Rosabeth Moss Kanter

The Change Master

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Ideas from the ground up to the clouds …

Posted by rosabethkanter on April 23, 2010

Vanguard companies attempt to shorten the loop between society and solutions, but they also face the issue of deploying solutions widely – the diffusion of innovations. Close connections from the outset between developers and users are one clear facilitator. IBM researchers develop prototypes and improve on them through frequent communications with users or even location in customer facilities, as happened in the Philadelphia.

A second way to facilitate diffusion is to pick a demonstration site carefully and offer proof of concept by showing the innovation in use. This is what IBM did with the World Community Grid.  They took ideas from the ground and brought them up to the clouds … Read more in this SuperCorp excerpt.


Posted in Corporate Citizenship, Innovation, Smarter Communities | 1 Comment »

3 “ME’s” of Leadership (Excerpt from Confidence)

Posted by rosabethkanter on February 26, 2010

Leaders deliver confidence by espousing high standards in their messages, exemplifying these standards in the conduct they model, and establishing formal mechanisms to provide a structure for acting on those standards.

Espouse: the power of message. Leaders articulate standards, values, and visions.  They give pep talks. Their messages can incite to action when that is appropriate, or they can calm and soothe people to prevent them from panicking. We saw in Chapter 2 that pep talks are empty without evidence, so let’s call this “grounded optimism” – positive expectations based on specific facts that justify the optimism.  In the strong cultures that develop in winning streaks, leaders’ messages are internalized and echo throughout the system.  Players on the North Carolina women’s soccer team seemed to have Anson Dorrance’s voice in their heads.  At Continental Airlines, numerous people in a variety of jobs quoted Gordon Bethune’s favorite sayings.  From the Go Forward Plan to Bethune’s weekly voicemails, people learned from what Continental leaders espoused.  The messages provided practical information, inspiration, and a feeling of inclusion, as everyone knew everyone else heard the same message.

Exemplify: the power of models.  Leaders serve as role models, leading through the power of personal example. “I don’t believe as a leader you can ever expect anybody to do things you are not willing to do yourself,” said Mike Babcock of the Mighty Ducks.  The leaders I saw in winning streaks and turnarounds sought to exemplify the kinds of accountable, collaborative behavior they sought in others.  Certainly the personal example of truth and reconciliation, inclusion, and empowerment set by Nelson Mandela reflected one of the most remarkable and admirable personal journeys of the twentieth century.  In a different country and different way, Akin Ongor of Garanti Bank was an inspiring business role model with courage, and compassion – offering to resign when he discovered that the bank had lost $14 million due to a junior manager’s mistake that control systems had not caught because he said he “shared the mistake,” or mobilizing the bank’s employees to help in the aftermath of an earthquake in Turkey.

Establish: the power of formal mechanisms.  Leaders develop processes, routines, and structures.  They embed winners’ behavior in the culture not just through person-to-person and generation-to-generation transfers of norms, but also through the formal mechanisms that embed positive behavior in team and organizational routines.  North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance or Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma had many systematic ways to forge their players into a victory machine that just kept winning – a yearly calendar of activities including off-season events, routines for practices, assessment tools, leadership seminars, a schedule of meetings.  The teams changed composition, as players turned over, but the structures and processes remained. The winning teams that resulted were not a force of nature, they were a product of professional disciplines and structures.  Nelson Mandela’s leadership in South Africa was manifested not just through his inspiring message and model but through the structure of a new government, legislation, formal events such as town meetings on a new constitution and hearings by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Leaders must deliver confidence at every level: self-confidence, confidence in each other, confidence in the system, and the confidence of external investors and the public that their support is warranted.

Posted in Change Management, Communication, Leadership, Management | 1 Comment »

Tech Tools Can Help Following Natural Disasters

Posted by rosabethkanter on January 14, 2010

Not just money but IT tools can help provide earthquake relief. Look at the Tsunami SuperCorp-IBM-DisasterRelief example. Short excerpt from new book, SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good.

Posted in Corporate Citizenship, Leadership | Leave a Comment »

“I have a dream” for how America can help Haiti

Posted by rosabethkanter on January 14, 2010

Our hearts and our aid must go out to the people of Haiti. These are our neighbors. Thank you, President Obama, for mobilizing swift action to save lives.

As the magnitude of the tragedy unfolds, I have a dream. I have a dream about what a strong American response to this disaster could mean.

Perhaps we can take a pause from partisan politics to think about this tragedy in the midst of an impoverished nation. We can help now and also help with the rebuilding, to show that our wealth and might can contribute to our region over the long haul – and while we’re at it, perhaps see what work remains to be done on our own continent in New Orleans where Katrina damage remains. Perhaps we could vow to come the aid of US citizens who still suffer after the first relief efforts end.

Perhaps the bailed-out bonus baby bankers could lend their private planes and empty their pockets to help – or sponsor AmeriCorps teams that could be deployed to the island. Perhaps Congress could agree on passing a health care bill of a different sort, to add support for non-profit groups such as Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health or Doctors without Borders to work in Haiti. Or perhaps politicians could rethink immigration restrictions, or provide support for communities that open their doors to survivors.

This is only a dream. But with Martin Luther King Day coming up on Monday, why not have a dream of calling on our better selves?

And, pragmatically, we could shore up our leadership in the Southern Hemisphere where the politics are running against us, while polishing our humanitarian image elsewhere.

Posted in Management, Smarter Communities, Social Entrepreneurship | Leave a Comment »

It’s Power to the Connectors

Posted by rosabethkanter on November 17, 2009

In the World According to Twitter, giving away access to information rewards the giver by building followers. The more followers, the more information comes to the giver to distribute, which in turn builds more followers. The process cannot be commanded or controlled; followers opt in and out as they choose. The results are transparent and purely quantitative; network size is all that matters. Networks of this sort are self-organizing and democratic but without any collective interaction.

The significance of Twitter is yet to be determined; it is a simple, impersonal, and transient application of technology. But very real network effects are a new source of power in and around organizations.

America in the 20th century was called a “society of organizations.” Formal hierarchies with clear reporting relationships gave people their position and their power. In the 21st century, America is rapidly becoming a society of networks, even within organizations. Maintenance of organizations as structures is less important than assembling resources to get results, even if the assemblage itself is loose and perishable.

Today, people with power and influence derive their power from their centrality within self-organizing networks that might or might not correspond to any plan on the part of designated leaders. Organization structure in vanguard companies involves multi-directional responsibilities, with an increasing emphasis on horizontal relationships rather than vertical reporting as the center of action that shapes daily tasks and one’s portfolio of projects, in order to focus on serving customers and society. Circles of influence replace chains of command …  The rest of the article can be found here.

Posted in Managing Yourself, Networks | 16 Comments »

Council of the Americas PodCast – SuperCorp

Posted by rosabethkanter on November 12, 2009

Audio: SuperCorp Book Launch.

Posted in Corporate Citizenship, Innovation, Leadership, Management | Leave a Comment »

Promises You Should Never Believe (or Make)

Posted by rosabethkanter on November 2, 2009

PromisesPromises, promises. Are you still waiting for flu shots after making an appointment, then learning that the vaccine is not available?


The Obama administration announced that more vaccine was coming when it wasn’t. US HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explained why to an Associated Press reporter, “We were relying on the manufacturers to give us their numbers and as soon as we got numbers we put them out to the public. It does appear now that those numbers were overly rosy.”

Where have we heard that before?

Overly rosy promises are regularly offered by politicians, manufacturers, car salespeople, real estate agents, and nearly anyone trying to influence anyone else. Promises are the stuff of courtship or reassurance, particularly when people would rather deny the downside. Entrepreneurs urged to sell to a large corporation are often told that the big company wants to learn from them, a promise that dissolves after the deal is done. Bernard Madoff victims apparently preferred illusion to digging for facts.

This human tendency is exacerbated by systemic complexity. Economists know that forecasting is a dangerous occupation, especially about the future — which is funny but not a joke. In complex systems, inherent uncertainty joins with volatility to increase the likelihood that forecasts fall short. Boeing learned this at the cost of lost customer orders for its much-delayed Dreamliner aircraft. It is a common experience that new products often take longer and cost more.

Related to the difficulties of delivering on time and on budget are other promises that should never be taken at face value … Rest of the Article Available at

Posted in Change Management, Communication, Leadership | Leave a Comment »

How to Go from Small to Super?

Posted by rosabethkanter on October 30, 2009

honest+tea+IISmall business is by far the leading job creator, and entrepreneurship the leading engine of American economic renewal. As unemployment swells, small business prowess is needed more than ever. But can a small company be a SuperCorp, like progressive larger companies such as IBM and Procter & Gamble?

Undoubtedly some smaller companies can leap tall hurdles in a single bound — or, in Google’s case, leap from zero dollars to billions in less than ten years. Although flying that high is rare, small companies can gain power through strategic social responsibility, whether their products are chocolate chips or computer chips. Among my candidates for SuperCorp of the Future is a Boston residential real estate developer with 60 employees and big growth ambitions. The founder is firmly committed to end-to-end responsibility for his subcontractors’ work, their vendors’ quality, and his tenants’ amenities. He values community service, green building technology, and workplace happiness. He thinks this is why his company remained profitable during the worst real estate crisis in decades.

This isn’t idealism; it’s Organization 2.0, a practical response to 21st century economic and social demands. Consider four ways any enterprise can create innovation, profits, growth, and social good in the same small package. More at

Posted in Corporate Citizenship, Leadership, Small Business, Social Entrepreneurship | Leave a Comment »

What is the future of CSR? Meld, thrive, or disapper?

Posted by rosabethkanter on October 23, 2009

Will corporate social responsibility meld with corporate business strategy? Participants at the 2009 Business for Social Responsibility suggest yes.  What are your thoughts? Will CSR thrive or disappear?

Posted in Corporate Citizenship, Innovation, Leadership | 5 Comments »

What would Peter say?: The continuing relevance of the Drucker perspective

Posted by rosabethkanter on October 21, 2009


Heeding the wisdom of Peter Drucker might have helped us avoid—and will help us solve—numerous challenges plaguing communities around the world: restoring trust in business in the wake of accounting scandals and the global financial crisis; attracting and motivating the best talent without creating crippling financial commitments; addressing societal problems such as climate change, health care, and public education; dealing with trouble spots in central Asia and the Middle East.

If Peter Drucker were here today, what would he have to say about such pressing matters? His first comment might be “I told you so”—and he would have every right to say that. In remarkably prescient writings, he pointed to important trends and looming disasters. He took a broad look at the context surrounding organizations, noting jarring events he called discontinuities. Next, since the signs of difficulties ahead were there all along, he might follow up by telling us, “Look at the underlying systems.” Drucker rarely named or blamed individuals; he saw root causes in the design of organizations—in their structures, processes, norms, and routines. He would remind us that it is the responsibility of executives to challenge that design while being mindful of their companies’ ultimate purpose. Then he might finish by asking leaders a few provocative questions: “What is your mission? What should you stop doing? Where has the drive for short-term efficiencies undermined long-term effectiveness? What should be your objectives and guiding principles?”

Rest of the article is available online at Harvard Business Review

Copyright © 2009 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

Posted in Drucker, Management | 23 Comments »