People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!

–Peter Senge

Companies need “tempered radicals“. Do you have what it takes?

How does change develop within a company? With the support of corporate consultants who analyze all processes for months and then come up with radical solutions? Or through charismatic leaders, who change the course and everything becomes different?

That may apply for individual cases. But it’s more common that change happens much less spectacularly. It’s specific people who are responsible for change – the “tempered radicals”.

They do their job and try to change things in some areas. Here are three examples:

  1. An ecology-minded manager convinces the operator of a cafeteria to refrain from using Styrofoam packaging by telling him how he could save costs. The effect was that this operator became more ecologically aware in other areas, too.
  2. A head of department gradually increased the quota of women for the team leader position – completely without explicitly making a fuss on the topic of women’s quota. Whereupon other heads of department regarded the competent female co-workers with envy.
  3. A female head of department newly defined teamwork by delegating presentations for the board of directors onto her employees instead of preparing them herself.  The result? More and more people wanted to be transferred to her department.

It’s not heroic acts that cause quite a stir and generate spontaneous applause. In fact it’s the little but efficacious acts that challenge the existing rules.

Do you know the unofficial rules of your company or working area?

The official rules usually consist of the so-called mission statement. You can find it in the company’s brochure, on its website or engraved in high quality steel in the lobby.
Mostly it begins with:

Our communication is fair and open.
The customer is the center of our attention.
Our products make an important contribution to…

Blablabla. Vacuous and replaceable phrases.

It gets much more interesting when you take a look at the unofficial rules of a company. Naturally you won’t find those engraved anywhere but almost everyone behaves according to them.

Curious about finding out what yours are? I’ll give you a thought experiment:

Imagine your best friend gives you a call at home. He or she is all excited and tells you:“You won’t believe it; I’ve got a new job. In your company! I already start next week. I really want to make a good start, so please let me in on what I should pay attention to? Tell me how I can avoid putting my foot in anything.
And everything that spontaneously comes to your mind now – those are the unofficial rules of your department or company.

The culture of many companies is often determined by inflexible conformities, strict hierarchic thinking, absolute loyalty and above all fear of change.

Many organizations for example tend to hire people for positions who think alike or have a similar attitude. After every election for the German Bundestag or state the secretaries of state or heads of department are replaced according to the membership book. And bosses sensitive to criticism only gather nodding stooges around them.

How are things supposed to change?

The gist of corresponding research on the topic of “tempered radicals“ is:

“If you want to change something, you need people who are entrenched in the culture and at the same time are far enough out of range in order to be able to bring change about.“

Because all too conform thinking impedes necessary adaption or painful changes. Each company –therefore needs “tempered radicals“, who are able to look at processes in their area from an external point of view and who have the heart to try out something new.


Do you have what it takes to be a “tempered radical“?

tempered radical, sanfte_rebellen“Tempered radicals“ are individualists and usually not only in their jobs. They have their own view on things and don’t shy away from showing it or behaving accordingly. Find out with this checklist, whether you are one of them:

  • Do you like taking on a risk, if you consider something to be important?
  • Do you often think about how things could be improved?
  • Do you appreciate handling conflicts?
  • Are you ready to accept disadvantages for your convictions?
  • Do you have personal values that you represent with passion?
  • Do you like to make changes even when things are going well?

This is what Debra Meyerson, (here is an article by her) who wrote a book on the topic, says about this approach: “Tempered radicalism is not a revolution. But it is the essence of change. It’s the true nature of leadership.”


article 32 tantalization you to itself also with wrong feelings of guilt? Do you also picture yourself as a “tempered radical”?
here have you brought on change in the past?

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Photo: ©, Grizzlybaerin –
An article in the German magazine brandeins
inspired me to write on this topic. 

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