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Misguided Approach to Change


In October, 2018, Sears filed for bankruptcy. Founded in St. Louis in 1928, Sears had been a retailing giant, with thousands of stores across the USA. Hard-hit by the e-commerce revolution in retailing, Sear’s billionaire CEO Eddie Lampert decided to reengineer the company’s finances rather than do the hard-work of organizational change. Since 2005 Lampert spent $6 billion to buy back Sears’ own shares in an effort to support its stock price. William Lazonick, a retired University of Massachusetts’ Economics Professor and an expert in share repurchasing, argues that if Lampert had used the $6 billion to reduce its debt burden and/or provide capital to modernize stores, then Sears just might have stayed out of bankruptcy court.

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Once again, the change agent’s credibility is crucial. If employees are suspicious of the motives of the change agent, the accuracy of the information, or there has been a history of difficult relationships, then the information will be examined with serious reservations. When employees come to accept the information and related analyses, the ground is fertile for the development of a shared sense of the need and the vision for change.

Factors That Block People from Recognizing the Need for Change Giving voice to the need for change can create awareness in employees. However, future directions are not always obvious and an organization’s history and culture can be strong impediments to new pathways. It took Hewlett-Packard a number of years of poor performance, problematic acquisitions, and related stumbles under different CEOs (most notably Carly Fiorina) until they recognized that cobbling in poorly fitting acquisitions to boost market share, and focusing primarily upon efficiency and cost reduction by playing with structures and product/service portfolios, would not reverse the fortunes of their business. Meg Whitman, the retired CEO of eBay, stepped into this very difficult situation and led the revitalization of storied HP by valuing its roots, leading the conversation around the need for change, working to create a sense of urgency and hope, and taking actions to remove some of the obstacles in the way.

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