4 Secrets to Leading Change When Your Company Is Already Successful

It’s no secret: Many successful businesses are slow to change. There are hundreds of examples in which corporations have rejected ideas and products that have been left to entrepreneurs to make successful. However, those most affected by this seeming resistance to change are successful organizations; the resistance stems from the fact that what they are doing works.

June 12 2014 by Aubrey Daniels


For those organizations that are successful, if they don’t understand how positive reinforcement works, they will come to find they are a detriment to their own success, and will be slow to change, simply because they are successful.

Be warned: If your organization does change but takes forever to do so, it is still very much at risk. “Rate” of change is the key to future survival. Therefore, what CEOs have to do is lead change when the organization least needs it. It is a true test of leadership. But what happens when these key triggers are not directly in front of you? How do you stay ahead of change? To stay ahead, the CEO should be mindful of the following:

1. Learn the science of behavior. For more than 100 years, the science of behavior has taught us that you get what you reinforce. Understanding and applying its tools and principles throughout your organization will give you a competitive advantage unmatched by any technology or product innovation. For example, an insurance provider completed a top-down overhaul of its company strategy using behavioral methods for strategy execution. Short-term results included a 1,500% rise in net production, and the long-term result is 20+ years of sustained improvement and meeting or exceeding corporate goals.

2. Ensure your infrastructure is innovation-friendly. Make it easy to obtain funds, space and time to work on innovative ideas. Have little paperwork except that related to results of experimental efforts. 3M is an exemplar in this. They just received their 100,000th patent and generate about 3,000 per year. They make innovation easy.

3. Encourage and seek out creative and innovative ideas from all levels. You never know where the next best idea will come from, so you need to ensure that your organization welcomes and reinforces all ideas. Be careful not to build in roadblocks to idea-sharing. Employees should have the ability to present ideas to executive levels, and executives should know enough about behavior to encourage employees to share ideas for making the organization better.

Fuji Electric, at one time, averaged 127 ideas per employee per year. During that same period, U.S. employee suggestions averaged .2 of a suggestion per employee per year. It is difficult for most U.S. managers to believe such numbers. One reason for Fuji’s success was that its managers took the simplest and smallest idea seriously because they knew that when an employee was reinforced for a small idea, he or she was likely to have another possibly larger and more significant idea. With U.S. engagement numbers in the 20%-30% percent range, it’s obvious that we aren’t capturing the creative capacity of all employees.

4. Spend more time listening and less time telling. An engaged workforce will always work harder to be successful than one that is disengaged. Listening and acting on what you hear is one of the keys to building a culture of engagement from the top down. It can only happen when all levels are involved. It starts with the CEO.

In the face of rapid change, the company that is fastest to change is likely to be the winner. By creating an organization where CEOs are doing the items above, you will have an engaged workforce and a culture that stands ready for any change.

Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D., is the founder of workplace consulting firm Aubrey Daniels International and president of the Aubrey Daniels Institute. Dr. Daniels, who coined the term “performance management,” is the author of Performance Management: Changing Behavior That Drives Organizational Effectiveness, Bringing Out the Best in People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, Measure of a Leader, and Oops! 13 Management Practices that Waste Time and Money (and what to do instead). He is a keynote speaker and regularly blogs for Talent Management magazine.