Project Management

Change Whisperer on

This is a blog about Strategy Execution, about implementing change and driving ROI to the bottom line. It is intended for: Leaders and for Program, Project and Change Management practitioners trying to manage the weather systems of change raining inside the organization.

About this Blog


Recent Posts

Enterprise change vs Project change

Insights in Change Management—Interview with Kimberlee Williams, CEO, Ignitem (Part 1 Of 3)

What is leadership’s responsibility for driving and sustaining a nimble organization? Interview with Daryl Conner, Chairman, Conner Partners. Post 2 of 3

The strategic imperative of the "nimble organization" and the mirage. Interview with Daryl Conner

What is the Board’s Role in Strategy and Strategy Execution? Post 3 of 3

The REWARD. Stolen: Change Management. Reward offered. Post 4

Categories: Change Management, Ethics

“Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn't blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won't cheat, then you know he never will. Integrity is not a search for the rewards of integrity. Maybe all you ever get for it is the largest kick in the ass the world can provide. It is not supposed to be a productive asset.” John D. MacDonald, The Turquoise Lament

Change Management is a still-young profession struggling to establish legitimacy in the arena of the wild web. The preceding three posts in this series looked at the problems of plagiarism and intellectual property (IP) theft in change management. This post looks at the incentives of operating with integrity and of requiring others to do likewise.

Professional Integrity

What I love about the MacDonald quote above is its raw honesty. There is no guarantee that integrity provides any advantage whatsoever. In fact, it might be a disadvantage.

However, for those with high ethical standards, that is irrelevant. It is an unwavering standard and that is all there is to it.

Living an authentic life, where one’s values and actions are aligned, is the objective. Integrity is its own reward.


I think it’s important (at least it’s important for me) to remember that standards are aspirational. The fact that we sometimes falter should not cause us to question the standard.

It might seem inconceivable that anyone could accidentally plagiarize or steal IP, but I think it might actually be common.

I have a friend who has been known to say, “I have never had an original idea.” Now, I consider this particular individual to be one of the most insightful and thoughtful people I know, so this immediately struck me as incongruous. Yet, as I reflected on my own writing, I realized that much of what emerges from my pen is actually a re-interpretation of one or more ideas from others.

Often, my blog posts are the output of processing everything I have studied, practiced, and experienced. It is a way of making sense of complexity. I share it with the hope that it might shorten others’ journeys.

In sharing my own thoughts and experiences I hope that I remember to cite sources and inspirations. The fact is, though, that once I have internalized an idea it feels like it’s “mine.” I have to acknowledge that, despite my best efforts, I may have in the past and likely will in the future accidently forget to cite a reference.

Believing this to be true, I have to remind myself to be tolerant, actually generous, with others.

Trusted Advisors

There is no question that trust is a critical element of change management. It plays out in a variety of ways.

Why choose to stand up for professional integrity around intellectual property? Why should this level of professional integrity matter to all of us? It matters because the caliber of our work from start to end matters:

  • “We live in an era where each of us copes with, modifies to, and has the opportunity to step up to tremendous amounts of change. The degree to which we are good at this affects our well-being, our personal lives, our families, our businesses, and our economies?our quality of life as communities.” The power of change management. Pay it forward.

When this matters, it then matters that we do it with the utmost commitment to quality and integrity. And when you demonstrate this, it reflects on you.

To be clear, the proper citation of all content (phrases, ideas, tools, training, methodologies, etc.) may narrow recognition down to the author that came up with the original concept, but it also speaks volumes about how trustworthy you are, about how much you know and are willing to share in service of the change.

It is important to take this position in the spirit of service. There is a high degree of diplomacy required to do the right things in ways that serve organizations and that foster and build community. This requires an investment of caring and nurturing, a mindset that says individuals will rise to the expectations of the group.

 Extreme Trust

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers published “Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage” [1] earlier this year. They make a compelling case that, in a transparent world, we don’t have a choice but to prove that we are looking out for the best interests of our clients, our organizations?our community. From their short video promotion:

  • “Improve the way that you look out for customers. Improve the way that you use honesty.”
  • “Consumer standards are increasing and they expect more from companies in terms of trust than they used to.”

When your clients (internal or external) see you looking out for their best interests, in diplomatic and meaningful ways, you have a unique opportunity to differentiate yourself.

When it is a reflection of what you believe, then it is an authentic representation of what you stand for.

The reward

The reward is an opportunity to align personal integrity with professional delivery.

It is an opportunity to deliver greater value in ways that truly impact the well-being of our communities.

It is an authentic life.


I am quite happy to be out on this limb by myself. But I am also very interested in knowing if any of this resonates with anyone else:

  • What do you think? Is this making a mountain out of a mole hill?
  • Do you see “stolen change management” in your travels?
  • Does it bother you? Is there a tipping point for you?
  • If you hesitate to call it out, why?
  • If you do call it out, how do you deal with it? What responses have you gotten?


1. “Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage”, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Portfolio Hardcover, April 26, 2012.

Posted on: January 01, 2013 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fair game and foul play. Stolen: Change Management. Reward offered. Post 3

Categories: Change Management, Ethics

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” —George Orwell

 There are well-established boundaries for the creation and use of intellectual property. In the age of re-mix it is important to be very clear on them. One way is by citing resources properly and identifying plagiarism (post 1). Another is by understanding the current explosion of re-mix (post 2). In this post, we’ll look at the conditions for producing and using thought leadership appropriately. We’ll begin by looking at what’s legitimate and what’s not.

Fair Game

There are four distinct areas:


In the change management space, most “inventions” emerge from research, often conducted for Masters and PhD programs. A student candidate identifies a thesis to investigate, and then a board screens the thesis to ensure that it contributes to or develops/challenges existing thought leadership. In many cases, after the candidate earns a degree, he or she develops a commercial business around the thesis, usually based on tools and/or training.

In developing ways to apply theory in the field, it is often necessary to modify and extend existing tools and methodologies. This work should always be done under the direction of the original thought leaders. Only these individuals understand the original findings, the structure of the current approach, and its interdependencies.

Work made for hire

Within contract law, there is a concept called “work made for hire.” It stipulates that all work produced by an employee is the property of the employer (likewise, contractor/client).

This means that, even if you are employed by one company and move to another, you are not entitled to reproduce work created elsewhere. You are certainly not permitted to copy the intellectual property it was based on.

The reality of working life is that all intellectual property is produced by individuals who move from organization to organization. What they create in one organization becomes part of that organization’s intellectual property. However, what they learn goes with them. What if they re-create their work in the new organization? The law is clearly against this, even if it is rarely enforced.


Want to use a commercially available tool, training, or methodology? Inquire into a license.

In many training courses, for example, when you finish, you get an official license to use the IP with very specific conditions. Completion of a training course is never a license to take credit for the IP or to use it as a base for building or modifying one’s own IP.


Many of us write on the topics we are passionate about. We share our experiences and comment on what is working and what we are trying differently. To the extent that this explains, advances, or challenges current thinking it is a good thing.

Most of us can afford to be a little more diligent. If we imagine that we are writing for a Masters program or a PhD thesis perhaps we can raise the quality of our production.

At the very least, we should cite resources properly. As noted in Post 1, provides some excellent advice: “Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism.”

As a reminder, they make it very clear when citation is required:

“Whenever you borrow words or ideas, you need to acknowledge their source. The following situations almost always require citation:

1. Whenever you use quotes

2. Whenever you paraphrase

3. Whenever you use an idea that someone else has already expressed

4. Whenever you make specific reference to the work of another

5. Whenever someone else's work has been critical in developing your own ideas.”

They provide an excellent section on citationhere( .

Foul Play

It is very clear what is legal and appropriate and yet, it seems, there is a lot of highly questionable activity happening. This ranges from representing someone else’s ideas as one’s own to building new methodologies on top of someone else’s IP without licensing, let alone citation.

If you do the following without citing sources (and sometimes even if you do cite them) it’s considered illegal:

  • Re-write or summarize someone else’s 5, 6, 7, or 8 steps and represent them as your own
  • Excerpt steps from different approaches and amalgamate them to come up with your own x-step process

Poaching content and methodology is not just “wrong,” it’s dangerous. The output is often shallow and sometimes so inaccurate as to be counterproductive.

You might say, “You’re over-reacting. There can’t possibly be such infractions. If this were so, there would surely be corresponding lawsuits.” The fact is that prosecution is time-consuming, expensive, and takes valuable attention away from present business. Many opt not to pursue infractions.

Caveat emptor (buyer beware)

We are really operating in a marketplace where being careful is paramount.

There is only a market for products that people consume. In that formula, buyers take on a symbiotic responsibility. The general marketplace includes blogs like this, as well as ebooks, Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceBook, webinars, seminars, conferences?basically any communication offered for marketing or commercial purposes. It also includes consulting and contracting services, in addition to training and coaching.

Remember the “broken windows” story in Post 1? What we all read, share, and buy sends a “signal.”

What can we do?

What can we do when we read something that is likely plagiarised or stolen? I propose to you that we owe it to each other to be active in our communities.

Some of the things we can do:

1. Be an informed, demanding, and responsible consumer. Ask contractors and consultants:

  • Who inspired them?
  • What have they studied?
  • Who do they reference in their work?
  • What they are licensed to deliver?

Know the reputable thought leaders whose names you will expect to hear. Recognize and ask about licensing on concepts that they don’t own.

2. Reward “the good.” When you are impressed by original thinking or re-mix that is appropriately cited, say so. This has the effect of shaping the behavior of all players on the field. If proper citing is publically respected it will become more prevalent.

  • Tell the author.
  • Give endorsements and testimonials for great work and note your appreciation of appropriate citation and licensing of thought leadership.
  • “Comment,” “Share,” and “Like” on social media.

3. Call out the questionable. When you read something that looks like plagiarism:

  • Err on the side of caution. Perhaps it is original material. Or the author might believe it so. Perhaps it’s an oversight. It happens.
  • At the very least, ignore the material. Do not “share” or “like” it on social media.
  • If it’s a blog post or discussion, consider leaving a comment like: “Gee, this really looks like XYZ’s work available here [LINK]. Were you inspired by this?” This allows the author an opportunity to set the record straight, sends a signal, and leaves a bread crumb for fellow practitioners who might come after you. You can even just leave a seemingly innocuous comment like “You might also be interested in XYZ’s work.” This also serves as a signal.
  • If you are determined to confront someone, I strongly recommend you take the conversation offline. First, public confrontation elevates the reputational stakes for both parties. Second, if you are wrong, it is my understanding that you can be prosecuted for slander.

Personal Risk

Let’s be realistic, there is a degree of mutual-reputation risk involved here. It is possible that an author could take great offense to a question. That has not been my experience, however. I have found that the recommendations above are open and respectful enough to be both effective and benign.

In many respects, we are peers operating in public space. Some would argue that no one has either the right or responsibility to enforce their own imaginary standards. I don’t happen to buy into that?I believe that all change affects us all, and that sets a higher duty of care. The question becomes whether the personal risk is worth it to you.

Where will you take a stand?

Every incident of plagiarism, accidental or intentional, is a “broken window.” There are no police. This must be a community effort.

Posted on: December 15, 2012 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stolen: Change Management. Reward offered. Why is this happening? Whose job is it? Post 2

Categories: Change Management, Ethics

"In great matters men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small matters, as they are." ? Gamaliel Bradford

How many incidents of plagiarism do you think you have seen since reading the first post in this series? Think you have seen some key language or original ideas misrepresented as the author’s, in blog posts or even methodologies? In the first post of this series we looked at why this is dangerous for our profession.

In this post, we will explore four reasons the wave of copycat publishing is cresting now.

 Why is this happening now?

The internet has become the town square. It is now the first and sometimes only place we go for information. The control, and to some extent, the quality of publishing has been exploded. High standards of journalism (such as citations and fact checking) exist only at the highest end of the spectrum.

In the town square, reputable sites line the street, like banks in the good ole times, but in the middle is a raucous haggle of merchants. It’s pretty ugly when you think of it this way. There may be quality product (perhaps like organic butter in the farmers’ market) in the marketplace but the pressure to drive the price down also drives the ugly side of competitive behavior?cheap imitations and knock-offs.

How’s the view from up there?

We’ve all heard the expression, “standing on the shoulders of those who went before,” but this noble notion seems to be offered almost exclusively in service of academics and founding thought leaders whose seminal work was completed prior to the ’80s.

There seems to be an unspoken, jagged line in time where work published before approximately 1980 gets referenced widely (for example Kurt Lewin, Dr. Kübler-Ross, and Edgar Schein, to name a few) and anything after that is only dimly acknowledged.

I believe there are four reasons for this:

1. History meets history in the making

Post WW1 through to the early 1980s was perhaps the heyday of industrial psychology and saw the emergence of both process and consulting paradigms. For an excellent review of this period, check out Chapter 3 of “A Brief History of Organization Change” in “Organizational Change: Theory and Practice” (W. Warner Burke, SAGE Publications, Inc., 2011). Tremendous progress was made in understanding organizations, as well as in establishing the foundational models of change management that we know today.

In the 1980s, much of this foundational theory of both individual and organizational change was beginning to be codified into processes and methodologies. This is continuing, happening in real time, and the pace is accelerating.

There are many brilliant people working in this space. Some of these thought leaders are better known than others. You might think that those who are renowned professors, who have published books, done speaking circuits, etc. might be protected from IP theft by virtue of their reputation. Strangely, not so. They are perhaps more susceptible.

2. Battle of the Ego: original thought vs. marketing

Much of the public material published on change management today is actually marketing. In fact, many books are also nothing more than marketing. The agenda of this material is naturally to sell the products and services of the author. There is an automatic bias: promote the author, demote, or exclude competitors. I say, caveat emptor.

3. The deafening silence

“Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence.” —Henri-Frederic Amiel

There is another unspoken dynamic at play. I think of it as my mother taught it to me: “If you don’t have something positive to say, don’t say anything at all.”

There is a deafening silence when it comes to the critique of new ideas marketed to the business community. Isn’t it strange when you think about it? We have the power to “call out” plagiarism and foggy thinking but we don’t. Something else is at work here.

On this, and maybe only this, my mother was wrong. Silence is the enemy.

As long as knowledgeable practitioners tolerate plagiarism it will continue?in fact, it will grow.

If we think of our environment as a community where we are all citizens, we all have a role in serving and protecting the community. In fact, we can only all prosper when the community prospers. No single business (not grocery store nor dentist) thrives alone. When the windows are broken on the local school it reflects on the entire community.

The difference for us, though, is that we are a very loosely self-organizing community. We do not have, nor do I think we would benefit from, from an enforcement presence. So who will do it?

I am reminded of a wonderful little story called Whose Job is This?:

4. Whose job is this?

This is a story about people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry because it was Everybody’s job.

Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”?Anonymous

There is only one person who can do this?the person who sees it.

This might feel risky, like you are making a target of yourself. You may be. The question is, “What do you stand for?”

There are benefits to standing up for integrity and there are ways to do it both respectfully and intelligently. Also, there are ways of referencing others’ work that still inspire credibility and add value for audiences. All this is coming up in the next posts.

Posted on: December 06, 2012 09:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Stolen: Change Management. Reward offered. So What? Post 1

Categories: Change Management, Ethics

"Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with the important matters." — Albert Einstein

How often have you seen “3 phases,” “5 steps,” “8 guidelines,” or a “curve” where no source material is referenced? How is it possible that blog posts, articles, and methodologies that describe and prescribe change management offer no citations?

The transitions that human beings make through change?both as individuals and in groups?are complex. This has been studied by psychologists for decades. Over the years, extensive research has been conducted and there is science behind the principles that have emerged and been distilled.

Is it conceivable that any author (outside of a handful or so of luminaries) could possibly have the first-hand research and practical experience to produce legitimate, original work—solo? “Oh,” you say, “I often see Kurt Lewin, Dr. Kübler-Ross, and maybe even Edgar Schein referenced.” And? Right, not many others?particularly not when it comes to methodology.

Confounding. Impossible. Rubbish.

This series will examine why we all should care and what we can do about it.

“Broken windows”

In the first “Freakonomics” book [1], Levitt and Dubner talked about “the broken window theory”:

“The broken window theory argues that minor nuisances, if left unchecked, turn into major nuisances: that is, if someone breaks a window and sees it isn’t fixed immediately, he gets the signal that it’s all right to break the rest of the windows and set the building on fire too.”

They go on to talk about this principle as one of the innovations that the New York City police force used to drive down the incredibly high crime rate in the 1990s. They began cracking down on all sorts of minor nuisances like “jumping a subway turnstile, panhandling too aggressively,” etc. One of the outcomes: “New Yorkers loved this crackdown…that choking off these small crimes was like choking off the criminal element’s oxygen supply.” This kind of activity is a virtuous circle?it reduces the criminal element while amplifying the sense of community.

We face a “crime” challenge of our own. By most accounts, the failure rate of change is still incredibly high, in the range of 50-70% by most accounts. Either we are a part of the problem or we are a part of the solution. What are our “broken windows”? Surely a dearth of discipline around professional ethics generally is something that, as a community, we should be concerned about?

Let’s start with plagiarism - Malicious marketing

It seems benign enough right? No one really gets hurt when someone “borrows” a phrase here or an idea there. Well, go with me for a bit.

First, perhaps you think you know what plagiarism is?I thought I did. However, turns out there’s a bit more too it. Plagiarism also extends to ideas. And, it seems to me, that this is pretty important when it comes to ideas regarding how to help people transition change. ( is an organization dedicated to “help people all over the world prevent plagiarism and restore integrity to written work.” They use a definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

I particularly appreciated the clarity in this section on “But can words and ideas really be stolen?”:

“According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property, and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).”

Academic institutions take this very seriously and most of us were well trained in that context. And yet, in the wild world of the internet strange things are happening.

I often see original intellectual property (published in widely renowned textbooks and mainstream popular business books) re-mixed and mashed together with other ideas without citation or even acknowledgement. I’m sure you see it too.

Where the rubber hits the road?commercial application

It is bad enough when intellectual property (IP) is plagiarized for the purpose of making another party seem smarter than they are. However, misrepresenting it for commercial purposes is even more problematic?it directly impacts organizations, our profession, and the practitioner.

You can buy change management in a variety of forms: books, training, coaching, and consulting. All are expensive up front, but the real risk is in the cost of sub-optimal execution.

There are a very small number of commercial change management methodologies and all are proprietary (refer to Change Management Methodology [Strategy Execution Methodologies. Post 4)]).

There are also a large number of practitioners and small-to-medium-sized enterprises that have developed their own approaches from training/education and their own experiences. Many of these are adequate for developmental or transitional change. However, their applicability to transformational change relies entirely on the capability of the practitioner. There are only a few practitioners who are senior enough and seasoned enough to pull this off.

If you are executing transformational and strategic change you really want to be dealing with a “commercial grade” methodology that has been thoroughly “road tested” and you want to be talking to thought leaders in that firm. Every organization is different and every transformational change is different. A degree of customization is always required. It is critical to work with the originators of the methodology. Originators evolved their methodology over multiple implementations to correct, add, and refine. They did this consciously, deliberately and carefully with full knowledge of the effects of previous iterations and appreciation of the risks, dependencies, and variables.

What does it look like when great IP is stolen and represented as legitimate? It may be impossible for anyone to tell except the parties involved. However, surely it is fair to say that only the originator and their properly trained people will be competent at execution of the methodology, and certainly only they should be entrusted to modify it.

1. Impact on organizations

What are the risks of an individual or firm retaining an imitation (methodology and/or practitioner)? Here are a few thoughts:

  • They don’t know the approach thoroughly enough and apply it shallowly, inconsistently, and/or improperly.
  • They come up with interpretations from the diagnostic tools that are shallowly based and /or potentially straight out wrong.
  • They believe they can modify the original IP and do so to the extent that it is no longer aligned with or supported by the original research.
  • They make recommendations and implement interventions that are ineffective (wasting money) or counter-productive (setting the initiative back).

You can imagine that in a situation where the strategy is a business imperative, where speed and effectiveness are important, these outcomes are intolerable. In situations where the change is taking place in a hostile environment (perhaps in a union environment where trust has been very low) this could precipitate the death knell for the organization.

2. Impact on our profession

All of this goes in the direction of producing poor work:

  • Perhaps leaders and targets do not adopt the change thoroughly, the strategy falls short or fails, profitability falls, jobs are lost, the community is negatively impacted. In the case of business imperatives this could mean the closure of a unit or even company.
  • Clients paying for change management see that it is not working and attribute the failure to the profession rather than to the practitioner/methodology. They withdraw support of CM capability and further diminish the ability of the organization to adapt to change.

The credibility of the change management profession overall is denigrated.

3. Impact on the practitioner

Every practitioner, at every step in his or her own professional development journey, brings value to the table. Overreaching one’s current capability comes with a price—a price for the practitioner and a price for the customer. Every incident of IP theft both exposes and erodes the integrity of the perpetrator.

Experienced practitioners know the source and see through the deception immediately. Rather than being impressed, we become distrustful of that individual. Even business leaders are becoming informed enough to know who the dozen or so original thought leaders in this space are. Omitting citations is the most obvious infraction—it exposes the perpetrator as naïve at best, perhaps a liar, or, at worst, a fraud prepared to do almost anything to make a buck.

A word on procurement

This all presents a very difficult challenge for organizations sourcing change management and strategy execution approaches (training, coaching, methodology, and/or consulting). There are huge variations between independents and consulting firms.

The best advice is to retain someone who really knows the change management profession to guide your RFI or RFP and do your own homework. Ask lots of questions about tenure in the field, speaking engagements, publishing, case experience, etc. Tenure in the field will tell you quite a bit. Unless they have been practicing since the 1970s, they are “standing on the shoulders of those who went before”?ask them who (and if applicable, if they have licenses to use that IP).

Bigger than us

Most of us have gravitated to change management to “do good.” Our work directly affects people in the organization?by extension it affects their jobs, their families, their community.

We spend a lot of time translating that into compelling justifications to the organization. They usually go like this:

  • Change management helps people understand, commit to, and align with new strategies (mindsets and behaviors).
  • We reduce resistance and build commitment.
  • We expedite transitions and help move staff to learn new capabilities faster.
  • This contributes directly to the bottom line.

However, this job also comes with a responsibility. If we fail or fall short, we have not only reduced the effectiveness of the new strategy, we are shorting the organization’s profits and, playing this out, potentially costing jobs that impact the community.

This is bigger than just “us” and our usual obsessions about sponsorship and resistance. It is about delivering the value proposition—not just about helping the people directly affected by the change but also about securing the competitiveness of that organization and its place in the ecosystems of that community and the economy.

This level of responsibility demands that we bring forward the very best of our profession. It requires that we are sober about our work?jobs and livelihoods depend on it.

Plagiarism and stolen IP denigrate our profession. This impacts all of us.

What are you going to do about it?

The next three posts in this series will look at:

  • Why is this happening now?
  • What is fair game and what is foul play?
  • What is the “reward” for integrity?


[1] “Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything,” Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., NY, 2005. [1] “Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything,” Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., NY, 2005.

Posted on: December 06, 2012 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do."

- Henry Ford