How to Spark Lasting Change in Your Organization With Wharton Lecturer and Author Greg Satell

by | Jan 30, 2024

Greg Satell, a renowned journalist and change management strategist, discusses the nuances of driving transformational change in organizations. Drawing from his vast experiences in Eastern Europe, Satell sheds light on the complexities of change and its application in business settings. In this episode, he shares his journey and the philosophies that guide his approach to change management.

Satell’s insights delve into the dynamics of collective behavior and the importance of shared purpose in achieving successful change. He emphasizes the role of small, connected groups in spearheading large-scale transformations, offering valuable lessons for leaders and organizations navigating change.

This episode offers a compelling exploration into the art of change management, highlighting the critical factors that contribute to effective and sustainable organizational change. Satell’s expert perspective provides a roadmap for leaders seeking to understand and implement transformative change in their organizations.


“Transformational change is always about small groups loosely connected, united by a shared purpose.” – Greg Satell

“The best indicator of things that we think and do are what the people around us think and do.” – Greg Satell

“Large scale change is very, very different because it involves collective dynamics.” – Greg Satell

“You want to start with people who are enthusiastic about change.” – Greg Satell


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Jessica Kriegel: Greg, I am so excited to have you today. And I’m going to start with the question I always start with, which is what is your why?

Greg Satell: I think a big part of my why and it’s a it’s it’s difficult to ask for your entire life. But I think a big one of the big lies for me and one of the things I’ve devoted a lot of time to over the last two decades is that I had an experience where I was running a major news organization. 

Greg Satell: I was actually running a media company. But our our big business was news during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and that was a very formative and intense experience. And a lot of what I done I’ve done since then is to try and figure out exactly make sense of that experience and put that knowledge to good use.

Jessica Kriegel: Okay. And what is your business’s why? What’s the purpose of your organization?

Greg Satell: My business is y is very much related to that. Why? Because we help organizations

through transformation, specifically in overcoming resistance to change so that we’re in a bit of experience of going through change as a country that was very, very sudden and extremely disruptive and at the time nobody thought it was possible. And seeing that evolve over the last 20 years where Keith specifically, but Ukraine as a whole has evolved from what was a very, very cynical place to something that’s really inspired the world and helping businesses do that same thing where they have a challenger, something they see as is a problem and help them turn it into something meaningful and productive and something that not only works for them, but helps them serve stakeholders, their customers, their employees, their partners to a much higher level and to actualize the organization’s mission to a level that they didn’t often didn’t think that they could.

Jessica Kriegel: Well, that’s why I get to talk to you. I heard about you first when I was reading the book How Minds Change, and the author of that book talked about your book and you tackle, I think, one of the most interesting things in my field, which is culture transformation, which is the how to scale transformation. Everyone’s out there talking about how to change an individual mindset or how to change yourself or how to change your little team.

Jessica Kriegel: But when you do it at scale, it becomes much more complex and and not just complex, but confusing. I mean, it just feels like there’s so many moving parts. So can you educate us in really simple language as to how you create transformative change at scale based on what you’ve learned and what you know?

Greg Satell: Well, I think one of the points David made McRaney made in that book, and it’s a wonderful book, and if you want to to learn about persuasion and how to to to change somebody’s mind, that book is is very, very good. I just I just can’t recommend it high enough. But I think what he he touches on in that last chapter in which he discusses cascades is that large scale change is very, very different because it involves collective dynamics.

Greg Satell: And I think people often mistake one for the other. And it makes a lot of sense because if I’m formulating a message that can persuade you or persuade somebody else, then it seems like that type of persuasive message should work on a much, much broader scale. You just need to tell. You need to deliver that message to a lot more people.

Greg Satell: And fundamentally, that’s not how change works. The the best indicator of things that we think and things that we do or what the people around us think and do. And we have decades of research that show us this. And we have research that shows that it works even for behaviors like smoking or eating habits. I’m out to three degrees.

Greg Satell: So not only our friends and their friends, but the friends of their friends friends influence what we think and do. I think it’s always important to follow the evidence. And the evidence says that you need to approach large scale change. Transformational change, very different than personal change or or persuasion.

Jessica Kriegel: So how, though, if it’s not a matter of just saying the same story to more people to create that persuasion in more minds, how do you actually get networks of people to transform? I mean, how does that work?

Greg Satell: Well, I could write a book about that.

Jessica Kriegel: I feel like you have so.

Greg Satell: So the first thing is you need to understand that persuasion is a is a is a red flag. The minute you you start, you have the urge to persuade somebody. You have the wrong people. You want to go to where the energy thrown. The first thing is we we we sit down with an organization. We tell them you want to start with the majority.

Greg Satell: You get to choose who get in, who’s in that room. So you want to start with people who are enthusiastic about change. Even if it’s three people in a room of five, you can always expand the majority out. But once you’re in the minority, you’re going to get immediate pushback. So that’s the first thing, is to start with a majority.

Greg Satell: We say you always need to identify what the grievances change always starts because things people don’t like and they want them to be different. But you can’t just stay mired in grievance. You need to come up with an affirmative vision for tomorrow, a concrete way You think you want things to be differently, an alternative future state. You need to anticipate, resist.

Greg Satell: And one of the first exercises we we walk people through is what we call a resistance inventory. So four different ways, rational ways that people that people will resist and what form that resistance will take, and then how you can develop strategies to mitigate that. And also one last category of resistance that’s completely irrational, that has to do with identity, dignity and sense of self.

Greg Satell: Because any time we ask people to change what they think or what they do, there’s always going to be those who are going to work to undermine us in ways that are dishonest and underhanded and deceptive. And we all know that because we all do it. Human beings form attachments to people, ideas and other things. And when those are threatened, we tend to lash out in and in ways that don’t don’t reflect our best selves.

Greg Satell: And anybody who’s ever been in a relationship in or in a family knows that and knows that we all have that tendency. So I’ll stop there before I just I know that’s a lot in sort of one breath. So let’s stop there and and maybe retreat.

Jessica Kriegel: Well, what about the positive aspects of resistance to change in change management? Because I’ve always heard that when you have people who are resistant to change, they may be uncovering red flags or errors in judgment of those who are leading change that can allow you to adjust the change plan to be more successful. So there can be a lot of positivity in resistance to change.

Jessica Kriegel: Do you see that in your research or do you make room for that in this model?

Greg Satell: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. And there’s different people who take different forms of resistance. So and one of the things, one of the strategies we suggest for dealing with resistance is what we call an internal red team. So, Jessica, if I think that you’re skeptical, I say, well, you know, that’s great that you’re skeptical. You make sure to keep us honest, right?

Greg Satell: So you turn that resistance into something productive. And there’s a lot of forms of resistance to be the for rational forms, which are lack of trust, switching costs and competing incentives and competing commitments, and then change fatigue, which was a huge problem before COVID. It’s even it’s even a bigger problem now. Those are all have a very, very rational basis and and you need and you need to deal with them, but you also need to be aware of that other kind of resistance.

Greg Satell: And often I like to do this exercise. So because I think it tells you a lot about change. So, Jessica, imagine that you you’re in a conference room somewhere, an idea is proposed and there are various objections that are raised and as those objections are raised, their address I’m towards the end of the hour, start moving towards next step and all of a sudden somebody who hadn’t said a word the entire time throws a hissy fit in the middle of the meeting.

Greg Satell: Have you ever experienced something like that?

Jessica Kriegel: Because I’m the hissy fit person.

Greg Satell: Well, let’s think about why that happens, because that teaches us that can teach us a lot about change. So yeah, when the idea was first proposed, they had a and then a rejection that was so visceral they couldn’t articulate it, which was why they never why they didn’t say anything. And they were sure just it would be rejected out of hand.

Greg Satell: I mean, they had a physical rejection of it and then when it wasn’t, that’s what triggered that. It was the idea going forward, we tend to think that once you’re your idea and this is what I talk about in terms of surviving victory, we thought we think once we get that first big win, once we get that budget or that executive sponsorship, it’s going to get easier.

Greg Satell: But it doesn’t it gets tougher because people can see change is possible and and that’s when the knives come out. Second thing we can learn from that is that once they had the hissy fit, they completely discredited themselves. And really nothing that they said after that was going to hold weight. So triggering that hissy fit isn’t isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Greg Satell: And in fact, if we look at any large scale check or at least any that I’ve looked at in the last two decades, they don’t go forward when people are persuaded, they they happen when the opposition discredits themselves in some serious way. And this was true in civil rights through an anti apartheid. This was true in Ukraine. This is true in organizational transformation.

Greg Satell: And the third thing that we can take stock of is usually they don’t have the usually they usually they keep their composure and they start sabotaging once they get out of a meeting.

Jessica Kriegel: After the meeting.

Greg Satell: Or more likely in the hallway, Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, so they so that’s, so that’s why it’s so important to be aware of that that opposition related to identity, dignity and sense of self. You can ask people to change what they think or what they do. You can’t ask them to stop being who they think they are.

Greg Satell: So if you’re if you’re not aware of that possibility, you’re what you’re going to find is that you just had this big kickoff meeting. You developed strong messaging, you have a big internal communication campaign. You’ve you’ve got a large training program going and everything looks like it’s going fantastically and it’s not until eight or nine months later that you realize that the whole time you’ve been quietly satisfied.

Greg Satell: And once you hit that point, you usually don’t recover.

Jessica Kriegel: Okay, so you work with organizations. A lot of the listeners are CEOs that are interested in transformational change within their organizations. If you could simplify it in to three, two, four, five bullets on, here’s how you create transformational Change for Dummies. What are those bullet points on? Where to start, what to do next, and how to wrap it up?

Greg Satell: Well, I would say it all falls under the blanket of follow the evidence. And we know from decades of research, hundreds of studies. And I know how much you value evidence based cases. We know four things. The first is, is that change starts. Change always comes from outside, right? Or else it would be the action and resistance. So anticipate and build a strategy to overcome resistance.

Greg Satell: Number two, there is something called a cap guy, which again, decades of studies. We know this from people that shifts in knowledge and attitudes don’t necessarily result in a shift in in practice, we might know that delicious chocolate brownie is bad for us. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to eat it. The third is, is that change follows an S-shaped curve and often you see these big launch events and they show the S-shaped curve because everybody knows this is how change works.

Greg Satell: It starts off slowly, it hits an inflection point, it accelerates exponentially. And that’s how change comes about. And we even know that that tipping point happens usually between ten and 20% participation. Which raises the question why you’re doing this big launch event. If you know things start slowly, your job is not to convince everybody at once, but to get to that 10 to 20% tipping point, making a lot of noise and trying to start with the bang is much more likely to trigger that resistance than it is to move you forward.

Greg Satell: You’re much better off starting with a majority going to where the energy is. And I would say that’s the biggest thing about change. Start with the majority. Identify a keystone change. Don’t make a lot of noise to get out of the business of selling an idea into the business of selling a success. And then the last is change.

Greg Satell: We know the change propagate socially from peer to peer. So again, it’s not communication, but it’s always small groups loosely connected, united by a shared purpose. As leaders, what you can do is help those groups to connect and to inspire them with purpose.

Jessica Kriegel: So let’s talk about group identity, because this is starting to seep into the conversation in a in a material way. And I think there’s something super interesting here about the psychological identity that we develop through the groups to which we belong, and that an attack on the group becomes like an attack to the self, one that we need to protect.

Jessica Kriegel: And that can be leveraged to help advance change and also be a problem in trying to create transformative change and something to be that resists. Right. How do you play with group identity? Think about, you know, I don’t want to say manipulate, but, you know, mold group identity when trying to create change like that?

Greg Satell: Look, in any organization there’s a number of group identities. So I think we are we’re fundamental, really concerned with with two group identities. And I think a good way to think about this is that change is not a hero’s journey. You know, we we tend to see change as some journey towards an alternative future state.

Greg Satell: What change really is, is is a strategic conflict between the status quo and that alternative future state. So when we’re talking about group identities, we’re talking about for our purposes is, really two, but essentially three. We’re talking about that status quo, that alternative state. And then, you know, the ones that are kind of on the fence.

Greg Satell: So we want to we want to create that initial group identity, starting with the majority, with the people who favor that alternative future state without triggering the group identity of the traditionalist who see themselves, who identify with the status quo. As long as we can do that and work towards an initial keystone change. So a change that has a concrete and tangible goal involves multiple stakeholders.

Greg Satell: So it’s not like three guys in the IT department and paves the way for future change. And we can start if if we can achieve that and start building a track record of success, we can attract enough to get to that, to that ten to.

Jessica Kriegel: Tipping.

Greg Satell: Point, tipping point. And then we can and then we can start shifting to trailing 2 to 2 scaling strategies. And this gets into leveraging sources of power, mobilizing constituencies to influence institutions and all the scaling strategies we talk about in the book, Weaving a network. One of my favorites is a co-op table resource, which a great example is, is Ted Talk, where if you think about it, there’s 14,000 TEDx events every year or something like this.

Greg Satell: So you have ten, literally tens of thousands of people, you know, devoting who knows how many man hours, millions of dollars worth of man hours, easily all to promote the TED conference. So if they’re not doing it for the TED Conference, they’re doing it for their own reason. Any time you can give people a resource that they can adopt for their own reasons that drives you or change forward, it’s a fantastic way to scale.

Jessica Kriegel: So can you tell us the story of an organization you worked with and in creating transformation? I mean, I would love to hear to hear a culture story, a culture transformation story, but really any kind of broad scale transformation within a company and just step by step how you did it, what you coach the CEO to do and then what and how you created these networks and how you identified the majority, how you decided upon the Keystone change, how you then amplified.

Jessica Kriegel: Just love to kind of get concrete about it.

Greg Satell: Okay, This is a company I, I can’t name, but it’s a it’s a large it’s a large consumer goods company and I think the first thing is you can’t expect change to to come out of the C-suite. I remember when I was a leader, when I was a CEO, I, I certainly wouldn’t want to depend on on my ideas.

Greg Satell: You know, there’s always ideas bubbling up, and that’s great because they have built in champion. And there was this one very much a middle manager, I think he was 35 years old at the time, and he had developed this process to solve this problem that was longstanding and so a big award because he had had this success. And he asked the CEO, Well, I’d love to do this for the entire company.

Greg Satell: And it was just then that cascade was coming up. So they got in touch with me and he started going around and going around to different facilities. And they started off with the Keystone change, which were just to develop a portfolio of strategies. And he started building allies at different facilities. And it was two allies to to start a program at that facility.

Greg Satell: And it really started off just on on on internal like Slack groups, but they started doing videos about how people could be doing, could do things better. It was a movement for process improvement. And within 18 months they had moved from maybe a dozen people to 2500. And once they they had that that initial critical mass, they were able to get more resources and shift from videos to productivity.

Greg Satell: And now they’re moving. I don’t even know, I guess about four years now for four, maybe four and a half years. But their movement within this business is more than 60,000 people, which is a lot of people. So again, it’s that process of coming up with an initial keystone change and actual success that you can build on. Not an idea starting it on a small scale, building out small groups, helping them to connect and uniting them for a shared purpose within a shared purpose.

Greg Satell: And there’s there’s and that change was never mandated. Nobody was ever pushed to use any of these. But because they they were useful people, adopted them and then suggested other things that would be helpful and join the movement themselves. Can I give you one more example.

Jessica Kriegel: But love it.

Greg Satell: So this is this is one I can tell you about. So there was and and this one was within the book. It was experience where you had the opposite situation. You had the CTO, a friend of mine named Barry LAMB, Livingston Well, he’s he’s become a friend.

Greg Satell: When he got to experience, he spent the first couple of months going to customers and experiences, of course, of course to the big data company and credit bureau.

Greg Satell: And he asked he asked the customers what they wanted and they all said the same thing. They wanted real time access to data. And as a CTO, he knew that that meant they needed to switch from on-premise computing to cloud computing. He also knew that that would be fraught with danger for three reasons. First of all, Experian has made a lot of money for a very, very long time on selling batch process credit report, and it wasn’t at all clear how you make money selling real time access to data.

Greg Satell: Secondly, there were were cybersecurity concerns. You know, again, very, very rational concern, especially considering while this transformation was underway. He Equifax, a key competitor, had one of the largest data breaches in history. So people had good reasons to be concerned about that. And the last was they they would have to switch from waterfall development to Agile project management and, you know, there was a lot of people who said, listen, you know, I’ve I’ve worked this way for 25 years and I’m proud of the job I do and I think I do a good job.

Greg Satell: To your point, they have very much a group identity that this is the way we do things around here. So again, in as CTO, he could mandate the change. We’re switching to the cloud, but he didn’t. Instead he found he identified product managers who wanted to build cloud products, and they started off with an internal API which took the danger out of the cybersecurity risk.

Greg Satell: And he also got them training and they created something they called the API Center of Excellence, which was a co-opted resource that they could use for free to help them develop cloud based products. And as they became successful within about 6 to 12 months, it became a bit of a performance issue because the ones who weren’t doing it, they were it was being point out that these guys are really successful with these cloud based products and that brought others in, who brought others in still, and that they broke through that 10 to 20% barrier and they scaled actually quite quickly.

Greg Satell: The the transformation was completed in three years, which for a cloud transformation is quite, quite vast.

Jessica Kriegel: Yeah. I mean, I was at Oracle when they moved from on prem to cloud, they hired a guy named Sean Price who has since passed away, but he was the head of Cloud and I was assigned to be his change management consultant and he didn’t do it that way. I’ll tell you what, he did it a top down approach, and it took quite a bit of time because when you move from on prem to cloud, you have to not just transform what people are doing, but entire teams disappear, entire departments have to be created.

Jessica Kriegel: I mean, the operating model for the entire business has to shift. And so there’s a lot of fear in that. And there’s a lot of fear management in change management. But it sounds like this approach takes a lot of that fear out. It’s bypassing fear by starting with those who are unafraid.

Greg Satell: And this is very much related to what David McRaney talks in in his book. I think you need to create a sense of safety around the conversation. And when you say we’re going to be completely changing our technology, completely changing the way things work, and trust me, it’s going to be very, very painful, but it’s all going to work out in the end.

Greg Satell: Again, when we when we go through I think I mentioned we do a change, a resistance inventory. You start going through those things on the cloud transformation, lack of trust. boy. Yeah, definitely. Switching costs change fatigue in every organization and then competing incentives. Yeah, for sure. You know, if I can get the project done now because you want something bigger somewhere down the road and not to mention, you know, resistance related to identity, dignity and sense of self, it becomes very, very difficult.

Greg Satell: Whereas if you start with the majority, you start with people who are enthusiastic about the change and you help make them successful, then you can get out of the business of selling this idea and into the business of selling and initial success. And that’s that’s much, much easier to get to that initial tipping point of 10 to 20%.

Jessica Kriegel: That’s really interesting. Let’s dig in on that. You just said that when you take this approach, you’re essentially getting out of the business of selling an idea and into the business. If I can rephrase what you said into the business of sharing a success, you’re just talking about what we’ve done here in a positive way in allowing people to rejoice in that.

Jessica Kriegel: Right. And that’s one of the differences I see in the people that we interview who are all masters of movements in some way. There are some that are masters of movements because they’re really great at selling an idea. And then there are others who are sharing a success and people follow because they they are excited about the success that they’ve seen, you know, And there’s a difference, it feels like from my perspective and authenticity of those two things, even if the idea that’s being sold is really great.

Jessica Kriegel: Do you did you see anything in your research around authenticity or the way that people perceive that.

Greg Satell: You remember that that ideas about change propagate, socially propagated through communication? They’re not properly propagated through wordsmithing or the right slogan or the right medium. They’re propagated because of what people around them see. And they they’ve seen this with this one famous one of the spread of air conditioners in the 1940s or realities or whatever it is, it’s spread by Brock, right.

Greg Satell: It didn’t spread by advertising. It spread because people went into each other’s homes and saw that, wow, this is really nice. It also when they looked at the Freedom Summer, these are just two studies, looked at the Freedom Summer, which was essentially a an idea during civil rights. The the black people in in the South, they were being terrorized and generally nobody cared.

Greg Satell: So the idea was to get upper middle class college students to go to Mississippi and be terrorized so that people would care. And it turned out to be, for better or worse, very much true. But when they were getting people to sign up to do the initial interviews, what they found was the people who went through it, who actually went through with it, who didn’t back out, were the ones with friends who went through it or who had friends who were involved.

Greg Satell: So that’s what it’s not so much what I say or do or what you say or do, but what they see around them every day. Remember, the best indicator of what we think can do or is what the people around us think and do. I mean, you’re in you’re a corporate culture person. You know that every office has its inside jokes that seem strange to everybody around them.

Greg Satell: Every every office has its ways of working. So that’s how change is going to propagate. So when you talk about selling a success, sharing a success not from the center but from around them, that people will adopt strategies that they see were successful. And that’s how you can get change to go.

Jessica Kriegel: So you have essentially written the book that is the roadmap for being the master of a movement. Okay, So let’s say you could use your superpower to transform anything in this world. I mean, what do you think is the movement that we need at this time right now.

Greg Satell: This is going to sound corny, but I very much see myself leading the movement for change. I mean, this book.

Jessica Kriegel: The movement of movement.

Greg Satell: The movement movement, right. Because if you think about it, you were at Oracle. You’ve had that experience of meeting somebody who just came back from Agile Trip, and they all do the same thing. No, no, no. We need to stop everything. Stop what? We’re doing. We need to stop. We need to do it completely differently. And what happens is they get shunned, they get shunned and they get frustrate and they don’t think change can happen.

Greg Satell: They get cynical. What if we can just stop them from doing that instead of yelling at everybody, telling them that they need to do things completely different? They just find a couple of buddies and work on a project, a keystone change that actually works and succeeds. What if instead of people who because we know how change initiative start, they and let’s go through some of the data. 

Greg Satell: We know that two thirds of employees cite some sort of change fatigue. About half of employees say that they don’t understand all of the initiatives. They they are being asked to pursue and about a third are opposed to them and don’t want them to happen anyway.

Greg Satell: And so you can see why the numbers come back. You know, roughly three quarters of change of change initiatives fail. But what if we could just stop them from doing that, stop them from trying to convince everybody at once? Because, again, yes, 65% have change fatigue, but we only need 10 to 20% to buy in in order to hit that critical mass.

Greg Satell: So if we drop that whole thing of telling everybody they have to change and forcing change on people and instead go to people who are excited about change and help them succeed so that they can bring in others who can bring in others still. And as I write in the book, you know, transformational change is always about small groups loosely connected, united by a shared purpose.

Greg Satell: So as leaders, it’s our job to help those groups to connect and to inspire them with purpose. We can focus on that, on the people who want change, and we can stop a lot of that change. Failure, those things that pretty much guarantee change will fail. We can do an enormous amount of good. I just look at my friend Sir John Popovich, who I learned a lot of these things from, who has created the the color revolutions and has trained activists all throughout the world and has had success like nobody has ever seen really repeatable success for political and social change.

Greg Satell: We should be able to do that in an organizational context. We should be able to do that for our organizations, for businesses, for institution.

Jessica Kriegel: So I want to ask you one quick question, then we’ll go to the callers. But I could see resistance to your idea coming from the idea of needing to move with pace. We have to create this change now because of some external factor or need or business brokenness that needs to be adjusted. And so we got to force this change quickly.

Jessica Kriegel: We don’t have time to go identify a Keystone project and the network. These people who are excited about it, there’s a perception, I would imagine from a lot of people that that takes longer.

Jessica Kriegel: Does it?

Greg Satell: No, it doesn’t. I mean, there’s nothing that slows you down like failure.

Jessica Kriegel: So straight line, but nothing that slows you down like failure.

Greg Satell: It’s true. I mean, you can always speed up once you have to slow down and retrace.

Greg Satell: It’s very rare that you recover. It’s, you know, you can always scale a business up. Once you have to scale down, chances are you don’t. I mean, anybody who’s run business started a business. Do you see this? I mean, that’s why you you need to to structure your your business plan in, you know, in a way that that you don’t have to do everything all at once.

Greg Satell: You know I was just with the city government that is starting a change with regard to human centered leadership and there and they had exactly that question. Their their initial plan was to roll out this program to their 40 directors. And they asked me what I thought of it. And I said, well, what about 12? And I think, how is this?

Greg Satell: How can we make it smaller? And they said, Why? Why would we do it? And I said, Well, think about what happens. I mean, of the 40 directors, how many of them do you think would be enthusiastic about it? Some, maybe half. And they weren’t really enthusiastic, so enthusiastic about half. It wasn’t definitely have it may.

Jessica Kriegel: Well and I think your research 35% right because 65 have changed fatigue so really there’s a third left.

Greg Satell: Well different that’s on average different different organizations can you know there’s there’s a lot of variance, but, you know, half a third to half. Okay, whatever.

Jessica Kriegel: Okay.

Greg Satell: I said, do you think you could find 12 that would be immediately on board and yeah, there’s this person. They said, well, if you just do it with those 12, you know, the first 90 days with just those 12, what do you think’s going to happen? well, if you run into a problem, what do you think’s going to how they’ll help us solve it?

Greg Satell: Well, if you know, once a successful. What do you think they’re going to do? they’re going to go and tell people about it. And I said, what is the 90 days really that important? I mean, if if and once they started realizing that there’s no reason why they need to roll it out to 40 and try and, you know, try and convince because you’re going to spend half of your time trying to convince the laggards anyway.

Greg Satell: Start with the people who really want it to happen. And, you know, you’re you’re you’re going to go from success to success. If you start with the 40 and you run into a glitch and you got a dozen of them, which is actually quite likely start pooh poohing it and say, I knew this wasn’t going to work. 

Greg Satell: And that’s what slows you down.

Jessica Kriegel: So when you say start with the majority, you mean start with the people who are super enthusiastic, even if there’s less of them?

Greg Satell: Yeah. So you get to choose who’s in that room.

Greg Satell: They don’t have to be it doesn’t have to be unanimous. But we know I’m sure you’re familiar with the experiment. We know that people conform to majority opinion, even if they’re obviously obviously wrong, actually. So if it’s, you know, if if it’s a good idea and and if if you can’t you know, if you can’t find people who anybody who is enthusiastic, then you need to start rethinking your change.

Jessica Kriegel: But start over.

Greg Satell: If you can. And that’s sometimes you do have to do that. I mean, yeah, sometimes you need to say, well, if I can’t find anybody, but you should be able to find people who are initially enthusiastic. So instead of trying to convince the skeptics and anybody who’s ever been, you know, married or had kids knows how difficult it is to convince even one person of something, if you think you’re going to convince hundreds or thousands, I mean, that’s a pretty tall order.

Greg Satell: But yeah, I mean, people who are enthusiastic and empower and help them succeed and empower them, that’s a much, much easier path.

Jessica Kriegel: Hi there. What’s your question?

Jessica Kriegel: That’s such a great question. I would even say this is one of the most common questions I get after keynotes is what do I do if my leaders don’t buy into it? So what do you think, Greg?

Greg Satell: You can’t wait for them to buy in. You don’t want to. Again, I know I keep repeating the same phrase. You don’t want to be selling an idea. So one of the things is that there’s never any shortage of ideas. And one of the reasons why it’s easy to get it’s hard for for for for leaders to buy in to ideas for easy for them to get a bit calloused is because people are constantly coming to them with ideas.

Greg Satell: So there’s so much noise and you just one more voice.

Greg Satell: But what people don’t usually come to them with is with problems that they can solve. And if you can identify an actual problem that you can solve, that’ll be your Keystone check.

Greg Satell: So they don’t necessarily need to buy in to the idea if they can accept that there’s a problem and give you permission to solve it, that’s enough for you to move forward.

Greg Satell: So I would say first, shrink it down. It sounds like you have a lot of ideas, but find a single problem that you can solve that will make a difference. And then you can go to leadership and you can say, Hey, look, I noticed we’re having a problem with this and I think I can solve that problem. Remember, the consumer goods company had that where he created that movement of 60,000 people that started off with a problem he saw not an idea he had.

Greg Satell: And once you solve that problem, that gives you your initial success, that that will give you at least some credit and traction to say, hey, I think we can actually even make a greater impact. And that’s how you can get from that. Listen to me. I have ideas, too. Hey, I just solved your problem and I want to solve more of them.

Greg Satell: And that’s how you can start building traction and scale.

Jessica Kriegel: So here’s a question I have jumping off the back of that. There’s this narrative now that people don’t want to work anymore. And I’ve talked to a lot of CEOs every week and there is an us versus them dynamic emerging in the workplace leaders and front line worker as if these two entities are, you know, very clear cut, very different with different values and and they don’t understand each other anymore.

Jessica Kriegel: There isn’t that trust of the social contract between employer and employee seems to be eroding. And so I’m hearing CEOs say what’s wrong with people? They don’t want to work anymore. And then I hearing frontline workers saying, what’s wrong with CEOs? They’re so greedy. How could we affect change in that narrative? I mean, how let’s apply this model to that problem because that’s a problem I want to solve.

Jessica Kriegel: Where do I start?

Greg Satell: Yeah, that’s a great, great question. And to be honest, one, I’ve gotten a lot more insight into since I started teaching at Wharton and getting because I think in not completely, but certainly in some part it is. It’s generational because I know when I was coming up as a young employee in the in the 1990s, we were expected to pay our dues and being paid paying your dues meant doing a lot of crappy work.

Greg Satell: I remember we were in a in a training program and it was it was very, very it was a really, really nice day. And our our office was just a few blocks from Central Park. So we decided when we got lunch to go, go eat lunch at in Central Park rather than at our desks. And the older guys, they were furious at us.

Greg Satell: They were so angry. And it wasn’t like they were angry because we we spent too much time at one. They were angry because we we arrived at the park and enjoyed ourselves because that wasn’t paying your dues. And the the younger generations think that’s stupid and it is stupid. It was no reason so but because we had to do it, I think often we think they have to do it.

Greg Satell: And so here’s where I think the shift needs to come in and we need to and I’d like to go back to that agile example when when you talk about when you talk to an Agile person and they want to spread Agile, they always want to talk about the Agile Manifesto because that’s what differentiates that Agile and that’s what makes them, that’s what makes them passionate and they want to share their passion and it’s almost never effective because if you want to bring people in, you need to identify shared values, not the Agile Manifesto, better projects done faster and cheaper.

Greg Satell: And that’s how you can begin to create a sense of safety around the change conversation. And I think this conversation is similar where senior people are saying, you know, those those younger people that younger generation, they don’t share my, my values. Well, no, they don’t share all your values, but they share some values to start with. Those that start by identifying those values that you share, which, by the way, is something we do in our initial workshop, is develop a genome of values and then split them into differentiating values and shared values.

Greg Satell: And then you can start from a place of commonality rather than from a place of I think this you think that. So start from a place of we both share this and we differ in these two things, but let’s, you know, through the prism of what we share, let’s work on how we can resolve how we differ.

Jessica Kriegel: That’s interesting because what I think they share, if I had to just improv right now, what people want is to care about the work that they do. If I don’t care about the work that I do, I’m unengaged. I’m checked out, I’ve quiet, quit, right? I want to care about my work. That’s my ideal state, because then I’ve got some kind of craft.

Jessica Kriegel: There’s meaning in it. You talked about purpose, right? What CEOs want is for their team to care about the work that they’re doing. Because if the team cares, then they’re going to be more engaged. They’re going to take accountability, they’re going to do all these things. So that’s the shared value I think that we all don’t realize we have as companies survive when people care about their work and people want to care about their work.

Jessica Kriegel: So we can create that if we all just get aligned around that one common value.

Greg Satell: Yeah. One thing I I’ve always said is that values are how an enterprise honors its mission. So if you have a common mission, then those differences or easy easier to reconcile if you’re taking very much to your point, a sort of transactional approach, Hey, you know, I pay you to work and you come here to work, there’s there’s not there’s not that that common mission with which you can reconcile different.

Jessica Kriegel: But how do you okay so let’s go a little bit deeper. This anti work movement is gaining steam and you’re seeing it in the form of increased unionization. You’re seeing talking on line. You see, you know, this younger generation is anti-capitalist and is getting louder and louder. So we have a lot of business gurus that come on the show and they’re talking about you got to create a shared vision and then get really clear on results and then get people to care about the results.

Jessica Kriegel: But how do I get people who care about building enterprise value to care about building enterprise value?

Greg Satell: Yeah. So again, when we look at that at those categories of resistance, the first one is lack of trust.

Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Greg Satell: And if you look at what capitalism is, if you look at the founding documents of capitalist, the first capitalist Adam Smith and David Ricardo, they warned us about regulatory capture and rent seeking and so it’s not capitalism fault. Capitalism didn’t do this to us. We we did this to us. And I think if you’re going to be trusted, you have to be trustworthy.

Greg Satell: And when you win and you’re talking about unionization, when you go back to the unions, when you go back to the bailouts, we had to bail out the car companies. The public did. And as we were bailing out the car companies, they were telling the unions that they needed to make all sorts of concessions in terms of having two different classes of workers and so on and so forth.

Greg Satell: And now the the car companies are doing very well. And the and the unions are saying, hey, when there was pain, you were telling us we needed to share the pain. Now that there is profits, we think we should share in the profit. So I think if you want to be trusted, you have to be trustworthy. And so many of you know, when we when companies say that when you look at how they’re treating their employees and, you know, I worked in the in the media and advertising industry for many, many years and in America, especially not quite like this in the rest of the world, after every single after every single major holiday, whether it’s Easter or Christmas or whatever it is, Labor Day, Memorial Day, there is a major ad agency pick. There’s no reason there’s no reason that a pitch needs to be on the Tuesday after Labor Day. They are simply doing it to ruin people’s vacations. And this is the way they’re going to start a partnership. That’s not a way to to it’s not a way to build trust.

Greg Satell: So, you know, if you want to be trusted, first step is to be trustworthy.

Jessica Kriegel: Yeah, but there’s so many that are winning without being trustworthy and that are taking advantage of employees. So what is the incentive for CEOs to do it differently if they don’t need to?

Greg Satell: I’m not sure. You know, it does end up costing them because they’re complaining about all of these things.

Jessica Kriegel: So right. I don’t know. I mean, Blackstone CEO is just quoted as saying that people who work from home don’t work as hard. I’m like Googling Blackstone. Turns out he’s his company. Blackstone is global leader in real estate investment and he’s trying to get people back in the office because that’s how the company makes money. I mean, he may be complaining about these things, but he’s sitting pretty, despite the fact that he may have some talent issues at the organizational level.

Jessica Kriegel: Right.

Greg Satell: Well, also, all of the VUCA talk, which is, you know, it’s more volatile and uncertain and none of the data says that. None of it. Corporate profits are at record highs, corporate record highs, record corporate industry churn is at record lows in 79.

Jessica Kriegel: Unemployment is low. I mean.

Greg Satell: In 70% of you know, in 70 in 75% of industries, concentration has increased, meaning there’s less volatility, churn has decreased, less volatility. It’s not industries that are getting disrupted. It’s it’s people that are getting disrupted. I think I think you have to be a little bit realistic. And again, always going to where the shared value is. And an interesting thing I wasn’t going to bring this up, but shared value is also the building block of something we call a dilemma action.

Greg Satell: And there’s been lots of them throughout history. My, my friends, through Job, Popovich was able to formulate it. And if you look at major things, famous things like the Salt March, the Martin Luther King in Birmingham, and this is what I mean about change happening when the when the opposition discredits themselves in some way, we often find that there is a dilemma.

Greg Satell: So Bull Connor at Birmingham, he could either let Martin Luther King march, which would have undermined his authority as he saw it, or he could have come out with the snarling dogs and the hoses, which is what he did. Either way, he was going to lose. That was the dilemma. He had a choice between two things. So how do you create these types of dilemmas?

Greg Satell: You start with the shared value or widely held belief, then you design. So a shared value in the case of Birmingham was nonviolence. And this idea that people should be able to walk in the street unless you design a constructive act, a peaceful march. And that’s what creates the dilemma, because then your opposition either needs to either need to go along with that, with that constructive act or to violate that shared value.

Greg Satell: So I think once you go through this process, you say, okay, shared values start from a place of shared value. We have a common mission and you design a constructive act that will that, if disrupted, will will violate that shared value. If you can’t do that, if you can’t think of a constructive act, you need to question your commitment.

Greg Satell: Are you really committed to the shared value or is it just lip service? And one of the things we do when we do the genome of values exercise with organizations, we ask them, What are your values? And now what do they cost you? Because you’re not incurring costs and constraint. You can say you value the customer, but what’s it cost you?

Greg Satell: Because if you can’t think what it costs you, that’s not a value, that’s a platitude. You can say you value excellence, but if you can’t define how it’s constraining you or how it what it’s costing you. My favorite example of this is is Lou Gerstner at IBM, and I’ve interviewed dozens of top executives from IBM. And in that period, he said, we’re going to get back to valuing the customer and we are going to forego revenue on every sale to do it.

Greg Satell: And everybody I’ve interviewed from times, they tell me they all agree with these to say without that commitment, IBM would not still be in business today. And it was the fact that he was willing to forego revenue on every sale that made people believe it, because if not, people would have just thought it was talk.

Jessica Kriegel: Greg, you may have just made me a believer. Again, I have been talking for the last year about corporate values being of absolute no use because all platitudes and when you place it in that context that it has to cost you something. Now it becomes movement making. Yeah. So I’m really I’m reevaluating my entire life thinking right now about corporate values.

Greg Satell: Well, also, if you think of all of the major social and political movement.

Jessica Kriegel: Yeah.

Greg Satell: If the ones who are able to constrain themselves with values are they’re the ones that succeed, the ones that don’t, they eventually and they’re explicit about their values. The example I give in the book is Nelson Mandela in anti-Apartheid and Freedom Charter, where people question him all the time and they called him all sorts of things. They said he was a he was a extremist and a communist and all sorts of things.

Greg Satell: And he said nobody has to guess what I believe because it was written down in 1955. We have a Congress of the people. There were 300 organizations. We wrote it down and we lived by it. And that’s what I’ve been fighting for so many movements today. My favorite one to point to is is Occupy, but others as well that we could name.

Greg Satell: But we’re not going to they’ve capitalized on on moments. They’ve attracted big crowds. And again, there’s reasons why you don’t want to start with a march or a large launch event, but they’ve been foiled either because people within the movement corruption, well, started questioning each other, Hey, you can’t do that. Who said I can’t do that? We were they were never explicit about their values or that they weren’t willing to constrain themselves in any way.

Greg Satell: And people were saying, it’s just a bunch of stuff that you want and you’re just going to want more. And it’s very hard to win credibility if you can’t say, Hey, I committed to it. I’m explicit about my values and I’m willing to undergo costs and constraints in order to uphold those guidelines. That’s something very different than just a bunch of stuff that you want.

Jessica Kriegel: Well, and it’s also people putting self above the movement, right in the form of corruption. You have a lot of these movements that start to gain traction and there’s greed that pops in in some form or, you know, the self become the needs become more important than the movement needs. And it’s undermined from within.

Greg Satell: Right. And and movements start from passion. People are very passionate about things and our passion gets away from us. So.

Jessica Kriegel: Okay, we go ahead.

Greg Satell: No, I’m just saying. So we need to think about how we’re going to constrain ourselves.

Jessica Kriegel: Yeah. Okay. Let’s go to the last caller.

Jessica Kriegel: We haven’t talked about this whole other area of interest of yours, but you are an expert in innovation as well. I’m curious to know what kind of exercises you know.

Greg Satell: So I’m going to steal one from from a friend. I mean, the first thing I would say is, again, don’t focus on ideas. Focus on problems that you need to solve. But A, after I wrote my book Mapping Innovation, my friend Steve SHAPIRO came out with a wonderful book called Invisible Solutions. And the Invisible. Invisible Solutions are 25 lenses that you can apply to reframe a problem.

Greg Satell: And his sort of signature example or signature story is of a an airline or sorry, it was an airport. And their biggest customer complaint was about how long it took to get their back. So they did lots of re-engineering and they were able to get to the time of the time to get customers their bags. They were able to cut it in half, but the customers were still complaining and they they couldn’t find any other way to cost effectively create increases in performance.

Greg Satell: So Steve helped them reframe. The problem, if you can’t speed up the bags, you slow down the passengers. So they made them. And you see a lot of airports do this. Now when you’re getting off the plane, they kind of take you in this kind of labyrinthine path on the way to baggage claim. And often they have exhibits to make it to make it more interesting while you’re getting off your plane.

Greg Satell: And then you get there and you’re not thinking, wow, I just had to walk all that way from the plane. You’re thinking, Hey, my bags here. So Steve, I forget which which lens that was, but he’s got 25 lenses that will help you reclassify problems. So instead of saying, hey, let’s come up with ideas, you start with a problem that you need to solve, and then you start talking about how we can reframe those problems in different ways.

Greg Satell: And this book, Invisible Solutions, is is is just a great tool to help you do that.

Jessica Kriegel: Beautiful. Well, Greg, thank you. I have just totally enjoyed this conversation. I learned a lot. I feel like I have to go reevaluate so much of what I’m doing right now. Given what I’ve learned today. I am just so grateful that you took the time to share your expertise.

Greg Satell: US Well, thanks so much for having me.

Jessica Kriegel: It was an absolute pleasure.

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