Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, Michael Roberto on Change Management

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Michael Roberto on Change Management
June 2007 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary

Prof. Michael Roberto
Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI.

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  • How do you identify the key constituents of a change management program (in the course of a turnaround plan) and convince them?
    You have to understand who has the power and the status in an organization, as well as who are the key influencers. In the hospital, Levy learned the dynamic of the culture. He learned how the department chiefs had a great deal of power and status, that they had largely been lords over their fiefdoms in the past. However, he also learned how the nurses were the glue that really held things together. They influenced a great deal of others throughout the hospital. So, he worked hard to get their buy-in early on.

  • You have highlighted four phases of persuasion campaign. Can you briefly tell us about those four phases?
    I think that we described these in quite a bit of depth in the article. I think I would simply highlight one of the phases which often is overlooked. Levy was very effective at "managing the mood." He kept his finger on the pulse of the organization and he seemed to know precisely when to give people a morale boost, as well as when they might be becoming complacent and thus needed to be challenged a bit more. A good example of this is Interview 5 when the layoffs had taken place. People were feeling a bit down. He let them grieve a bit, but then he knew that he needed them looking forward, not back. So, he crafted a letter to all employees, just after the local football team won the Super Bowl. It was an uplifting message, likening the hospital's ability to tackle the obstacles ahead with the unlikely victory over a much more acclaimed opponent by the local football team.

  • Levy's turnaround success clearly demonstrates his leadership style. What if earlier leaders also followed the similar approach and leadership style and yet were unsuccessful? What options do you think Levy would have had?
    I think the key is that Levy studied what earlier leaders had done, diagnosed why they had failed and then "explicitly" chose "not" to do what they had done. He knew that repeating their mistakes would be fatal. He not only chose to be different, but was very upfront with employees as to why he was choosing a different approach.

  • What is the best way to go about in implementing a change management program during a turnaround plan— (a) A top-down approach, (b) A bottom-up approach or (c) A combination as it happened in the case of BIDMC's turnaround?
    It's always a combination. Much too much has been written about topdown vs. bottom-up. It's always best to avoid the extremes and use a skillful combination.

  • What is "managing the mood" all about? Why is it important?
    Good question! I answered that a few moments ago. It's a critical phase in any turnaround.

  • You have observed that, "Dysfunctional routines (by contrast) are barriers to action and change. They are persistent but are not unchangeable." What are these dysfunctional routines? How important is their understanding to a leader during a turnaround plan?
    One example of a dysfunctional routine is the "culture of no" that Gerstner discovered when he arrived at IBM. A culture of no is when everyone in the organization seems to feel empowered to say no, to reject ideas, but no one seems willing to say yes, to commit to a plan and take ownership for its implementation. A culture of no is when a culture of cynicism has emerged. You often find it when there are powerful unit heads in an organization, who use their power to exercise veto power over key initiatives. Gerstner showed that the key to building a successful change program is to dismantle the culture of no, but not to replace it with a culture of easy agreement. Instead, what you want is a culture of constructive conflict, one in which tough decisions are made in a timely manner once an open dialogue has taken place.

  • What lessons can be learnt from Paul Levy's successful turnaround at BIDMC?
    So many lessons! As we have seen, the biggest lesson is that leaders need to "till the soil" before embarking on a transformation. They shouldn't announce their plans and then begin persuading… but instead, they must begin the process of persuasion before they even announce their plan for the future.

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