The Twin Engines of Organizational Change

Aug 14, 2023

I seem to get a reoccurring call for help. The setting and circumstances are different but the request is the same. In the last month or so I have heard a dozen versions of it. Here are four examples—

  • A global NFP executive director is over her head and needs some serious shoring up…quickly. “Steve, can you help me change and grow to become the leader needed to guide our organization to the next season?”
  • A CEO is contemplating recommending a long-term senior VP in his organization for the next CEO seat. “Steve, how hard is it to grow someone to the next level with capabilities they have yet to demonstrate?”
  • A NFP board of directors has placed its president on leadership probation and is not certain what to do. “Can we really transform the president to become a completely better leader?” was the call from the board chairman.
  • A successful business owner is pondering expansion and growth trying to figure out how much risk to apply to innovation. “Should we diversify or double down on our core concept?”

I have been working with leaders and organizations for decades guiding transformational change and helping leaders mature. What really drives us to change and sustains the energy through a transformation process? Today, everyone has a list of causes of change (here’s one example from Simon Sinek.)

In my experience, though, it’s pretty simple. People and organizations rarely change without two things being present.

Weight and Urgencies

Something is heavy enough to demand action, and something happens to make leaders think they have to act “now.” I often call this the twin engines of Big and Now. Few people change and even fewer organizations change without some combination of Big and Now.

Identifying the urgencies (now) and the weight (big) are two of the earliest indicators I extract from a client. That gives me great insight to the likelihood of timely decisions, risks, ability to handle resistance, etc.

Urgencies can be almost anything:

  • A family stressor
  • Downturn in the market
  • A new competitor that is serious and mean
  • Trouble with a partnership
  • Bad health
  • Aging
  • Divorce
  • Hitting forty
  • A window of opportunity
  • Running out of cash
  • Running out of energy and vision
  • Overstaying your skill set
  • Losing your reputation
  • A heavy failure
  • Hyper success

So if you want to grow and change in some area of personal leadership or you are leading a company or organization through some kind of transformation, get a handle on Urgencies and Weight.

That will help you toggle the level of resource allocation and the timing sequence, which are the Achilles heel for transformation whether it is personal or organizational.

I like Top Gun as much as the next person, but the key is to act with intentionality, and not simply speed. As Frank Partnoy describes John Boyd, the great American fighter pilot, the key is to act fast rather than first.

Boyd developed the OODA loop—observe, orient, decide, act. Using this four-step plan of action, you can respond to urgency with focus rather than panic and bring about the right change.


Without Big (weight) and Now (urgencies), no individual or organization is going to change.


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