Two years after 9/11 LO30676

From: Bill Harris (
Date: 10/08/03

Replying to LO30634 --

<> writes:

> I took a little time to digest and reflect on the points raised and
> questions asked in your response. I CC'd the list in this response
> because I think that these are important topics. There may be some
> who are also interested, and there may be others who can contribute to
> my own growth and development in this area.

And mine, too. We're generating a long dialog here, so I suspect only the
really interested will keep following it.

> > One of the keys for me was understanding and beginning to model what
> >it meant to adhere to Argyris' principles for Model II behavior. I
> >could not ethically nor pragmatically have gotten there by coercing
> >my department to adopt my stance. Had I told them, "We _will_ become a
> >Model II organization" (and explained what it meant), it would have
> >been contradictory nonsense.
> I guess the important thing for me to explain is that I tend to start
> (mentally) from the standpoint of a classic Model I organization and
> project forward to what will be required to shift to a Model II
> organization. Why? Because there are so many Model I's out there
> that anyone trying to create a LO is probably going to be dealing with
> this type of organization. If the process and theory do not work for
> Model I's, then LOs will remain a thing of mystery and rarity.

Agreed. And they may indeed remain so; getting out of Model I is
neither easy nor commonplace (all comments IMHO, of course).

> Model I organizations are entrenched in their ways and that is what
> makes working with them so difficult (and potentially rewarding). To


> generate that level of trust required to become a Model II
> organization certainly requires some dedicated modeling of the
> appropriate behaviors on the part of the upper leadership. The Model

And on the part of the consultant or manager trying to initiate change.

> I behaviors, though, tend to become self-sustaining within the
> organization, especially a large and bureaucratic organization, so
> that real and lasting change is not only difficult, but statistically
> unlikely.

Given my experience and the third of the Model II precepts, I think
Model II can be self-sustaining, too.

> In order to get the Model I to move off of the dime and start changing
> into a Model II, SOME coercion (at least subtle) will be necessary to
> break the organization out of some of the old behavior patterns. Once
> this has been accomplished, little or no coercion may be REQUIRED and
> continued change is possible through behavioral modeling and advocacy.

Perhaps we should be clear about definitions. I'm using coercion in the
way I find it at In
particular, WordNet (scan down a ways) says "the act of compelling by
force of authority." I'm also using it, as I believe Argyris does, to
mean something that is not consistent with his three precepts of Model II:
the use of testable, validated data, the use of free and open
decision-making, and a mutual commitment to those values.

I agree that advocacy is almost certainly required in the process of
moving from Model I to Model II. Where my use of "advocacy" is
inconsistent with the definition of "coercion" is that advocacy relies on
me encouraging the making of a certain decision by virtue of the testable
statements I make and allows for open inquiry into others' positions
(advocacy on their parts), while coercion relies on the making of a
certain decision by virtue of the position I hold in the organization
("I'm the boss; do as I say").

> SO, what does this really look like? In practice, this change from
> Model I to Model II may require a change in personnel. If someone
> truly cannot make that shift, they may have to leave. If this leaving
> requires help (they get fired or forced to resign) then the
> organization has been coerced in a small (?) way by removing an
> obstacle to the desired change.

I agree that it may be necessary to change personnel. I think it's
necessary far less often than is commonly thought. I think some such
perceived needs to change personnel are really symptoms of two people who
haven't yet figured out how to work effectively together, and, without a
bit of new insight on how to move forward, they rely on the classic "the
one with the most power gets to help the other one out the door."

> The question that I keep coming back to with all of this is, "What
> happens if the organization does not respond to the modeling and
> advocacy?" Does the leadership find another organization?

If you believe in Model II precepts, it seems as if you have to accept
that you may not get Model II in your organization. Then, if you're the
leader, you get to decide if you want to move on or if you want to do what
you can with a Model I organization. Model I organizations can be quite
effective; it's just that Model II can be dramatically more effective.

> > Furthermore, I guess I actually tried a bit of that as I was just
> >starting to learn myself, and the reaction of the people in my
> >department changed perceptably when I changed from trying to tell
> >them, ever so gently, that they had to become this new way to trying
> >to be that way myself and inquiring into their stance on various
> >issues before us. That approach I took was far harder than issuing
> >an edict, it was scarier (I couldn't commit to my manager that we'd
> >do things the way I told him I thought they should be done), and it
> >was far more successful. Because of the free and open nature of
> >Model II, I can't promise that anyone (including I) can replicate
> >that experience anywhere else; it's up to _all_ the people involved,
> >IMO. That also makes it human, real, and very rewarding work.
> >
> > Put another way, it wasn't until I understood that, how, and why
> >coercion in the creation of a Model II organization was not only
> >ethically ("in principle") impossible but also pragmatically
> >impossible ("it wouldn't work") that I began to understand how one
> >could get there at all and what I should be doing minute by minute.
> I agree with what you said here in theory. I use the term "in theory"
> because it sounds like you were in an organization that was ripe for
> becoming (or in the process of becoming)a Model II organization. Once

Perhaps I should have made it clearer: at least on the surface, the group
I described in my emails (and which is described more fully in "Emphasis
on Business, Technology, and People Cuts Turnaround Time at
Hewlett-Packard's Lake Stevens Division" -- see had, at the start, among the
worst internal communications of any group I've ever worked with. They
weren't an obvious candidate to figure out how to be the best I've ever
seen at internal communications 24 months later.

> the journey has begun, I agree that coercion becomes
> counterproductive. The difficulty to me is advocating Model II
> behaviors in a Model I organization where bottom-line performance is
> emphasized almost to the exclusion of all else. This becomes an even
> more important issue during the current economic times. Many
> companies are simply not emotionally prepared to accept a slip in
> bottom-line performance that could signal/trigger a downward turn in
> their literal fortunes.

Did I mention this was the hardest work I had ever done up to that time?
:-) It's easy to write the word "hardest"; it's much, much harder to do
that work in practice. For those who haven't been there, I don't know how
to express it. For those who have or who have given it a good go, I truly
respect the energy and integrity which I suspect you must have put into

I didn't mention that I clearly wasn't perfect at this, either. I did use
coercion at least on one notable and publicly documented occasion, but I
don't regard that as a success factor. If you look at p. 41 of the
article I mentioned above, it says the group was "seriously divided."
That's a nice way of describing a day of some very intense, very direct
and pointed, and, in some cases, very loud talking from at least two
factions in the group to me.

I made a decision the next day that told the group which way to go. It
forcibly moved us from one attractor to another, I think, but it also left
a void that took a while to close. You could probably make an argument
that what I did was key. I'd make the statement that what I did was not
so very good and that our general movement we had already made towards
Model II helped us overcome it. (We humans are certainly not perfect
creatures, but the third precept is designed to help the group help the

> If the above is the case (and I am not asserting that it absolutely IS
> the case for every company) then LOs become a luxury for the better
> times. During worse times the organization will revert back to Model
> I behaviors, thus invalidating Model II and LOs as a viable
> organizational context for the long term.

I don't think that's true. This group became an LO at a time when they
were universally acknowledged (perhaps not correctly, but that's a
different story) as _the_ bottleneck in the organization. It was out of
that trough that they became an LO.

> > What evidence do you have that a bit of coercion is required in
> >certain circumstances?
> My own experience building high performing teams and working with
> organizations who are seeking to become mode like a Model II
> organization within the larger context of a Model I company. I have
> seen Department Managers and Section Managers slapped down because
> their efforts did not yield the desired level of performance fast
> enough to suit their superiors. I have also lead a transition (at
> least a partial transformation) from Model I to II and had to endure
> the criticism and abuse of peers and constituents who were convinced
> that I was inept at least, crazy at worst. We were successful only
> because I had a boss who was willing to let me proceed.

I do think space, as your boss provided, is important or perhaps crucial.
I do think many peers and constituents may think one is inept or crazy
when going in this direction.

Even when we got pretty far along to Model II, I don't think many on the
outside understood what they were seeing. We made our stretch goals and
then some, and they liked that. We seemed to have a reputation as a
department where the group would tell their manager (me) things you
couldn't say to managers, and I think there was perhaps more surprise and
amazement than appreciation. If I described the way we worked together,
most people seemed to say, "That's nice," and move on. It's only when
they saw the results and the way we worked that they began to catch on
there was something different in that group.

The group came to understand that I, as their manager of record, occupied
a different role than they did, as they occupied different roles than I
did. That by no means made me smarter or better in any other way -- just

You could see that in their actions; they knew it was in the best
interests of the group to correct immediately missteps any of us took,
even me, no matter who was around. We had an occasion to make an informal
presentation to the exectutive VP of this very large company once, and I'm
confident, had I conveyed a wrong impression to him, they would have
corrected me on the spot, for it was better for the organization to have
him come away with a good understanding than to preserve my pride. That
said, I didn't really have the chance to misspeak in front of the VP; they
were doing all the explaining. :-)

> > Is it possible that you were mixing the use of coercion and
> >advocacy?
> Yes, this is very possible.
> > Is it possible that there are non-coercive approaches you haven't
> >considered in those circumstances?
> I may have been able to succeed without that little bit of coercion
> that was required, but it would have taken a somewhat longer time.
> Since I was under a time constraint, coercion was necessary in order
> to get things moving fast enough. The true entrenchment of those new
> behaviors required advocacy and modeling on my part over the long
> term. This was especially stressful since I was still part of a
> larger Model I organization (where Model II behaviors were seen as
> weakness) and I had to switch between both types of behavior,
> depending upon which portion of the larger organization I was dealing
> with at the time.

You just hit on one of my frustrations of the time: speed. We were
working against a goal to reduce process cycle time from over 6 weeks to
under 1, and we had 18 months to do it (we took 19). With all the
emphasis on speed, it was notable that the change management consulting
resources all spoke of speeding up everything except their work. :-)

The primary organizational change processes I've seen since then that
address the speed issue are participative design and work-out, but they
don't directly address Model II.

> I didn't mean to imply that the US or anyone else should step up and
> provide the model for the world-wide LO. In order to produce what I
> envision, the effort needs to be a collaborative effort among many
> leaders. This requires setting aside the parochial interests that
> currently hobble the UN's efforts. Since the US, Russia, and others
> can unilaterally veto, and thus derail, an initiative in the Security
> Council, there is no real incentive for such a cooperative and
> collaborative effort on a global scale.

Ah. Now I understand your point better. I wonder if, much as I claim
above that we often tend to think we need to replace people when things
are going poorly when new insights might be sufficient or even better (the
new people aren't guaranteed to be better than the old), we'd be better
served with helping the UN improve the way it works. There are efforts
underway to try to address that.

Clyde, thanks for your engagement on this issue. You're raising good
points and making me think; otherwise I wouldn't have gone on for so many
words. I don't want to minimize the challenges I see in Model II or the
transition from Model I to Model II. It truly is _hard_. Model II isn't
IMHO a touchy-feely communications program that makes us all soft, cuddly
friends. It can lead to very tough, very direct, and very difficult
conversations. Part of getting to Model II involves increasing our
ability to deal with tough issues without becoming defensive, so I think
people in that transition and beyond find themselves frequently just at
that border where they almost can't take it anymore without becoming
defensive and thus less effective. The focus was on productive
communications and work, not classic good, friendly communications. That
said, I think our group ultimately bonded really well, partially because
they knew what each one said would be heard and considered on its merits
(both intellectual and emotional) and partially because they had a
new-found respect for what others in the group offered.

It's also true that we don't need to be perfect to get there, but we do
need some insight into what's possible and how to get there. It took me
months to figure out what was possible, for I don't think I had ever seen
it in real life, and it was so easy to consider settling for far less than
we got.

I think you and I agree on most everything except the transition. I hear
you saying one needs external coercion to move from one attractor to
another (using complex adaptive systems terminology), and I acknowledge
you may be right, although I really don't think so.

I would agree one needs energy to make that move and that such a move is
necessary. I would state that strong advocacy is harder but, in the long
run, the more (only?) effective approach. I would state that I think that
a coercive move pragmatically leaves the door wide open to others in the
group and elsewhere (the bosses who may otherwise eventually catch on, if
one does it long enough -- and I'm thinking "years") to make other
coercive moves when they think it's in their best interest, and a coercive
move shuts out the self-correcting feature of Model II and shuts down
Model II pretty effectively.

I would state that it's okay to fail from time to time; we all do it, so
it better be okay. If we can openly and honestly say that we failed when
we use coercion, then I don't think we've likely given a Model II
organization (or one considering the transition) a fatal blow. If we
can't say that, though, at least after the fact, then I think we'll have

I would state that one can't _commit_ to taking an organization to Model
II ("You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink," as they
say). If one needs that kind of organizational control, one is inherently
looking to remain a Model I organization. "Free and open decision-making"
means just that; one can't force the people in one's department to make a
certain decision. While I made a statement in favor of conservatism in
eliminating people from an organization, I wonder if making a decision to
move people out who don't want to be in Model II can be done in ways
consistent with Model II.

Thanks again.


Bill Harris                                  3217 102nd Place SE
Facilitated Systems                          Everett, WA 98208 USA               phone: +1 425 337-5541

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