Change Management #1 – Leadership: Navigating with an executive map and compass

by Gary Monti on January 26, 2010

Welcome! to the first post in the Change Management Series. This blog is a simple user’s guide to a change management map, compass, and navigation method. We will look at their make-up and how they work. Later blogs will go deeper into how they work.

In leading your company through change you have a lot in common with Medieval explorers who studied their maps and ventured into the unknown: On the edge of the known world cartographers wrote, “There be dragons!” The environment is exciting and scary. Like those explorers you need your own map, compass, and navigation method in setting a successful course through an ever-changing environment.

Introductory work helps since the three tools have a surrealistic aspect and take some getting used to. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The tools function as a set. There is no one lead tool. Working well with one requires familiarity with the other two.
  2. The simplicity of the tools can be deceptive. Leonardo da Vinci’s statement, “The sophistication is reflected in the simplicity,” sums it up well. There is much that needs to be taken into consideration and balanced. Progress isn’t linear and at times it can be frustrating. It’s not enough to see it all. It has to be seen differently.

Similar to early explorers, by keeping a steady eye on the goals while being persistent you can succeed…with the risk of becoming totally lost ever-present! The risk is worth it.  The success is not just more of the same. It is a success that is different in kind. A whole new frame of mind emerges.

Those Medieval explorers broke out of the Middle Ages and helped lay the foundation for the Renaissance. That’s the type of change you and your organization can make. Break into the unknown and thrive! Besides, you know that death is inevitable with standing still. So let’s begin.

The Map

In complex, changing environments the map is like something out of Alice in Wonderland. It is always changing. Anytime someone does something the shape of the map changes. The terrain is dancing – never sitting still. Just look at Napster and the music industry terrain. A student writes a peer-to-peer file-sharing program. Traditional CD music sales drop. People become used to getting only the songs they like. The iTunes store appears and legitimizes some of the change to the music environment. The terrain just keeps on dancing. Having up-to-date terrain information is critical. Now, here’s the most important point in making and using maps: everyone in the organization becomes part of a sensing organism watching and listening at different frequencies, feeding information to everyone else, and updating the map. A rigid, top-down, command-and-control approach will fail.

The Compass

You have a map, know where you are and where you want to go. Moving towards the goal requires the organization to orient itself and track its progress. A compass is needed. Like any compass it has 3 components:

  1. A stable reference point- a magnetic north;
  2. A device pointing consistently towards the stable reference point as position changes – a compass needle;
  3. An indicator of the desired direction of travel – the arrow fixed on the front of the compass housing or the front of the ship.

In a changing situation the “magnetic north” of your executive compass comprises your values and beliefs. They need to be rock solid and visible to all. As the organization moves on the changing terrain this stable reference will help them orient and decide what the next action should be.

Your compass needle is the consistent aligning of actions with values and beliefs. As the terrain shifts you modify your behaviors to hold your bearing and stay on course. Those around you shift their behaviors accordingly. You can be trusted because you are walking the walk.

The compass arrow is the plan. It points the way. This plan is tied to the map and changes with the terrain. How fast the plan changes is critical. If the plan changes too fast and too frequently the organization drifts aimlessly. If the plan remains unchanged while the terrain shifts it becomes irrelevant. So, like something from a Salvador Dali painting the arrow changes with the terrain.

The Navigation Method

Moving on an ever-changing terrain requires unique skills and traits. A complex, changing situation has a unique characteristic, i.e., there is no one best path to get to the goals. Rather, there are multiple paths and some are better than others, for now, on this terrain.

Instead of marching in a straight line there is probing in different directions to see what works. Tactics change with the landscape. Where there once was a hill there now is a flat surface and movement is now unobstructed. The organizational structure shifts accordingly.

Here’s an example. Social networking increases the speed and simultaneity of disseminating information. Some organizations are adopting a more distributed structure where the speed and accuracy of local responses to customers’ requests increases while everyone maintains needed connections within the organization. In complexity theory this is called complex adaptive behavior.

Navigating towards goals in this manner requires a constant evolution. Here is where things can again become surreal with another unique characteristic of navigating a complex terrain surface. Taken to the extreme, the goals themselves can change if the organization is to survive. Monsanto shifted from being a supplier of commodity chemicals to being a biotech firm. It saw it was on a barren terrain and jumped to another!

This is not for the faint of heart. In fact, one might wonder why anyone would work this way and how the organization holds together. It has to do with the compass. By publishing your values and beliefs team members can compare it to their own. If they see a fit then they align their behaviors with yours. This is the glue that holds everything together as the organization goes through the stresses and strains of working towards the goals. It is called self-similarity.

Think of a couple bringing the first child home, then the second. A promotion occurs. A recession hits. Their lives can change in ways unimagined. It’s the self-similarity, the alignment of beliefs and values that holds them together. The organization continues in an almost constant state of flux.

In the next blog we will look deeper into the structure and operation of an organization undergoing change.

This introduction to the tools of change management can be taken further. In addition to being beneficial in business I find it quite fascinating. If you do too, send me an e-mail at or visit

Gary Monti PMI presentation croppedThrough his firm, Center for Managing Change, Gary Monti has over 30 years experience providing change- and project management services internationally. He works at the nexus between strategy, business case, project-, process-, and people management. Service modalities include consulting, teaching, mentoring, and speaking. Credentials include PMP number 14 (Project Management Institute®), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator certification, and accreditation in the Cynefin methodology. Gary can be reached at or through Twitter at @garymonti

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  • Chuck Camp


    Thank you for your insights and advice about Change Management and I heartily concur. Along with death and taxes CHANGE is a certainty and a necessity today if a business plans to thrive or even survive. Over the past 30 years I have been focused on mapping and improving manufacturing and business processes. The last 15 years I have used tools like Lean, Lean Office, and Six Sigma to help significantly improve and/or turnaround businesses. Both of these situations are loaded with organizational and cultural change.

    Lean and Six Sigma are wonderful tools to help with and/or drive this change, but as you note, a tool is just a tool. I have seen too many situations where Lean and Six Sigma are seen as the MAP and the COMPASS rather than a NAVIGATION METHOD. I have also seen situations where they are only used to CUT COSTS rather than a means to GROW THE BUSINESS. When that happens a business can miss the real value that the correct application of these tools can bring and they are likely to be disappointed in the results.

    For your readers who may have heard of Lean and Six Sigma but don’t really understand what they are, where they came from, or what they’re used for, let me try to summarize.


    LEAN was created by Toyota Motors in the early 1990’s with the express purpose of eliminating WASTE (MUDA in Japanese) and increasing FLOW or the movement of material on the production floor. Lean, which is sometimes referred to as “TPS” or the Toyota Production System, has been expanded today to include office processes as well.
    The seven wastes as originally defined were:
    • Transportation (moving products not actually required to perform the processing)
    • Inventory (all components, work in process, and finished product not being processed)
    • Motion (people or equipment moving or walking more than is required to perform the processing)
    • Waiting (people waiting for the next production step)
    • Overproduction (production ahead of demand)
    • Over Processing (resulting from poor tools or product design creating extra work)
    • Defects (the effort involved in inspecting for and fixing defects)
    Later an eighth waste was defined as the “waste of unused human talent”.
    Personally, I believe that this eighth waste, which was defined by James P. Womack and others, is the worst and is the real key to resolving all of the others and effecting real and lasting change within businesses today. This particular waste ties back to the people and cultural aspects that you mention in your own work.
    SIX SIGMA is an outgrowth of Statistical Process Control or SPC and work by Motorola in the early 1980’s as they tried to improve quality by identifying and controlling process variables in the workplace. In essence, the term Six Sigma refers to a failure rate of approximately 3 pieces in 1 million. The principle improvement that Six Sigma ushered in is a more formulaic approach to problems using the DMAIC Method. DMAIC stands for:
    • Define –Determination of what process is to be controlled
    • Measure – Identification and measurement of the variables in the process
    • Analyze – Detailed analysis of the variables and their interactions using Design of Experiments
    • Improve/Innovate – Implementation of the improved process
    • Control – Monitoring of results
    Because of its statistical basis Six Sigma has also been expanded beyond the manufacturing floor and into office processes just like Lean. Some of the more recent and effective applications are in the analysis of Voice of the Customer.


    There’s an old saying that goes; “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail”. Unfortunately I have seen too many scenarios where businesses look for a sliver bullet and expect that it will solve all of their problems. Lean and Six Sigma are wonderful tools and the best applications are ones where these tools are used correctly and in concert with others including employee Empowerment and Training.

    In the end, understanding your business and business processes, as well as the VALUE that you and your employees create for your customers, is essential in choosing the right tools to successfully grow your business. The objective is to THRIVE not just SURVIVE.

    Chuck Camp
    Creative Performance Improvements, LLC

  • garymonti


    This is a great reply to my blog! This is clear, concise information. I especially like the fact Lean and Six Sigma are best applied when focusing on growth and the care and nurturing of human capital. The remaining blogs in this series, especially the 3rd and 4th add to your comments.

  • garymonti


    This is a great reply to my blog! This is clear, concise information. I especially like the fact Lean and Six Sigma are best applied when focusing on growth and the care and nurturing of human capital. The remaining blogs in this series, especially the 3rd and 4th add to your comments.

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  • Chandresh

    Hi Gari

    I find your blog really intresting and easy to read. The concept of using comapass and map and further explainations with movies examples for Change Management is also impressive. I look forward to read other blogs of yours.

  • Gwmonti


    I am glad to be of service. Your post reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Benjamin Franklin when some signers of the US Declaration of Independence were hesitating, “Gentlemen, either we hang together or we hang separately!”

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