Daryl Conner


We developed this glossary to ensure a similar understanding of the terms that are unique to our field.


Advocate: An advocate is an individual (or group) who wants to achieve a change, but doesn’t have the authority to make it happen.

Agent: An agent (sometimes referred to as a practitioner) is an individual responsible for facilitating the implementation of a change project. Often, many agents work on a major implementation project. See also the Agent series.

Alignment: Alignment is measured by the degree to which key leaders share the same understanding of the importance and the objectives of a change. Lack of alignment is a key risk. See also the Understanding, Commitment, and Alignment post.

Antabuse: Antabuse® is a registered trademark of Wyeth-Ayerst Labs for a drug designed to assist recovering alcoholics. Once taken, any subsequent ingestion of alcohol within the next 24 hours results in dizziness, aching muscles, and nausea, which the alcoholic avoids by not drinking. Antabuse is not a subtle feedback mechanism; it’s a powerful vehicle for delivering direct, explicit, self-imposed consequences for failing to adhere to an important commitment. “Antabuse,” as used by Conner Partners, is a metaphor for relationships where one person asks for, and receives, direct, explicit feedback from another as part of the cost to succeed on the journey toward mastery.

Art (see also science): The art of change execution is in play when creative and intuitive judgments and actions are applied to unique circumstances and untested solutions. It is through the art of our work that the unknowns, ambiguities, and confusion of change are surfaced and taken on. This is where multiple scenarios of success and failure are uncovered, examined, and resolved. Art involves exploring new horizons, generating meaning in the moment, holding apparent contradictory information as equally valid, and forming innovative responses. Art frees us; it enables us to explore the possibilities beyond the constraints of science. See also the Art and Science series.
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Bad business: Any or all of the following can indicate a change initiative that does not have a high probability of success (bad business):

  • The leader has positioned the change agents to serve as pseudo-sponsors.
  • The leadership team does not work well enough together to pursue the process.
  • The change is not specific enough.
  • The leader is unwilling to sanction and engage the proposed approach to change.

Behaviors: Behaviors are observable actions related to the execution of one or more change initiatives. See also the Patterns series.

Black hole: Successfully implementing change requires cascading change-related behaviors/mindsets from more senior-level stakeholders to those who report to them. A black hole occurs when an individual either fails to complete the cascade to the next lower level, or significantly distorts what is being cascaded.

Burning Platform: Burning Platform is a metaphor first used by Daryl Conner to describe a distinct mindset and behavior pattern related to the nature and level of commitment senior leader demonstrate during major successful initiatives.

When the implications for not changing far outweigh what it will take to realize the desired state, this kind of profound determination will play itself out in one or a combination of four ways:

  • Current problems
  • Current opportunities
  • Anticipated problems
  • Anticipated opportunities

Although it is important to distinguish between these four origins of deep commitment, as far as the metaphor is concerned, the real issue isn’t the motivation driving the change; it is the level of determination demonstrated for leaving what is for what could be. See also The Burning Platform series.

Business imperative (vs. good idea): A business imperative is a major change in which the price for failing to solve a problem or take advantage of an opportunity is significantly higher than the cost of implementing the change. While a good idea will deliver value if successfully implemented, the significance to the organization is much less than that of a business imperative. (You can afford to ignore good ideas; you must implement business imperatives.) Deciding whether a change is a good idea or a business imperative is part of the process of determining degree of difficulty. See also the Degree of Difficulty series.

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Capacity (adaptation capacity): Capacity is a measure of the physical, mental, and emotional energy an individual has available to use in adapting to change. Inadequate adaptation capacity poses a key implementation risk. (See also change demand, overload.) See also the Capacity and Demand series.

Cascade: A cascade is the intentional flow of change-related activity (communication, enrollment, sponsorship, etc.) from more senior-level stakeholders to those below them.

A sponsor cascade begins with the initiating sponsor and ends with the lowest-level supervisor. Cascading sponsorship requires that initiating sponsors enlist the commitment of key managers below them to support the change throughout the organization. These managers, in turn, do the same with those below them, preventing black holes by providing effective communication and consequences that maintain the original intent of the initiating sponsor’s decision throughout an organization.

Enrollment is another specific application of the cascading process. Enrollment, which begins with the initiating sponsor and his or her direct reports, focuses on building understanding, commitment, and alignment to the intent of the change. It personally engages successive groups of individuals as targets of the change, prepares them to become sponsors, and then supports them in cascading the enrollment to the next level.

A major organizational change initiative may also have an agent cascade. The most senior-level agents associated with the initiative are generally located in a PMO (Program Management Office) or PRO (Program Realization Office), with a series of additional agents cascaded down to the local level of implementation.

Catharsis: Catharsis is the emotional release a person experiences when he or she finally accepts new circumstances after a struggle to keep the status quo. “Letting go” (cathartic discharge) is generally preceded by an extended period of “hanging on.” See also The Cathartic Nature of Our Work series.

Change: A change is any planned or unplanned shift in the status quo. The level of change is best measured by the degree to which individual expectations are disrupted, and the time taken to recover from the disruption.

Change demand: Change demand is the total impact of the changes an individual (or group or entire organization) experiences at any given time. Change demand increases as the volume, speed, and complexity of transitions—as well as consequences of failure to successfully implement—increase. The greater the change demand, the greater the adaptation capacity required. (See also the definition for capacity/adaptation capacity.)

Change management: Change management is the orchestration of change in a way that identifies and addresses the human risks involved in implementing change. This strengthens the individual and organizational ability to handle change well and increases the chances that the change will be put successfully into practice.

Character: Character is pivotal to a change practitioner’s effectiveness. It is who you are, not what is in your bag of intervention tricks, which ultimately determines whether meaningful benefits are generated for clients. The term, character, is impartial and can be applied to either commendable or undesirable distinctions. A change agent’s character is comprised of many components. Some promote favorable implementation outcomes, and others don’t. Whether it advances or detracts from client realization, character is the greatest determinant of the value clients will receive from a change agent’s work. See also the Character and Presence series.

Character/presence package: Well-constructed methodologies can impress a client’s intellect, but it takes a strong character and a trusting presence to speak to someone’s heart. Your true nature is synonymous with who you are. It has an epicenter called your character, which is conveyed to clients through the presence you cast. It is by way of your inherent character and the presence you emit that you are able to invoke the kind of impact you strive for with those you serve. See the post Love the Music You Play from the Character and Presence series.

Clarity (of intent): Intent clarity is a clear, concise, well-articulated expression of the desired end result and why achieving that result is important. See also the Intent series.

Client: A client is the recipient of a change agent’s efforts. A client may be internal to the same organization as the practitioner, or an external organization with which the practitioner has a consulting relationship.

Comfortably Numb: Some people live an ordinary, bland life. They follow the rules, do as they’re told, and move through their existence with little emotion. They are neither happy nor sad. They think and act as if they can’t do anything to make their circumstances better. They are “comfortably numb.”

These people tend to do “what they can” instead of “what is needed.” This becomes so routine that the mechanical repetition of their actions first creates frustration, then decomposes into compromise, and ultimately full-blown apathy and stagnation. They finally reach a point of unconscious negotiation with themselves—“comfortably numb” is preferable to ongoing annoyance and disappointment. See also The Practitioner’s Journey series.

Commitment: Commitment is a measure of an individual’s resolve to expend effort and resources to achieve the intended outcomes of a change. Commitment is not an event that just occurs—it is a process that unfolds over time. See also the Commitment series.

Communications, change-related: Effective change-related communications address the effect of the change on the organization, as well as on each key constituency. As a result, the messages are consistent, but are not exactly the same.

Competence, conscious vs. unconscious: Competence is the ability to achieve the desired results of a change. Conscious competence is explicit. It is more easily transferred to others and can be integrated into the way an organization approaches change. Unconscious competence is instinctual and therefore often not consistent. As a result, unconscious competence is difficult to transfer to others.

Conditioning: Most of us have been indoctrinated to “do what we’re told.” We learn at an early age to seek love and acceptance. Some of us had parents who nurtured who we are, but many of us had parents who demanded that we be who they wanted us to be. When this happens, it sets up the possibility of a lifetime of “caving” to authority figures in order to gain their affirmation. This kind of conditioning permeates every aspect of our lives, and requires nothing less than bold heroism to break free from the victimization it fosters and assert our sovereignty.

Consequence management: Consequence management is provided by sponsors to targets. It is the application of positive (rewards) and negative (punishment) actions—to encourage and reinforce desirable behaviors/mindset and discourage undesirable behaviors/mindset related to the successful execution of a change.

Contracting: Contracting is the process of establishing proper expectations between key players such as sponsors and change agents/practitioners. See also the Contracting series.

Control: Control is a measure of the extent to which individuals can direct or at least anticipate outcomes in a change process. The perceived or actual loss of control is one of the major reasons change is disruptive.

Critical Mass: Critical mass comes at that point in the process of mobilizing commitment down through the organization where forward progress is so strong that failure or withdrawal from the effort is highly unlikely. At the point of critical mass, it’s possible but extremely improbable that the initiative won’t reach its full realization potential. Critical mass thresholds depend more on political power and personalities than anything else, so they can occur anywhere along the role sequence. In most cases, however, critical mass is secured at the energy transfer juncture where local sustaining sponsors start to reinforce the realization of a project’s true intent based on their own drive for its success. Once the target’s local sponsor displays resolve and tenacity toward the change based on his or her own commitment, realization of the intended outcomes is extremely probable. Faltering at this point is very rare. See also the Momentum and Critical Mass series.

Culture: Culture consists of the patterns of shared mindsets and behaviors that members of an organization acquire over time. Risk exists when the current culture is different from that required to support the changes being made, or when the current culture does not support the effective execution of ongoing change. See also the Culture series.
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Degree of difficulty: An initiative’s degree of difficulty is a measure of the overall level of challenge likely to be encountered during implementation. The amount of execution challenge is measured by using three continua: incremental to transformational change, installation to realization focus, and “good idea” to business imperative. See also the Degree of Difficulty series.

Dysfunction (change-related): Change-related dysfunction is any action or feeling that diverts resources away from meeting productivity and quality standards. Dysfunctional behavior is an indicator of change-related overload.
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Empowerment: Empowerment is granted by a decision maker to another individual who—in the decision-maker’s eyes—has value to bring to the decision-making process, and thus has the ability to influence a given decision. Empowerment is specific to the individuals involved, and to the focus of decisions. (For example, an individual may be empowered to influence decisions regarding marketing strategy but not product pricing strategy.) Empowerment is not the same as delegation, autonomy, or consensus management. It is an earned status. Empowerment is critical to sponsor-agent or sponsor-target relationships. See also the Empowerment series.

Enrollment: Enrollment is the process of cascading commitment to, and alignment with, the intent of a major change initiative to successive levels of the organization.
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Foxhole: A foxhole environment exists when two or more people see themselves as having common goals and interdependence in accomplishing a change. A foxhole creates the willingness to engage in synergistic teamwork. See also the Synergy series.

Future shock: Future shock is the point at which people can no longer adapt to change without displaying dysfunctional behavior. Futurist Alvin Toffler coined the term. See also the Capacity and Demand series.
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Human landscape: The human landscape is the human component of a work environment. It includes, among other things, perceptions, assumptions, resistance, fears, aspirations, beliefs, and values. Successfully executing major change requires navigating the human landscape.
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Implementation: Implementation is the process of completing activities designed to achieve installation and/or realization of a change initiative.

Influence Bubble: The presence practitioners radiate falls into broad categories like peaceful, hectic, accommodating, demanding, etc. but each person has his or her own unique frequency that, when released, creates an ambient bubble like no other. Whether the exchanges are face-to-face, by phone or by text, client interactions within a change agent’s “influence bubble” are distinctive to only him or her. See The Role of Presence in Our Work from the Character and Presence series.

Installation (vs. realization): Installation is defined as putting the intended change in place. Installation occurs when the change (e.g., hardware, software, training, new organizational structure) is deployed into the workplace (See also realization.) See also Exploring a Project’s Degree of Difficulty from the Degree of Difficulty series.

Integrity (of intent): Maintaining intent integrity means ensuring that the end state delivered is consistent with the intent defined and sanctioned at the outset of the project, or that it shifts appropriately with announced changes in the desired end state. Failure to maintain intent integrity is a key risk. See also the Intent series.

Intent: The intent is a complete, concise, and clear expression of the “promise” for an initiative. See also the Intent series.

Intervention; intervention sequence: An intervention is a conscious effort to influence the mindset and/or behaviors associated with a change to increase the probability of success.

The intervention sequence involves identifying symptoms that can be interpreted through certain lenses that, in turn, allows us to plan how we’ll use patterns and mindsets to influence and cause a positive shift within the underlying dynamics. See also the Getting Unstuck series.
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Learning from mistakes (vs. failures): Failures are mistakes that render no value—a person misses the mark and does not learn from the incident. When we learn from mistakes, we—and ideally our organizations—gain new insights and understandings, and embed those learnings into our DNA regarding how (and how not) to respond to similar circumstances in the future. Learning from mistakes is an important contributor to gaining mastery. See also the Learning series.

Lens: A lens is a conceptual pattern, framework, or model used to help interpret situations and plan appropriate actions. See also the Patterns series.

Linear relationship: This is the simplest kind of sponsor relationship to understand. An example of this would be when a target reports directly to a sponsor. In linear relationships, sponsors often serve as their own change agents. This kind of target-to-sponsor relationship may not always lead to a successful implementation but it is an easy one to relate to because it is based on a hierarchy or chain of command.
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Mindset: When people in key roles realize what it really takes to deliver the promised benefits of critically important change, they develop a mindset consisting of a frame of reference and a set of priorities. See also the Patterns series.

Momentum: Momentum refers to the forward motion of energy through the role sequence (advocate to initiating sponsor to primary sustaining sponsors to local sustaining sponsors to targets) toward realization of the change. Regardless of which roles are involved in the energy transfer at any given time, the presence of strong momentum dramatically increases the chances for realization results. Alternatively, transfers that produce no more than moderate momentum can stall initiatives or compromise installation outcomes. See also the Momentum and Critical Mass series.
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Nimble: Nimble organizations have embedded “change DNA” into their operations; they have fluid work settings that allow rapid and effective responses to market turbulence as well as to internally driven change initiatives. See also the Nimble Organizations series.
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Overload: Overload refers to a situation in which there is greater change demand than the individual (or organization) can adapt to. Overload results in declines in quality and productivity. See also the Capacity and Demand series.

Oversight: Oversight involves monitoring change implementation through a governance structure, as well as tracking and reporting implementation progress and risks. Oversight is itself a risk when the governance structure is comprised of agents, rather than sponsors, or when tracking/reporting does not provide timely information on risks being surfaced. (See also the definition for Red is Good.)
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Pain: Pain is the discomfort a person or organization experiences because of the prevailing circumstances. When considering whether to proceed with major change, it is important to evaluate whether the pain of maintaining the status quo is significantly greater than the pain that the change will generate.

Paradigm: An organizational paradigm consists of the perceptions shared by people concerning their organization‘s purpose and how it is to be achieved (i.e., what the key goals are and how work is to be accomplished). See also the Paradigm Shifts series.

Partner (vs. vendor): Different circumstances warrant different relationships between an organization and outside sources. Partner relationships are win-win. Establishing such a relationship requires openness and trust. Maintaining it requires forthright communication. Throughout the relationship, both parties must remain focused on their shared goals. Because they require a significantly greater investment, partner relationships should be limited to those external parties whose performance—or failure to perform—is critical to achieving realization.

A vendor relationship is zero-sum. Vendor relationships tend to be transactional, not relational, in nature. They require less engagement of the parties than partnerships, and are recommended when the goods/services being provided are not critical to achieving realization.

Patterns: Patterns are the configurations of influence that make up the order beneath the surface of change. Patterns are invisible to the untrained eye, and are typically unnoticed by most people. There are both mindset and behavior patterns that affect an initiative’s probability of success.

Practitioners use lenses to help them identify and interpret patterns. See also the Patterns series.

Positive Components (related to character): A change agent’s character is comprised of many components. Some promote favorable implementation outcomes, and others don’t. Positive components might include things such as devotion to serving others, authenticity, commitment to honesty, and passion for the work itself. Many practitioners have a spiritual or philosophical dimension to their character.

Practitioner: A practitioner (also referred to as a change agent) is an individual responsible for facilitating the implementation of a change project. Often, multiple practitioners work on a major implementation project.

Predisposition: A predisposition is a natural tendency to behave and/or think in a certain way.

Presence: Your interior character needs a “voice” to be expressed to the exterior world…presence is that voice. It will either enhance or diminish the concepts and techniques you use but, one way or another, it is always a factor in your effectiveness. This is a powerful means of influence used when informing and mobilizing clients, but it is usually applied without conscious intent on the practitioner’s part. It is only through embracing and positively leveraging the innate character we have to work with that our presence can mature enough to have the impact we aspire to with clients. See also the Character and Presence series.

Promises that matter: There are organizational ramifications for any significant change initiative that either achieves or falls short of announced objectives. A leader’s promise, on the other hand, holds personal implications for success or failure. Ideally, the two intersect: leaders feel the outcome directly links to the organization’s well-being and to their personal integrity, credibility, and reputation as well. However, organizational change is often seen as distinct from a leader’s promise.

When leaders promise that changes will occur, they usually feel a deeper connection to and vulnerability about the initiatives they sponsor. These aren’t just projects that need to be executed or even business imperatives that are essential to the future of the organization. Promises are attached to endeavors that are critically important to people, and things leaders care about deeply. Promises are made about changes that really matter…“On my watch, this will be done.”
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Realization (vs. installation): Reaching realization means achieving the expected value of your change. Realization occurs when the intended outcomes of the change are attained. (See also installation, intent.) See also Exploring a Project’s Degree of Difficulty from the Degree of Difficulty series.

Red is good: “Red is good” is an approach to surfacing risk early. Red is good when risks are identified as quickly as possible, stated as clearly as possible, and mitigated as effectively as possible.

Resilience: Personal resilience is the ability to absorb large amounts of change while displaying minimal dysfunctional behavior. Highly resilient people are positive, focused, flexible, organized, and proactive in their approach to change. See also the Resilience series.

Resistance: Resistance is any thought or action directed against the change (toward the status quo or some other goal). Resistance is not bad or good, but rather a normal human reaction to disrupted expectations. It should be expected in any major change, whether initially seen as positive or negative. Individuals typically resist change when they see themselves as unwilling and/or unable to accomplish the change. See also the Resistance series.

Resources: Resources comprise the means (time, money, people) required to implement a change initiative. Inadequate or inappropriate resources (e.g., an insufficient number of agents, or agents without the requisite skill set) is a key risk.

Return on change (ROC): ROC is the value gained from achieving realization objectives after taking into account the investment required to achieve the desired outcomes (in all currencies of value that are important to the sponsors).

Risk: A risk is any condition that can negatively affect the implementation of a change.

Role map®: A role map is a graphical representation of the formal and informal influence structures associated with a change. The role map depicts the relationships among constituencies most affected by the change as well as the key players within those constituencies.
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Science: The science of organizational change execution is rooted in the study of humans during transition. It addresses the predictable aspects of how individuals understand and commit to a change, align with one another in support of it, and deliver the promised outcomes. Science of change informs us; it provides a stable platform from which the practitioner can attempt to replicate success patterns. See also the Art and Science series.

Solution: The solution is the design to support achievement of the desired intent. An inadequate or unproven solution is a risk.

Sovereignty: We normally think of the word “sovereignty” as applying to states or nations, but the concept can just as easily apply to people and, in particular, professional change agents. Whether we are discussing nations or an individual, the basic ingredient for sovereignty is independence—the capacity to operate primarily under one’s own authority. Practitioners who provide exceptional value to their clients demonstrate both deep expertise and a strong sense of autonomy. Those who produce marginal client value are usually lacking in one or both of these key ingredients. See also the Sovereignty series.

Speed of change: The speed of change is the measurement of an individual’s pace of recovery following a disruptive change. The greater a person’s speed of change, the faster and more effectively he or she will adjust expectations to new circumstances.

Sponsor, sponsorship: Sponsorship exists when the organization’s leaders provide the required level of commitment and support to deliver on the promise.

The initiating sponsor has the sanctioning power to drive the change process through to realization. He or she has ultimate control of the resources—including human, economic, political, and logistical—required for implementation of the initiative.

Primary sustaining sponsors report to the initiating sponsor. They formally sanction the change within their areas of responsibility. Primary sustaining sponsors provide a “united front” of leadership support for the endeavor and coordinate implementation activities across functional or geographical lines as necessary.

Local sustaining sponsors are the individuals or groups who cascade the change below the level of primary sustaining sponsors. See also the Sponsorship series.

Square relationship: In a Square relationship the target doesn’t report to the agent or agent’s sponsor. If the sponsor of a new initiative has any hope of successful implementation, he or she must convince the target’s sponsor that the change is a business imperative.

Stuck: A change initiative becomes stuck when an important aspect of the implementation process loses direction and/or momentum toward its intended result and there is no confidence that a viable mitigation plan is in place. The initiative may be stuck at the practitioner or the initiative level. It is the result of a blockage to achieving your potential (at the practitioner level), or to attaining the promised benefits of a change endeavor (at the initiative level). Being stuck may exist anywhere on a continuum from urgent to systemic. Correctly diagnosing the root causes is essential to the process of becoming unstuck. See also the Getting Unstuck series.

Success: Success is achieved by delivering on promises that matter. It is measured on a continuum from installation-centric to realization-centric.

Sustain to realization: Sustaining to realization requires a deliberate focus when a promise goes beyond merely deploying the change into the work setting. Attention must be given to building a critical mass of stakeholders that are internally motivated to apply the mindset and behaviors required for realization.

Synergy: Synergy occurs when individuals or groups work together in a manner that: 1) produces a greater total effect than the sum of their individual efforts; 2) generates more benefits to the organization than the amount of resources consumed; and 3) requires fewer adaptation resources to change. See also the Synergy series.

System(s): The interaction of mindsets and behaviors that have the aim of achieving an organization’s purpose.
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Target: Targets are the individuals or groups that must change for realization to be achieved. In major change initiatives, sponsors, agents, and advocates are also targets.

Tools: Tools are standardized instruments intended to support successful change implementation. Tools may be interactive, diagnostic, planning-focused, application-based, assessment, etc. They help to identify issues, barriers, and other concerns.

Transformational (vs. incremental) change: Transformational change is highly disruptive to the way people do their work. It generally affects a large portion of an organization, shifts the power dynamic, and requires changes in mindset and behavior to be realized. An initiative’s degree of difficulty is determined in part by the level of transformational change. See also Exploring a Project’s Degree of Difficulty from the Degree of Difficulty series.

Triangular relationship: In this kind of relationship, both the agent and the target report to a common sponsor but the target does not report to the agent. Here is a classic example of a triangle: The sponsor is in senior management, the agent is in IT or human resources, and the target is in line management. Most triangles are dysfunctional because sponsors try to pass their sponsorship duties to agents. (In this instance, for example, the sponsor might tell the agent it is his or her job to get line management to comply with the new computer system or human resources policy.)

Trusted advisor: A trusted advisor is a practitioner who has earned the right to be exceptionally influential when helping sponsors or agents develop the understanding, commitment, and alignment needed to fulfill their roles in the change process. This status represents the highest level of credibility and reliability one can achieve with a client. See also the Trusted Advisor series.
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Understanding: Sponsors must have a firm understanding of the true scope of the initiatives they are chartered to execute—the precise requirements for success, the level of demand that will be placed on the organization and its people, the dynamics of how personal and organizational transformation unfold, and the duties and responsibilities they carry as sponsors. See also the Understanding, Commitment, and Alignment post.
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Victimization: Victimization is the antithesis of empowerment. Victims believe they are faced with a negative situation and have no alternatives. In actuality, most victims face alternatives they refuse to act on because they view them as too expensive. Victims feel used and resent it, and they tend to feel depleted by change. Therefore, they demonstrate little interest in contributing beyond what is necessary to protect their employment during unsettled times. Subsequently, the organization profits little, if any, from its investment in such people. See also the Victimization series.
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