This year’s winning article discusses the importance of leveraging multiple sources of influence to effect change in an organization. The authors conducted three studies that tracked long-term problems in organizations. Despite tackling nagging problems that they referred to as “destructive” or even “cancerous,” the executives in the studies were found most often to have tried only one fix for their problem. Only 5% of those studied used four or more potential solutions, such as increased training, reorganization or special retreats. However, the studies showed that executives who sought four or more sources of influence were 10 times more likely to succeed at solving their problem.
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The authors identified the six most important sources of influence that executives can use to effect positive change in their organizations. They further divided those into three categories: personal, social and structural. Personal influences include linking change to the mission and values of the organization and investing in skill building. When executives want to exert social influences, they work with positive forms of peer pressure and social support. Finally, executives can influence their organizations through structural changes, such as aligning rewards and accountability and changing the environment. By exerting these forces in concert, executives are far more likely to influence the culture and behavior of their organizations and to solve damaging problems.
The prize committee found the article especially pertinent to Richard Beckhard’s legacy and said: “The article is well grounded, with field interviews of C-level executives addressing organizational change as well as surveys of individuals facing changes in personal habits, a broad range that is brought together in a simple and logically appealing model. The result is the identification of recognizable sources of influence for the leader to use to change individual behavior. Rather than relying on one or only a few activities, such as training, harnessing peer pressure or changing the structure of the work environment, the research supports using multiple sources to ensure success. Dick Beckhard was an advocate of such a multifaceted approach to change, and he would have endorsed the very practical, doable actions laid out here for the leader and change agent.”
This year’s panel included three distinguished members of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty: Schussel Professor and chair of the MIT Sloan Management Review Erik Brynjolfsson, senior lecturer Cyrus Gibson and Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management John Van Maanen.
One of the founders and architects of the field of organizational development, Prof. Richard Beckhard was a member of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty for more than 20 years. A longtime friend of the MIT Sloan Management Review, Beckhard was known for his efforts to help organizations function in a more humane and high-performing manner and to empower people to be agents of change.
His books include Organizational Development Strategies and Models; Organizational Transitions: Managing Complex Change; Changing the Essence: The Art of Creating and Leading Fundamental Change in Organizations; and his autobiography, Agent of Change: My Life, My Practice.
The prize was established in 1984 by the faculty of the MIT Sloan School of Business upon Prof. Beckhard’s retirement and renamed the Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize after his death on December 28, 1999.