How a Change Management Expert Redefines Workplace Culture and Success 

by | May 3, 2024

A good friend of mine, Greg Satell, recently wrote an invaluable article on the often-misunderstood facets of change management. In his piece, “Here’s Why ‘Creating Awareness’ Is Usually A Waste Of Time”, Satell challenges the traditional approaches to organizational transformation and change management, which resonates deeply with the dynamics of workplace culture today. 

Satell’s central thesis is that creating awareness, contrary to popular practice in change management, rarely translates into actual change. DEI experts have seen how fabulously “creating awareness” has failed. Physicians know “creating awareness” about health doesn’t move the needle on behavior. And you’ve undoubtedly seen many more examples in your life.  

This assertion is underpinned by decades of research, including findings from McKinsey and Bain, which reveal a staggering failure rate in organizational transformation efforts—up to 69% and 75%, respectively. These statistics not only highlight the inefficacy of conventional strategies but also underscore the urgent need for a shift towards more evidence-based approaches in the change management sphere. 

Drawing from historical examples like the Otpor movement’s success in overthrowing Slobodan Milošević through grassroots organizing in Serbia, Satell emphasizes the power of small, socially interconnected groups in driving substantial change. This principle is similarly applicable in the corporate environment, where change is more effectively catalyzed through close-knit community dynamics rather than broad-scale awareness campaigns. 

So what does it look like in practice? Don’t create a communication plan, instead create a small team of highly motivated early adopters to do a pilot. Then let them tell the story of their wild success. Why does this work? Because when roadblocks arise, these passionate people will find a solution. They’re already inspired to make it work. They will be your loudest advocates. They will use their discretionary effort to get results. The story will sell itself. It works.  

The piece also explains why by touching on the influential work of psychologists and sociologists, such as Solomon Asch and the researchers behind the Framingham Heart Study. Their research illustrates how social proof and community influence far outweigh the effects of simple awareness. These studies demonstrate that the majority’s behavior profoundly impacts individual decision-making, a phenomenon that can be strategically utilized to foster positive change within organizations. 

For leaders in the workplace, this insight is invaluable. It suggests that cultivating a culture that actively engages employees and leverages their interconnectedness can lead to more sustainable and impactful outcomes than traditional top-down approaches. In a world where companies are increasingly scrutinized not just for their financial performance but also for their cultural footprint, understanding and implementing these dynamics can significantly enhance how change is managed and perceived internally. 

The article also serves as a call to action for change management professionals to reconsider their strategies and methodologies. Rather than focusing on spreading awareness as a precursor to change, it is more crucial to build a robust framework that fosters organic, community-driven transformation. This involves nurturing an environment where change is not only initiated but also embraced and driven by the collective dynamics of the workforce. 

In essence, Greg Satell’s insights provide a compelling narrative that reshapes our understanding of change management and its implications for workplace culture. It’s a narrative that champions a shift from awareness to meaningful action, urging leaders and change agents alike to harness the subtleties of social influence and community engagement to truly transform their organizations for the better. In doing so, they can avoid the pitfalls of “transformation theater” and instead achieve real, lasting success that resonates throughout their corporate culture. 

Elsewhere In Culture

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang’s staff say he is a demanding perfectionist who’s not easy to work for—and he agrees: ‘If you want to do extraordinary things, it shouldn’t be easy’

Nvidia’s CEO Jensen Huang is known for being a demanding leader, and he’s not shy about it. He believes that achieving great things isn’t supposed to be easy, a philosophy that has helped propel Nvidia to the forefront of the tech industry. This approach to leadership, emphasizing high standards and relentless pursuit of excellence, serves as a powerful example for other companies aiming to foster a similar culture of resilience and exceptional performance. 

At Nvidia, which has reached a staggering $2 trillion valuation and led significant advancements in AI, the impact of its corporate culture is clear. Huang’s strategy of maintaining more direct reports is an interesting take on power dynamics, suggesting a more hands-on, yet empowering approach to leadership. This kind of environment encourages teams to push boundaries and innovate, much like Nvidia continues to do under Huang’s guidance. 

U.S. bans noncompete agreements for nearly all jobs

The recent decision by the FTC to ban nearly all noncompete agreements is a game-changer for the American workforce. Traditionally, these agreements have locked employees into their current jobs, preventing them from moving to better opportunities or even starting their own ventures. This change is expected to free millions of workers from these constraints, allowing them to pursue jobs that better match their career goals and personal values, including escaping toxic work environments or finding companies that align more closely with their beliefs. 

For businesses, this means a shift in how they attract and retain talent. Without the crutch of noncompete agreements, companies will need to double down on creating a work environment that employees don’t want to leave. This involves more than just good pay; it means cultivating a positive workplace culture, offering career development opportunities, and fostering a supportive community. Companies that can build such a culture will not only attract top talent but also retain them, turning their workplace into a hub for innovation and growth in this new, more dynamic labor market. 


If you want people to genuinely care, you need to change their beliefs, not only their actions.

I’ve been approached by countless CEOs and leaders, all expressing a shared frustration: despite reminding, urging, and implementing perks and benefits, they face a stark lack of genuine engagement.

This is precisely what we refer to as the “Action Trap.” The Action Trap occurs when leaders find themselves in a continuous cycle of implementing new processes and systems (taking new actions) to change results, rather than addressing the underlying experiences that lead to those results. Our beliefs stem from our experiences.

So, if you want to instill a new belief, you need to create a new experience.

That’s the key to making people care.

What’s the difference between mental health and behavioral health? And why will knowing this help you become a better leader? 
This week on the Culture Leaders podcast I interview Le Ondra Clark Harvey, Ph.D. an advocate for behavioral health policies and practices. 
Tune in to this episode to learn how to help your organization navigate the key issues surrounding behavioral health, especially in disenfranchised communities. 
Tune in to the full episode here: 
Apple Podcasts: 

So, what’s one change you’re trying to influence? How can you change your approach based on this insight?