How Outsiders on the Inside Implement Change in Organizations
By Karen Vagts
November 17, 2004
One of the challenges facing corporations and institutions is how to implement true and beneficial change. Such change solves concrete problems and incorporates new ideas and procedures into organizational practices.
On October 15, 2004, Janice A. Klein, a Senior Lecturer in the MIT Sloan School, conducted a web seminar on this topic for the LFM and SDM communities. In her presentation, which was titled True Change: How Outsiders on the Inside Get Things Done in Organizations, Klein summarized seven years of research on organizational change, which is reflected in her recently published book of the same name.
In the web seminar, Klein observed that to implement change, organizations must build a capacity for it. When this capacity exists, organizations can improve their operations, processes, and, ultimately, the bottom line.
To develop this capacity, organizations often look to external agents, such as management consultants. Klein argues that this approach often fails because these “outsiders” lack complete knowledge of how their clients operate on a day-to-day basis and have difficulty building the trust among employees that is required to implement change. Rather than rely on outsiders, Klein suggests, organizations should cultivate a particular group of insiders that Klein calls “Outsiders on the Inside.”
Outsiders on the Inside are employees who wear two hats. One hat is as an employee who understands the internal culture, has credibility within the organization, and can leverage the existing situation. The other hat is as someone who is not blinded by cultural assumptions and who sees mismatches between the root causes of problems and the current solutions applied to them. This person simultaneously sees new approaches to overcoming a challenge while having the ability and support to get these alternative approaches implemented.
One of the abilities that Outsiders on the Inside demonstrate is the ability to find opportunities to “pull” change by focusing on solutions for demonstrated needs rather than “pushing” new procedures that don’t address actual problems. To find opportunities to pull change effectively, Klein observed, Outsiders on the Inside must understand how their organization operates in terms of establishing relationships, assigning legitimacy to ideas and individuals, and providing support, whether through hierarchical or lateral organizational structures.
After summarizing her thesis and basic findings for the seminar attendees, Klein offered advice on how to identify and analyze both barriers to, and support mechanisms for, change. She stressed the importance of internal networks in building a critical mass of change agents and discussed the personality traits of typical Outsiders on the Inside.
Klein’s thesis reflects seven years of research that included the LFM Utilization Study, which looked at the utilization practices of LFM partner companies hiring LFM graduates; the SDM Distance Learning and Utilization Research Project, which studied the distance-learning component of the SDM curriculum; and a multidisciplinary project on globally dispersed teams sponsored by LFM partners. Based on this research, Klein was able to document the characteristics of individuals and organizations that enable high-potential employees, such as LFM and SDM graduates, to effectively find opportunities to pull in change.
More than 70 participants at 34 sites, including alumni and employees at LFM and SDM partner companies, attended the seminar. In the online discussion group that followed, participants shared their own experiences and observations about implementing change.
Janice Klein is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the LFM and SDM programs. Her previous writings include a textbook, academic journal articles, and contributions to the Sloan Management Review and Harvard Business Review. Information on her new book, True Change: How Outsiders on the Inside Get Things Done in Organizations (Jossey-Bass, 2004) can be found at www.josseybass.com or Amazon.com.