Sometimes, when people talk about changing a business or a government or some other organization, they talk about changing it from within. But changes — particularly big changes — rarely come from within, with one exception.
The British didn’t leave India because some workers within the British government wanted them to. The efforts of Mahatma Gandhi and his allies forced them to.
The American South didn’t desegregate due to the efforts of the enlightened, non-racist Southerners who were calling for change. Federal law, Supreme Court decisions, massive marches, negative news attention and other forces made the South change.
And anyone who works within a big company knows how much the forces of tradition, corporate culture, and disapproving bosses can stop change efforts completely.
I mentioned “one exception,” and that’s when the change from within an organization comes from its apex. When the biggest boss pushes for change, the organization may actually change.
That was the case at the Los Angeles Times, a paper with a reputation for weak journalism and a far-right editorial stance. Under Otis Chandler, the paper’s boss and a key heir to the family that owned the paper, the Times became a much better paper and took on a center-left viewpoint.
The team of Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, and Jeffrey Katzenberg shook up the nearly moribund Walt Disney Company in the middle ’80s and modernized it into a Hollywood powerhouse.
For that matter, Hitler as Germany’s chancellor led the charge to change his nation from civilized to savage.
But most organizational kings aren’t as eager to change the organization or as able to change it very much. Many of them like the organization just fine (it’s responsible for their power).
Besides, it’s amazing how hard an organization will snap back at anyone trying to change it.