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Management article
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Reference no. 7923
Authors: Debra E Meyerson
Published by: Harvard Business Publishing
Published in: "Harvard Business Review - OnPoint", 2001

Abstract

This is an enhanced edition of the HBR reprint R0109F, originally published in September 2001. HBR OnPoint articles save you time by enhancing an original Harvard Business Review article with an overview that draws out the main points and an annotated bibliography that points you to related resources. This enables you to scan, absorb, and share the management insights with others. At some point, many managers yearn to confront assumptions, practices, or values in their organizations that they feel are counterproductive or even downright wrong. Yet they can face an uncomfortable dilemma: If they speak out too loudly, resentment may build toward them; if they remain silent, resentment will build inside them. Is there any way, then, to rock the boat without falling out of it? In 15 years of research, professor Debra Meyerson has observed hundreds of professionals who have dealt with this problem by working behind the scenes, engaging in a subtle form of grassroots leadership. She calls them ''tempered radicals'' because they effect significant changes in moderate ways. Meyerson has identified four incremental approaches that managers can quietly use to create lasting cultural change. Most subtle is ''disruptive self-expression'' in dress, office decor, or behavior, which can slowly change an unproductive atmosphere as people increasingly notice and emulate it. By using ''verbal jujitsu,'' an individual can redirect the force of an insensitive statement or action to improve the situation. ''Variable-term opportunists'' spot, create, and capitalize on short- and long-term chances for change. And through ''strategic alliance building,'' an individual can join with others to promote change with more force. By adjusting these approaches to time and circumstance, tempered radicals work subtly but effectively to alter the status quo.

About

Abstract

This is an enhanced edition of the HBR reprint R0109F, originally published in September 2001. HBR OnPoint articles save you time by enhancing an original Harvard Business Review article with an overview that draws out the main points and an annotated bibliography that points you to related resources. This enables you to scan, absorb, and share the management insights with others. At some point, many managers yearn to confront assumptions, practices, or values in their organizations that they feel are counterproductive or even downright wrong. Yet they can face an uncomfortable dilemma: If they speak out too loudly, resentment may build toward them; if they remain silent, resentment will build inside them. Is there any way, then, to rock the boat without falling out of it? In 15 years of research, professor Debra Meyerson has observed hundreds of professionals who have dealt with this problem by working behind the scenes, engaging in a subtle form of grassroots leadership. She calls them ''tempered radicals'' because they effect significant changes in moderate ways. Meyerson has identified four incremental approaches that managers can quietly use to create lasting cultural change. Most subtle is ''disruptive self-expression'' in dress, office decor, or behavior, which can slowly change an unproductive atmosphere as people increasingly notice and emulate it. By using ''verbal jujitsu,'' an individual can redirect the force of an insensitive statement or action to improve the situation. ''Variable-term opportunists'' spot, create, and capitalize on short- and long-term chances for change. And through ''strategic alliance building,'' an individual can join with others to promote change with more force. By adjusting these approaches to time and circumstance, tempered radicals work subtly but effectively to alter the status quo.

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