two-year-old at a glass sculpture art gallery.

Seth Kahan, an international consultant, and practicing expert on the subject of large scale change, offers a practical, hands-on guide for managers or anyone responsible for change efforts within an organization. He shares proven strategies that will help make change stick and be supported by all stakeholders.

Do you know how to communicate so people get it and spread it? Interactions that create more interactions are the kind that catapult an idea to the masses and increase the speed of change. Seth shows you how to engage people at multiple levels.

Do you have performance communities? These are self-organized communities focused around a common set of goals that break down organizational silos and provide a forum where people can safely collaborate and learn from each other. Cultivating these groups clears more roadblocks to effective change.

Those are only a few of the key concepts. More juicy strategic details are covered as the author leads you through every possible step of implementing a large change initiative.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Build Social Construction

"Getting change right is less about producing communiqués and more about cultivating relationships. This is a true paradigm switch – from a model in which you design and assemble messages to one in which you till, plant, nurture, weed, and harvest affinities."
- Getting Change Right, page 33

The old model is dead. Unfortunately, people are still using it. And then they wonder why it’s not working.

I’m talking about the standard communication model that was originated in 1949 by Shannon and Weaver in The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Kahan explains that this model, which played a great role in the information revolution, is completely inadequate for helping people make meaning – a critical element in the rapid spread of new ideas. It states that you have an information source that develops a message that is sent using a transmitter. The signal travels and encounters noise on its way to a receiver where a subsequent message is delivered to a destination.

Although this model is great for sending digital signals, it doesn’t work too well for humans trying to make sense of the bombardment of messages they receive.  Making meaning is much more complicated, and it’s why we need interaction with others if we want to truly learn or understand something.

These interactions help us develop our ideas, place them in context, and make them relevant to our experience. We construct our understanding through a collective project, so Seth calls it ‘social construction.’

Social construction is a way of looking at how people build a common understanding and negotiate their way into the future. Some core principles are:

  1. How we understand the world is based on relationships
  2. We do not all interpret the world in the same way
  3. Challenging our assumptions is vital for improving performance

Without social construction, your communication is dusting off an old model, where your signal, transmitter, and receiver are just creating static.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Lead Conversations that Engage

"…it is absolutely critical that first contact is made by listening and learning, not propagating an agenda."
- Getting Change Right, page 36

Throughout the book, Seth Kahan explains how to engage people individually. His tactics always make complete sense. But they take effort.

Seth describes three steps he always uses for initiating contact as part of a big change initiative.

  1. Seth’s sponsor introduces him as a neutral party by email and asks for 15 to 30 minutes of their time to fill him in on the situation.
  2. Seth makes contact with each to arrange a time to speak, never sending a mass email, but makes it personal in order to build a relationship he can leverage as they work together.
  3. Once in contact he tells the person that the goal is to do the right thing with the initiative, and tries to best understand their point of view, asking questions and reflecting back what he hears.

This is a strategy that I plan on doing more often, even if I’m not part of a big initiative.  I know when I connect with people individually, I get much more of the story, where they are coming from, their opinions and dreams, and I build the relationship and rapport. People like to be heard. It’s fresh air in a large corporation.

Conversations that engage happen when people contribute because they want to. When enthusiasm spreads on its own, you know you’ve made a connection.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Accelerate the Speed of Buy-In

"Your job as a change leader is to enter the worlds of your stakeholders, learn what they value, and find ways for your idea to help them achieve that as quickly as possible."
- Getting Change Right, page 20

Kahan tells the story of how he brought two opposing groups into a room together and asked why they were there. After a lot of silence, they began to open up and share their true feelings. This cleared the air and allowed each person on the team to see how they could add value, which then led to committed action.  This volunteer action, based on alignment with the purpose, is pure buy-in.

Among Seth’s ‘13 Techniques for Accelerating Buy-In’ are:

  • Create a team of change agents
  • Replicate your team
  • Distribute easy-to-understand teaching tools
  • Build a web of thought-leaders and partners
  • Follow enthusiasm and commitment
  • Create time to talk to others
  • Dedicate space for conversation

Lasting change isn’t about answering to authority, it’s about getting people to make the changes on their own because they believe it’s the right thing.

Getting people to believe is a lot more difficult task then just having them change the way they do things. Much of the ‘belief’ required is the belief that they can actually change things and make a difference in a large corporation. Many people will feel the same way about a policy, but because they don’t connect or know how many other people believe the same way they do, they don’t speak up.  Accelerating Buy-In is making this belief pervasive first, then spreading the specific change that is built together by all the stake holders.


There are many ways to change things within an organization, but getting it right means that the change is sustained, no matter what forces bear their influence. And what sets a change deep into the daily operations are the people and relationships that bind them together.

What changes have you seen stick and can you say why?

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Rex Williams

ABOUT Rex Williams

I'm a curious connector of people and ideas. I crave learning new things and invoking a creative twist to my methods. By day, I work as an engineer, general problem solver (and recently video producer) at the Boeing company as I fight the status quo and start movements, but after work I hang out with entrepreneur and rabble-rouser types online (like this group...
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