Radical Change, The Quiet Way

TitleRadical Change, The Quiet Way
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2001
AuthorsMeyerson, D. E.
JournalHarvard Business Review
Date Published2001
ISBN Number0017-8012
Keywordscultural change, leadership, management, organizational change, organizational restructuring

At some point, many managers yearn to confront assumptions, practices, or values in their organizations that they feel are counterproductive or even downright wrong. Yet, they can face an uncomfortable dilemma: If they speak out too loudly, resentment may build toward them; if they remain silent, resentment will build inside them. Is there any way, then, to rock the boat without falling out of it? In 15 years of research, professor Debra Meyerson has observed hundreds of professionals who have dealt with this problem by working behind the scenes, engaging in a subtle form of grassroots leadership. She calls them "tempered radicals" because they effect significant changes in moderate ways. Meyerson has identified four incremental approaches that managers can quietly use to create lasting cultural change. Most subtle is "disruptive self-expression" in dress, office decor, or behavior, which can slowly change an unproductive atmosphere as people increasingly notice and emulate it. By using "verbal jujitsu," an individual can redirect the force of an insensitive statement or action to improve the situation. "Variable-term opportunists" spot, create, and capitalize on short- and long-term chances for change. And through "strategic alliance building," an individual can join with others to promote change with more force. By adjusting these approaches to time and circumstance, tempered radicals work subtly but effectively to alter the status quo. In so doing, they exercise a form of leadership that is more modest and less visible than traditional forms--yet no less significant. Top managers who want to create cultural or organizational change--perhaps they're moving tradition-bound businesses down new roads--should seek out these tempered radicals, for they are masters at transforming organizations from the grass roots. (publisher's statement)