What Can a Maximum Security Prison Teach You About Change Management?

April 19, 2011  |  

(Businessweek) — Every leader thinks his or her employees have some special reason to resist change. In one organization I worked with, the justification was long tenure: “You just can’t change the behavior of 8,000 good ole boys who’ve been doing it one way for 27 years.” In another, it was education: “I’ve got 450 PhDs who can intellectualize you into a coma.” In one it was organizational trauma: “We’ll be doing so much downsizing in coming months that no one will even pay attention—much less change.”  I’ve heard it all.  Leader after leader lowers aspirations, believing employees have a highly evolved capacity to repel new ideas and habits.  For anyone who sympathizes with this modest view of influence, I invite you to join me on a trip to the toughest prison in the U.S.: Louisiana State Penitentiary, aka Angola. For many of the 5,000 inmates, who are serving average sentences of 93 years, Angola will be their last residence. All are violent offenders: murderers, rapists, and armed robbers. Since most have no hope of parole, there is little incentive for pretensions of personal reformation. Which makes Angola a unique testing ground.  That is why I was so taken with what has happened at Angola every May for the past five years.

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