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Home » Leadership

Power, conformity and change

Submitted by on Saturday, 11 January 2014No Comment

Companies often want to encourage innovation, sensible risk-taking and entrepreneurship, yet are frustrated when no matter what they do, their efforts are stymied. They also may want to progress a ‘change programme’ to take their business forward.

Innovation demands failure, yet there is a constant and underlying dynamic within large groups of people, programmed into us from school that:

· Mistakes (or failure) are bad

· The teacher (or authority figure) is always right, and

· There is safety in numbers (conformity)

How the forces of power and conformity frustrate change

Power, conformity, and changeIn our Change Map post previously, we have seen the factors needed to be aligned in order to achieve sustainable and tangible change.

On the opposite side of these factors, stand the powerful trifecta of the forces above, which try to stop change – whether this be greater risk-taking, innovation, or creativity.

Add to this another force – that of a tacit association between ‘money’ and ‘survival’ – and it’s little surprise when we find 70% of change programmes fail.

At times turning around a business is like turning around a supertanker on an ocean – it takes ages to do. Most of the time, the captain gives up, and ends up steaming merrily on – to the longer-term detriment of company, customers and shareholders.

The Milgram Experiments

The power of these forces were graphically illustrated by the Stanley Milgram experiments in the 1960s – and numerous other similar experiments since. This video below we feel is an especially good summary into how the forces of conformity trump those of common sense and even compassion in the face of supposedly dying victims. Have a look:


Now, there have been question marks over some aspects of the Milgram Experiments. But, overall, they have succeeded in proving that a high percentage of people will conform even to the point of seriously harming another human being.

How you can trump the forces of power and conformity to achieve change

Typically, change programmes rely on getting the ‘leaders’ on board and driving through the desired change. But, as management soon discovers, these leaders are little less than ‘rulers’ who use power to achieve their ends, and get stymied by the 20-50-30 rule.

Instead, one sustainable way to ensure change takes place is by creating a culture that celebrates behaviours that Challenge the Process.

Challenge the Process is a key behaviour in The Leadership Challenge programme that encourages and inculcates:

· Feedback and pushback

· Experimentation, and

· Yes… mistakes!

You can find out more about The Leadership Challenge programme by following the link here or contacting us via the link below.


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Talent Technologies | Producing Change


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