Built to Change: How to Achieve Sustained Organizational Effectiveness

Article excerpt

Built to Change: How to Achieve Sustained Organizational Effectiveness Edward E. III Lawler and Chris Worley; Jerry Porras (Foreword) John Wiley and Sons, (2006) 311 pages, Hardcover, $18.87

In 2001, Neff and Citrin wrote Lessons from the Top: The Fifty Most Successful Business Leaders in America-and What You Can Learn from Them. Lawler and Worley remind us that in 2006, nine of those leaders, including Ken Lay, Dennis Kozlowski and Bernie Ebbers (Enron, Tyco and WorldCom, respectively) have witnessed their companies, indeed they themselves, face legal challenges resulting from what one might characterize as behaviors that were at odds with espoused corporate core values. Professors Lawler and Worley believe that living these core values support the ability of an organization to promote change and capitalized on small, discrete changes in the business environment. Lawler and Worley posit that organization excellence and ultimately competitive advantage is all about an organization's ability to change. However, the authors contend that organizational change is difficult because organizations and their managers are developed and trained to sustain stability, to keep those management systems that have made the organization successful in the past, but might not be useful to be successful in the future or in the face of external environmental change.

Jerry Porras, who along with Jim Collins wrote Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, writes in the Foreword that "enduringly great" companies have a passion for change. These great companies hold a set of core values (for which he supplies a simple yet elegant three part value litmus test to determine if in fact they are "core") not only as an anchor with respect to valued organizational behaviors but these core values also promote behaviors that facilitate change. Lawler and Worley pick up on this theme in the Preface stating that they view Built to Change as the sequel to Built to Last. In developing this theme throughout the book, they present the Built-to-Change Model ("B2Change Model") as a challenge to the conventional wisdom that stability, i.e. those systems, behaviors, products, services, etc., which produced success over and over again in the past, is the continuing road to organizational excellence. Instead they believe that the challenge for an organization is to change constantly, adapting to the environment so as to string together a series of temporary competitive advantages. Therefore change, not stability, is the norm and expected within excellent organizations.

The B2Change Model is a dynamic view of organizational effectiveness consisting of environmental scenarios, which the authors consider key determinants of business strategy and organizational design, and three organizational processes which are the primary contributors to organizational effectiveness: strategizing, creating value and designing, in other words, how things get done. Environmental scenarios are the broad trends and future demands that confront an organization. At the center of the model, much like the nucleus of an atom is a firm's identity consisting of its core and stable set of values. Circulating around the nucleus of values are these dynamic contributors in response to or in anticipation of change in the environment. The ability of an organization to effectively understand the environment, organize its key contributors of strategizing, creating value and designing to effect change while honoring its identity is what the authors call proximity. Lawler and Worley theorize that organizational performance over time is a function of how well a firm's organizational design, its primary contributors, are in proximity to the demands of the environment.

Lawler and Worley further develop their taxonomy by explaining more fully the connections between terms. They put forward the idea that identity is essential to good strategizing. Strategizing is the manner by which an organization decides which goods, products, services and markets to focus on and how to compete. …