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Our Founding Fathers Understood Change Management

My most recent read is The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, by Joseph J. Ellis. It is the story of how four founding fathers took our country through the transition from Articles of Confederation, ratified by the Continental Congress after the Declaration of Independence, to the ratification of our Constitution and its Bill of Rights in 1788. It’s a fascinating story of James Madison, the intellect, George Washington, the leader, Alexander Hamilton, the financier, and John Jay, the diplomat (aka change manager). It’s about how they used politics to get to our Constitution.

After the Revolutionary War, the US was a confederation of 13 separate sovereignties. The Articles of Confederation left the new country with three fatal weaknesses. One, they could not pay their debts (from the war) since centralized collection of taxes did not exist. Each colony was “asked” to contribute. These requests (“imposts”) were met by “sorry, but” or “later”. The second fatal weakness: no effective foreign policy among thirteen sovereigns. Each had their own axe to grind. British troops were still on US soil and Spain was shutting off access to the Mississippi. Lastly, the states were killing commerce by imposing tariffs on interstate trade.

The Issue

So, in change management terms, there are your “burning issues”: no money (for common defense, et al), no foreign policy, and interstate trade wars.

The Organization (Country)

There were conflicting thoughts on where our country was going next: thirteen sovereign states, several regional nations (e.g., North and South) or one nation. Our country was anything but united, particularly considering the remaining Loyalists (supporting the English king) who felt the whole thing was a big mistake to begin with anyway.

The Leadership Team

Next is the change team. They all shared a common vision: one nation of thirteen states. Alexander Hamilton was the financial protégé of Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance for the Continental Congress in 1984 and a capitalist in the most modern sense. The charismatic Hamilton was instrumental in bringing George Washington out of retirement, leveraging Washington’s unifying influence and vision of a single nation.

James Madison was a recognized intellect and had read Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). John Jay, Continental Congress Ambassador to Spain and one of Presidents of the Continental Congress, was noted for his probity, congeniality and cogency under stress. He was the sole architect of the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War.

The Change Management Technique: Engagement.

In 1787, it was recognized by all that the Articles of Confederation were inadequate. A Constitutional Convention was called. There, congressional committees, formed from elected members of the Congressional Convention, produced a Preamble with twenty-three articles. The Quartet was all part of the effort leading up to the convention, encouraging participation and setting the agenda. Once the Preamble and articles were written, they were sent out for review and ratification in each of the state congresses. Madison’s thinking was a straight up or down vote. Ratify the documents as is or not, yea or nay. A great amount of effort went into their construction. He was pushing back on any other path to ratification.

But we all know how that works. Once in front of all those stakeholders, there was a lot of pushback. Each state and individual leaders (like Thomas Jefferson) felt the document was not clear enough. They had lists of what they felt should be added.

Here is where the engagement aspect comes in to play. Reviewing these additions (amendments) John Jay said allow their addition. Include their addition and we can fold them (the states with the killer objections) right into the union with their “pride intact”. With that, Madison took all the proposed changes to the document and worked with committees to incorporate them. Thus was created the Bill of Rights and our Amendment process.

So John Jay understood a critical principle of change management. Take input from those resisting change. Incorporate their input if it does not compromise your strategy. Let go of your specific proposal and let the team own it by overhauling it themselves. You get their buy in and can move ahead with implementation. In this case, the result was the United States of America!


This picture of our Founding Fathers using change management plays out on all Convergent Results projects. The membership of our joint project team is fifty to eighty percent client people. We recruit the most credible people in the organization, representing a cross section of functional departments and leadership levels. They work with us to custom-tailor industry best practices to their unique company requirements. Chartered by their senior leaders, they take their charge very seriously. I have often told people that if you watch them work, deliberating individual points, they look like our Founding Fathers writing the Constitution. Our role is to guide on best practices, discuss options from other companies and be their John Jay, assuring that all have input creating a unique process that will have a huge payoff for all.

Can we help you engage your organization for breakthrough improvement, greater than seen before in less time than previously thought possible? Please contact us


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