Issue 19: In This Issue:

  • Deep Change
  • The Eight Errors of Change

Deep Change

By Robert E. Quinn 

If the title ‘Deep Change’ sounds intimidating, it is for good reason. Change is something that humans and organizations have a tendency to resist at the best of times and ‘deep change’ conjuresup images of ‘deep resistance’.

However, as long ago as 1996 when Quinn first penned this book, it was widely recognized, that to remain competitive in the global environment, organizations must frequently make deep change. And the intervening 10 years has only served to drive that imperative even further home.

And yet what is not so widely recognized is that organizational members must also make deep personal change and with more frequency today than in the past.

Incremental versus Deep Change

Quinn points out that when most of us talk about change, we typically mean incremental change. Incremental change is usually the result of a rational analysis and planning process. There is a desired goal with a specific set of steps for reaching it. Incremental change is usually limited in scope and is often reversible. If the change does not work, out, we can always return to the old way. Incremental change usually does not disrupt our past patterns—it is an extension of the past. Most important, during incremental change, we feel we are in control.

In Quinn’s model, deep change differs from incremental change in that it requires new ways of thinking and behaving. It is change that is major in scope, discontinuous with the past and generally irreversible. The deep change effort distorts existing patterns of action and involves taking risks. Deep change means surrendering control.

Deep Change: The Organizational Perspective

He rightly states that organization and change are not complementary concepts. To organize is to systematize, to make behavior predictable. All organizations are based on systems of external and internal expectations and all these expectations help ensure predictable behavior.

As time goes on, however, these routine patterns move the organization toward decay and stagnation and the organization loses alignment with the changing, external reality. When internal and external alignment is lost, the organization faces a choice: either adapt or take the road to slow death.

Deep Change: The Personal Perspective

Responsive organizations need responsive people. In an age of continuous change, organizations must match their environments by being more responsive, and people must match their organizations by being more responsive. If organizations must make deep change more frequently, so must the people who work in organizations

Slow Death: The Organizational Phenomenon

Slow death begins when someone, confronting the dilemma of having to make deep organizational change or accepting the status quo, rejects the option for the deep change. This decision results in the gradual (and occasionally not so gradual) disintegration of an organization, business, or industry.

Four Common Characteristics of Slow Death


The choice of slow death is especially common in conservative, "don't rock the boat" cultures although it can even be found in very successful enterprises. Change is needed, but this need is denied. The choice can be made anywhere, at any time, and at any level.

Violation of Trust

The selection of slow death involves a violation of trust and responsibility, often leading to guilt. Because of the moral implications, the issue becomes undiscussable in the organization. Organizational members fake ignorance of the situation while fully understanding that their organization is in serious trouble.

Thirst for Vision

Executives often behave as if the problems they are having are a secret. However, that is seldom the case. People know when a critical issue is being ignored. Some executives find it is easier to generate numbers and spreadsheets than it is to provide visionary leadership.


Relative lack of energy is another issue. There are people who know how to lead, who understand deep change and the enormous investment of energy and resources that are necessary, yet they cannot bring themselves to initiate the process. There is no energy left. They are victims of burnout.

Confronting Slow Death at the Personal Level

There are three strategies for confronting the problem of slow death.

Strategy 1: Peace and Pay

This approach is one of "don't rock the boat," "maintain the status quo," and means that people are coping with slow death by choosing slow death.

Strategy 2: Active Exit

The various steps in the active exit strategy are primarily self-oriented and individuals who choose this strategy are in effect contributing to slow death at the organizational level while they look for a personal escape hatch.

Strategy 3: Deep Change

Deep change requires discipline, courage, and motivation. However, many would rather experience the pain of slow death than deal with the threat of change.

Fear of Change

Quinn spends a chapter discussing the fear of change and why the common approach to effecting change doesn’t work. He goes on to discuss why this individual transformation is best looked at through the lens of the hero’s journey and how the ‘logic of task pursuit’, the ‘integrity gap’, our own past success and the ‘tyranny of competence’ provide obstacles along the path to deep change.

Barriers in Middle Management

When it comes to middle management change initiatives, he spends a chapter addressing how bureaucratic culture, embedded conflict, and personal time constraints are barriers to change that exist within most large organizations. These pressures are not a result of bad intent; they are a natural consequence of the organizing process.
Quinn states that few managers, including many CEOs, have internalized what he calls the transformational perspective. But he also points out that the few people who have done so may be found at any level in an organization.

Leadership Behavior of CEOs

In a recent study of over nine hundred CEOs, Stuart Hart and Robert Quinn concluded that CEOs are expected to play four general competing roles: vision setter, motivator, analyzer, and taskmaster. These roles are part of a larger model, encompassing four domains: the organization, the future, the operating system, and the market. Based on these domains, their model suggests four demands that all top managers must attend: the need for people, for innovation, for efficiency, and for performance. These lead to four sets of expectations or competing roles.

Transformational Roles

In the vision setter role, the CEO attends to the future, remains up-to-date with emerging trends, focuses on purpose and direction, and communicates a sense of where the company will be over the long term.

In the motivator role, the CEO attends to commitment, emphasizes company values, challenges people with new goals and aspirations, and creates a sense of excitement.

Transactional Roles

In the analyzer role, the CEO attends to efficiency of operations, evaluates proposed projects, and integrates conflicting perspectives and needs.

In the taskmaster role, the CEO attends to performance, focuses on results, solves problems, and influences lower-level decisions.

CEOs and Their Firm's Performance

The authors then studied the link between performance of their firms and the roles of CEOs. They measured three dimensions: short-term financial performance, the growth and future positioning of the organization and assessing organizational effectiveness

Their results may be surprising because CEOs are thought to be proactive leaders. They found that CEOs more frequently engage in transactional behaviors, like analyzing problems and driving task completion, than in transformational behaviors, like providing vision and motivating people. They found that the most frequently played role was that of taskmaster, followed by analyzer (both transactional roles). The motivator and vision setter roles (transformational roles) were less frequently played.

They found that the highest levels of performance are achieved by CEOs who frequently engage in all four competing roles. They achieve higher levels of performance regardless of the nature of their firm's size or the level of competitiveness in the firm's environment.

For everyone, there is a natural attraction toward controlling behaviors embedded in the transactional roles. These roles involve preserving the status quo and do nothing for fostering the required deep change.

The Transformational Cycle

Quinn points out that we need to understand that every system is continuously evolving and that this evolutionary process can be described by a transformational cycle. This cycle has four distinct phases: initiation, uncertainty, transformation, and routinization. Excellence is something that happens as part of this cycle.

All action systems must expand and grow, or they will contract and fall into a state of decay. To remain healthy and vibrant, a system must continuously circulate through the transformational cycle. However, it is not easy for a system to keep moving and there are four traps into which an individual or group may fall: illusion, panic, exhaustion, and stagnation. Each can lead to slow death—and in some cases a fast death.

Quinn makes a compelling case for the need for deep change in both an organization and its people and does an excellent job in leading you through the paths and pitfalls along the way. As organizations continue to experience the pressures for change, forced on us by the realities of the global economy, their leaders should look to Deep Change for an effective framework coupled with practical guidance.

To purchase 'Deep Change' click this link to get it from: 

The Eight Errors of Change

from 'Leading Change' by John P. Kotter 

In addressing the issue of change it is always worthwhile revisiting the advice of John P. Kotter. In his 1996 book,Leading Change, Kotter identifies eight errors of change:

Error #1:

Allowing Too Much Complacency

Without a sense of urgency, people won't give that extra effort that is often essential. They won't make needed sacrifices. Instead they cling to the status quo and resist initiatives from above.

Error #2:

Failing to Create a Sufficiently Powerful Guiding Coalition

In successful transformations, the president, division general manager, or department head plus another five, fifteen, or fifty people with a commitment to improved performance pull together as a team.

This group rarely includes all of the most senior people because some of them just won't buy in, at least at first. But in the most successful cases, the coalition is always powerful—in terms of formal titles, information and expertise, reputations and relationships, and the capacity for leadership.

Individuals alone, no matter how competent or charismatic, never have all the assets needed to overcome tradition and inertia except in very small organizations.

Error #3:

Underestimating the Power of Vision

Vision plays a key role in producing useful change by helping to direct, align, and inspire actions on the part of large numbers of people.

Without an appropriate vision, a transformation effort can easily dissolve into a list of confusing, incompatible, and time-consuming projects that go in the wrong direction or nowhere at all.

Error #4:

Undercommunicating the Vision by a Factor of 10 (or 100 or Even 1,000)

Three patterns of ineffective communication are common, all driven by habits developed in more stable times.

In the first, a group actually develops a pretty good transformation vision and then proceeds to sell it by holding only a few meetings or sending out only a few memos.

In the second pattern, the head of the organization spends a considerable amount of time making speeches to employee groups, but most of her/his managers are virtually silent.

In the third pattern, much more effort goes into newsletters and speeches, but some highly visible individuals still behave in ways that are antithetical to the vision, and the net result is that cynicism among the troops goes up while belief in the new message goes down.

Error #5:

Permitting Obstacles to Block the New Vision

New initiatives fail far too often when employees, even though they embrace a new vision, feel disempowered by huge obstacles in their path. Sometimes the obstacle is the organizational structure.

Compensation or performance-appraisal systems can force people to choose between the new vision and their self-interests.

Whenever smart and well-intentioned people avoid confronting obstacles, they disempower employees and undermine change.

Error #6:

Failing to Create Short-Term Wins

Complex efforts to change strategies or restructure businesses risk losing momentum if there are no short-term goals to meet and celebrate.

Most people won't go on the long march unless they see compelling evidence within six to eighteen months that the journey is producing expected results.

Error #7:

Declaring Victory Too Soon

After a few years of hard work, people can be tempted to declare victory in a major change effort with the first major performance improvement. While celebrating a win is fine, any suggestion that the job is mostly done is generally a terrible mistake.

Error #8:

Neglecting to Anchor Changes Firmly in the Corporate Culture

Change sticks only when it becomes "the way we do things around here," when it seeps into the very bloodstream of the work unit or corporate body.

Until new behaviors are rooted in social norms and shared values, they are always subject to degradation as soon as the pressures associated with a change effort are removed.

To purchase 'Leading Change' click this link to get it from: