The Science of Organizational Transformations

New survey results find that the most effective transformation initiatives draw upon four key actions to change mind-sets and behaviors.

September 2015 | by John Corrigan

When making large-scale organizational changes, the design of a transformation’s initiatives is not a matter of guesswork. For employees (and organizations) to move from current to desired mind-sets and behaviors during a transformation, our research and experience indicate that the most effective transformation initiatives use the principles of the “influence model.” Transformation initiatives are most successful at shifting mind-sets and behaviors when they draw upon all four components of this model, which were tested in the survey: 

  • Role modeling. When company leaders walk the walk and role model desired mind-set and behavior shifts, it’s more likely that employees will follow suit. Leaders can role model by setting examples of desired behaviors in their day-to-day interactions and by enlisting help from influential employees at all levels to champion the change.
  • Fostering understanding and conviction. If employees understand the reasoning behind the changes they’re asked to make, they’re more likely to act in support of these changes. Organizations can foster this understanding and conviction by communicating a compelling “change story” across the organization, making sure employees know why changes need to happen and what they will involve, and ensuring that the change story is meaningful and relevant.
  • Reinforcing change through formal mechanisms. Structures, systems, and processes are all formal mechanisms that can support employees’ efforts to adopt new mind-sets and behaviors. Organizations can reinforce desired changes by adjusting these mechanisms—for example, setting individual and organizational performance goals and motivating people through both financial and nonfinancial incentives—so they align with the changes.
  • Developing talent and skills. When employees have the skills required to act in a new way, they are more inclined to make the desired changes to mind-sets and behaviors. Organizations can develop their talent and help build new skills by assessing current—and anticipated—capability strengths and gaps, and by offering a range of targeted development opportunities that equip employees to perform in support of the changes. 

The use of each action correlates similarly with a transformation’s overall success, defined as the successful improvement of company performance (improved profitability, for example) and preparation for sustained, long-term performance (improved capabilities, for example, or positive changes in organizational culture). For instance, initiatives that focus on developing talent and skills have roughly the same effect on a transformation’s success as initiatives that emphasize fostering understanding and conviction.

Rather than drawing upon only a subset of these actions in designing initiatives, winning organizations take a comprehensive approach to changing mind-sets and behaviors by using all four. The more actions employed, the more likely executives are to rate the transformation a success. What’s more, successful transformations are nearly eight times more likely to use all four actions than to use just one.


Executive Editor

Ms Anna Sullivan

Ms Anna Sullivan