Michael Jordan - Change Agent

By Scott Franklin

Michael Jordan is well known for his professional sports careers in both basketball and baseball, his success as a business man and his contribution to numerous charitable organizations. What often gets overlooked is his short, but impactful work in the field of Organizational Change Management. While still a rookie NBA player, he worked with Coach Phil Jackson to transform the Chicago Bulls into a national championship team.  At their first Change Management offsite meeting, Michael reminded the team that organizational change is based upon individual change – or as he so eloquently stated:

“There is no ‘I’ in Team, but there is in Win!”

To Michael’s point, the heart of any organizational change is individual change. It is only when enough individuals change in a consistent and aligned manner that organizational change can occur. This is important because in many change efforts, organizations tend to focus on the high level aspects of the change – the business reasons for change and what the new organization will look like – and ignore the individual dimension of change. Successful organizations have found that a structured change management plan that also includes a structured individual change component is critical to eventual success.

The most well known individual change model is the one developed by Prosci based upon more than a decade of organizational change research. Prosci’s ADKAR®(1.) Model represents the five stages of individual change:

Awareness – Awareness of the need for change

Desire – Desire to participate and support the change

Knowledge – Knowledge of how to change

Ability – Ability to implement required skills and behaviors

Reinforcement™– Reinforcement to sustain the change

Individual change occurs as each person moves through the five stages as they replace the current behaviors with the necessary new behaviors. According to Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management report (2), an employee’s immediate supervisor is the individual most influential in a person’s ability and desire to change. In other words, the greatest leverage for individual change can be found at the supervisory level – a level that many organizations underutilize as change agents. Supervisors have the most day-to-day control over an employee’s work life, so when a change is announced, the supervisor is one of the first people employees turn to for details of how the change will directly affect them. Smart organizations use this to their advantage and enable their supervisors and middle managers to be effective change agents by:

  1. Getting the supervisors and middle managers on-board with the change early on. There is a memorable scene in the movie “Remember the Titans” where one of the players reminds the team captain “Attitude reflect leadership”. If the supervisors are unsupportive, it is difficult for the employees to feel differently.
  2. Educate the supervisors and middle managers on change management tools and skills. It makes sense to have your key players know how to play the game!
  3. Keep the supervisors and middle managers informed and included. They are your best line of defense against the rumor mill and your best ally in ensuring activities yield results.

The Chicago Bulls went on to win five NBA Championship Titles in six years through a combination of tremendous teamwork and individual excellence. As leaders of change, we can apply these same principles to our own organizations – manage the organizational dimensions of change while concurrently leading our people through their individual transition. And now I’m curious. Wonder if Michael is ready to restart his change consulting career. I’ll give him a call…

(1.) ADKAR® and the ADKAR terms (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement) are trademarks of Prosci. www.change-management.com.  Used with permission

(2.) Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management report

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