Leaders Initiate Change

This is a continuation of my blog post titled Change Management Framework. This content also comes from my Master’s thesis. This part of my thesis describes the three waves of change that leaders initiate in the first three years on the job. This section provides the evidence for Nadler and Tushman’s (1993) change management framework.

This section references a survey by Kepner-Tregoe of 182 senior executives. It also presents Gabarro’s three-wave explanation on the changes that new managers make in their first three years on the job. I am leaving out most of the details of Finkelstein and Hambrick’s review of high-discretion organizations.

My thesis is titled: The Relationship Between Leadership and Change Management.

Leaders Initiate Change

In a survey by Kepner-Tregoe of 182 senior executives, nearly nine in ten executives had undertaken more than five major initiatives in five years (Kepner Tregoe, 1994, p.9).  The table below displays the initiatives mentioned most often in the survey results.

Table 3: Initiatives in the Past Five Years (p.12)

Initiative % of Executives
Setting/implementing strategy


Empowerment/employee involvement


Downsizing/cost reduction


Customer service improvement




Productivity improvement


Gabarro proposed a three-wave phenomenon to represent the relationship between changes new managers make in their first three years on the job (Gabarro, 1987, p.15).  The three waves generally peaked at between 3 and 6 months, 15 and 20 months and 27 and 30 months (See Figure 2).  Gabarro also reported that the second wave was typically the largest and the third wave was the smallest.  Managers allow changes to play out after initiation.  Managers also take time to watch and review the impact of the changes.  Thus, the first wave of changes take place while the manager is still learning about the new organization and applying their previous experience to the situation.  During the second wave of changes, the manager has a greater knowledge of the organization and a new understanding of the situation.  The manager also takes into consideration their success and failures from the first wave.  Thus, the second wave is much greater than the first.  In the remaining years, the managers make only minor changes, or fine-tuning, to their organization.  Gabarro noted that the managers started at different times of the fiscal year and that budget and reporting cycles did not seem to influence the three-wave pattern.

Figure 1: Average Number of Organizational Changes per Three-Month Period Following Succession (p.16)


Gabarro based his research on three sets of field studies over three years involving seventeen management successions of general managers and functional managers in organizations in the United States and Europe (p.3).  While the Kepner-Tregor research shows that senior executives implement changes regularly over time, the Gabarro research provides a pattern to the changes.

In a 1996 study of top executives, Finkelstein and Hambrick examined the relationship between executive tenure and organizational strategy (Finkelstein and Hambrick, 1996, p.86). Finkelstein and Hambrick reference Gabarro’s 1987 study noting that almost all of the actions taken by new managers occur in the first two and one-half years in office (p.86). Finkelstein and Hambrick proposed that there are five seasons in a Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) tenure (p.83). The first three seasons last one to two years each. In the first season, a CEO responds to a mandate. The CEO is committed to a particular paradigm or standard. The CEO has a high degree of task interest, but a low and rapidly increasing knowledge of the task. In the second season, the CEO may or may not be as committed to the same paradigm. The CEO may experiment during this time. The CEO still has a high degree of task interest and a moderate and increasing knowledge of the task. In the third season, the CEO selects an enduring theme. The CEO’s task interest remains moderately high and remains committed to their paradigm. The CEO’s task knowledge is now high and only slightly increasing. In the fourth season (lasting three to five years), the CEO enters a period of convergence. The CEO is now strongly committed to the paradigm with a moderately high degree of task interest. In the final season (all remaining years), the CEO may enter a period of dysfunction. They remain highly committed to their paradigm with a high degree of task knowledge. However, their interest in the task is moderately low and diminishing. The generalizations from this particular study are limited because only CEOs were involved in the sample. Furthermore, it does not distinguish between organizations and industries. However, it provides further evidence that leaders implement strategic changes early in their tenure and later made few changes.

Relationship between Finkelstein and Hambrick studies and the Change Management Framework

The Finkelstein and Hambrick studies (1987, 1990, 1996) are relevant because they show a positive relationship between leaders and strategic change. First, they indicate that leaders tend to initiate change early in their tenure and then taper off. Second, especially the 1987 and 1990 studies indicate that high-discretion organizations, such as those in the computer industry, offer a greater degree of latitude to leaders to implement strategic change. Thus, the computer industry is a good choice for analyzing the relationship between leadership and change management. Combining the Finkelstein and Hambrick studies (1987, 1990, 1996) with the change management framework thus helps to identify two issues:
1. the types of changes that leaders make and
2. where these changes fit into the tenure of a leader

Finkelstein, S. & Hambrick, D.C. “Top-Management Team Tenure and Organizational Outcomes: The Moderating Role of Managerial Discretion”. (September, 1990). Administrative Science Quarterly v35 n3 p484(20).

Finkelstein, S. & Hambrick, D.C. (1996). Strategic leadership: Top executives and their effects on organizations. St.Paul, MN: West Publishing Company.

Gabarro, J. J. (1987). The dynamics of taking charge. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Kepner –Tregoe, Inc. (April 1994).  House divided: Views on change from top management and their employees. Princeton, New Jersey.


Change Management Framework

I was reading over parts of my Master’s thesis recently. I decided that I would publish parts of it online. This part of my thesis describes a change management framework that leaders use. This section is important because I used Nadler and Tushman’s (1993) change management framework to describe the types of changes interviewees provided as an example. That is, I interviewed several leaders about changes that they implemented and used the framework to quantify those changes.

The next blog post titled Leaders Initiate Change from my thesis will provide more proof that leaders tend to initiate change early in their tenure and then taper off.

My thesis is titled: The Relationship Between Leadership and Change Management.

Change Management Framework

In a 1993 article, Nadler and Tushman provide a framework to understand organizational change.  The framework is based on their observations of approximately 25 organizations.  Nadler and Tushman argue that:

  • Changes are either anticipated or reactive.
  • Leaders can plan for anticipated changes in advance.
  • However, reactive changes require a response from leaders after they have occurred.
  • Incremental changes focus on tweaking components of the current paradigm.
  • Changes that require a fundamental shift in the organization’s paradigm are strategic changes (p.227).

They also wrote that organizational changes can be categorized into four types: tuning, reorientation, adaptation, and re-creation (p.228).  Figure 1 below shows how the four types of organizational change relate to each other.

Table 2: Types of Organizational Change (p.228)

  Incremental Strategic
Anticipatory Tuning Reorientation
Reactive Adaptation Re-creation

Tuning is an incremental change that anticipates a future change.  Tuning modifies the current paradigm to ensure that the organization remains efficient.  Adaptation is an incremental change that responds to external events.  Leaders make small modifications to the current paradigm in response to events outside of their control.  However, the current paradigm remains in place.  Reorientation is a strategic change made when leaders determine that the current paradigm will no longer be effective in the future.  The changes will not necessarily involve a sharp break from the past.  However, there will be widespread organizational changes.  Re-creation is a strategic change brought about by external events.  A change in the current paradigm occurs in response to the external events.  Leaders bring about a major break from the past and changes in senior leadership.

Using the change management framework defined above, we can qualify the types of changes leaders make.  Early in a leader’s tenure, he or she may attempt to make strategic changes.  The leader determines if the current paradigm is effective in the current environment.  If not, the leader may initiate a reorientation.  If the hiring of the leader is in response to changes in the current environment, the leader may initiate a re-creation.  The implementation of either strategic change takes place over a one to two year period.  The leader uses an additional two to three year to converge the organization into the paradigm.  Thereafter, the leader maintains the new paradigm and makes only incremental changes in the form of tuning or adapting.

Nadler, D.A. & Tushman, M.L. (1993). “Organizational Frame Bending: Principles for Managing Reorientation” In Jick, T.D. Managing Change: Cases and Concepts (pp. 225-241). Boston, MA: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


What it takes to be a Great Consultant

One of my favorite blog posts is What it takes to be a Great Consultant by Laddie Suk. I have a local copy that I read from time to time as a reminder. I send the link (https://infocus.emc.com/laddie_suk/what-it-takes-to-be-a-great-consultant-the-top-10-list/) to the online blog post to other consultants when discussing this topic. I have also evaluated the performance of other consultants based on these attributes.

Below are the top ten attributes with my recommendations. Please read the original blog posting for the complete context. I will only provide a very brief description of each attribute.

1. Opinionated

The first and foremost thing a consultant needs to have is an informed opinion or, in more “consultantese,” a point of view (POV).

My recommendations are:

  • Watch and listen an experienced (and respected) consultant on how to do this.
  • Be very clear when you are providing advice based on your experience and when the advice is based on industry practice.

2. Pragmatic

Models and frameworks are great, but you need to bring things down to a practical level and consider how to actually design and implement solutions for your clients.

My recommendations are:

  • Separate what happens in theory from what happens in practice.
  • Be clear about what actually happens in practice. Provide examples from your experience when helpful. Be short and to the point.

3. Passionate

No faking here, you’ve got to really care about helping your clients. It’s obvious when someone is doing a job just for the money or takes a passive, careless approach to the work.

My recommendations are:

  • Remember, you became a consultant to make a difference for your clients and they expect you to deliver!
  • You must let people know that you are excited about the opportunity.

4. Resilient

We all have bad days. We all hit brick walls. What distinguishes Great Consultants, however, is the ability to pick themselves up by the bootstraps when things aren’t going well, motivate the team, and keep helping the client to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

My recommendations are:

  • You must have an “I own this” attitude. “I will get this done for you”.
  • Do not spend your time explaining why something is not your fault or why you should not be held accountable. You probably own it if it is part of the project.

5. Business-minded

An area that many consultants in the Talent Development arena lack is business acumen. Understanding how a business operates, what drives decisions, and what makes the industry unique really sets consultants apart.

My recommendations are:

  • You need to be vocal about the importance of revenue and expenses. You need to consider revenue and expenses in your decision-making.
  • Meetings are expensive. Come prepared to a meeting so that everyone is productive.

6. Professional

Consultants should hold themselves to the highest standards of ethics, confidentiality, and integrity. By virtue of your role, you will likely see and hear a lot, and it’s imperative for your clients to trust you.

My recommendations are:

  • Be comfortable with chaos – things are always changing. But we need to appear that we can manage that change.
  • We should be calm during the storm because we own this! Our customers brought us this opportunity because they expected us to get it done no matter what.

7. Curious (but skeptical)

Ask questions, listen, and be professionally skeptical. As a consultant, your value comes in asking the tough questions, culling out the inconsistencies, and driving to the root causes.

My recommendations are:

  • Look for the root cause. Determine the requirements. Write them up clearly and send them out for review. Do not assume that everyone has the same understanding or that there is consensus.
  • The analysis that you provide should be original and beneficial to your client. The analysis should be tailored to their strategy and goals.

8. Resourceful

Know when to enlist help. None of us is an expert in everything, and you should always know:

  1. when it’s time to bring in reinforcements, and
  2. where to go to find them.

My recommendations are:

  • Don’t get stuck on a problem for days. You can always find help quickly via other Subject Matter Experts.

9. Influential

Your ability to influence may be as important as your expertise (if not more so). If you can’t get your client or other stakeholders to buy into the plan, idea, or strategy, then the forward movement stops there.

My recommendations are:

  • You should be continuously communicating with stakeholders. They need to be part of the review and analysis process. They should not be blind-sided by hearing your recommendations on the last day of any project.
  • Review your recommendations with your team in advance.
  • Prepare a quality executive presentations based on your report. Do not introduce new ideas in the presentation that are not listed in your report.

10. Strategic (and tactical)

Seeing the big picture and connecting dots may be some of the most important value you bring to your clients. They are in the thick of things and being pulled in various directions.

My recommendations are:

  • Provide an analysis that shows if the client can achieve their strategy with their current process. You must clearly state their strategy and their current state.
  • Provide recommendations with practical steps on how the client can achieve their strategy by changing their current process.
  • Be prepared to discuss how your recommendations worked for other clients.

In conclusion, I very much appreciate having the 10 consulting attributes as a reference. They have helped me considerably. The recommendations are my own and are based on my own experience.