Consultant's book on managing change misses the
mark, offering little in the way of ideas, style, or even entertainment
Devotees of Sun Tsu will doubtless recall how he proved
his competence by training concubines in a military drill. Sun Tsu instructed
the assembled women carefully, then ordered them to march. They instead
fell into gales of laughter. Sun Tsu assumed his instruction was at
fault, repeated his directions, but got the same result. He concluded
that since the orders were now clear, the problem was discipline. He
had the two chief concubines beheaded. After that, the rest performed
Unfortunately, neither threats of bodily harm nor "Chainsaw
Al" Dunlap's neo-Stalinism are considered good management practice these
days. Yet modifying organizational behavior is vital in a merger or
It's no secret that most deals fail. While some founder
thanks to dubious strategies (recall the Sears Roebuck-Dean Witter "socks
and stocks" debacle), more fall short due to poor execution. As a result,
change management is a perennially popular topic with consultants, since
few companies are skilled at managing mergers or other major discontinuities.
Given how much has already been written, a book on change
management must either entertain or provide fresh ideas. Sadly, "The
Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation
and Change" by Boston Consulting Group Inc.'s Jeanie Daniel Duck, does
neither very well.
"Change Monster" aspires to give managers a new framework
and vocabulary for discussing resistance to major corporate initiatives.
The book presents two projects in which BCG was extensively involved:,
one a turnaround of a manufacturing division, the other the integration
of two R&D units in a cross-border merger. She follows them through
their major phases (the Change Curve): stagnation, preparation, implementation,
Even though "Change Monster" has a few useful observations,
it so often gets in its way that it is hard to know where to start with
A book intended for senior managers opts for the Oprah
Winfrey school of writing: personal, chatty, confessional. Duck inserts
herself frequently into the narrative, and it backfires.
Do we really need to hear the story of her life, especially
in the first chapter? To have virtually every chapter lead off with
some homily she learned at her parents' knees? To learn, in long form,
about how she rebuilt her life after her divorce? And writing at the
sixth grade level, particularly phrases like "the change monster is
rudely awakened from its hibernating slumbers and stretches," doesn't
Duck misses the mark in matters of substance as well
as style There is too much narrative and too few ideas. When reviewing,
I flag noteworthy sections, and this book got far fewer stickers than
any I have read.
She assumes that what she offers in novel, when much
of the material is familiar. While Duck regards her Change Curve as
an intellectual breakthrough, it is at most a useful organizing device.
She asserts that "it is possible to address emotional
data with rigor and rationality," yet her case studies are remarkably
short on analysis. She offers only one, admittedly very useful, instrument:
BCG's "Ready, Willing, Able" survey which helps define the nature of
"Change Monster" offers some good pointers, but too many
come incidentally, buried among the many anecdotes. And other insights
are mentioned in passing, when they merit a longer discussion.
For example, a BCG survey of European community mergers
found that differences in business philosophy - such as low cost versus
high value added - were more difficult to overcome than differences
in nationality, yet little was said about how to surmount this challenge.
Similarly, "Change Monster" emphasizes the importance of getting companies
to recognize when they are stuck, but finesses the question of how to
get them out of denial.
The book does illustrate the extraordinary effort that
needs to go into communication. It is easy for the implementation team
to get way ahead of the rest of the organization, or worse, to make
erroneous assumptions that lead to bad decisions, loss of credibility,
and defection of valued employees.
Duck advocates frequent updates, even when there is no
apparent news - information about process, how and when decisions are
to be made, keeps the rumor mill at bay. Silence leads to paranoia:
BCG found at one client that groups that were not mentioned in formal
presentations assumed the worst.
Perhaps Duck's excessive familiarity is a subconscious
cover for fundamental flaws. Ultimately, "Change Monster" is a tale
told by consultants, and the book, by being so BCG-centric undermines
its objectivity and relevance. Why does it feature only two projects
in depth? Were those the only clients that would agree to be featured?
Or were these the only two that were unalloyed successes? Or is it instead
that featuring more case studies would show how few, rather than how
many, elements they had in common?
It may be that corporate transformations are idiosyncratic,
and each has enough unique elements that working through them is heuristic.
But no consultant would want to admit that all he had to offer was trial
Yet even Sun Tsu had to experiment to determine how to
get his troops to obey.