How to Change Anything

When we started Outside Angle, we wanted to establish a firm that might transcend some of the most persistent shortcomings of traditional strategy consulting. To do that, we knew we’d need to set aside some of the subject matter expertise that sustained our early careers to focus on the cross-cutting themes that seemed to apply to a broad variety of challenges and across sectors.

Over the last two decades, we spent time in roles that exposed us to everything from teaching to policy development, technical assistance to organizational leadership, and research and writing to on the ground implementation. Along the way, we kept seeing the same challenges over and over again and we wanted to figure out why. Why is change so difficult, and what makes change leaders effective? What is missing in our collective understanding of change that could help leaders across diverse organizations?

The first thing we noticed is that although our work cut across public and private sectors, and included work in education, technology, healthcare, finance and retail, the common denominator was always change. The constancy of change has grown into cliche, but that makes it no less true. And everywhere we went, we found that despite the constancy of change and even the growing awareness of many that the work in which they were engaged or about to engage was “change management”, few understood the implications for their own roles or the organizations in which they operated.

The second thing we observed is that when good and even great leaders and managers are faced with responsibilities they do not fully understand how to execute, they naturally gravitate toward the things that have helped them to be successful in the past, those things about which they feel a sense of self-efficacy. The result is that they may continue to do a very good job at the wrong things, and thereby stumble, stall, or altogether fail. They may also come to feel that their staff are lacking in competence, or that the systems in which they operate are intransigent, or both. 

Finally, we noticed that change virtually always presents four domains of challenge to leaders: vision, process, relationships, and problem-solving. While leaders will face a multitude of issues, decisions, and unexpected events, virtually all of them fall into these four categories.

Going forward, our writing will address each of these, either independently or in combination, through the lens of the work we do every day. The framework may seem simple, but we think its power is in bringing simplicity to the complexity of change.