The change management or organization development formula that I have used extensively for years.

From one of my publications:


Collectively Creating a Paradigm Shift

            WST leads to dramatic differences – again, not just change, but transformation. Characteristics of organization transformation by definition suggest radical changes in how organizational members perceive, think and behave and manage themselves (Cumming & Worley, 2000.)

In our case, our theme became “getting different.” The Leadership Sponsor wanted the journey to create a deep paradigm shift – a breakthrough. This breakthrough meant a personal transformation for every person, and a collective shift in mindset across the division.

  • “We cannot get different results without getting different ourselves. It’s not a ‘feel good’ and it is not like any other conversation we have had. It is not business as usual; it’s about getting different.” John Parker

            This mantra translated into our WST model in important ways, one of which included adapting as a foundation for classic Beckhard transformation DVF Formula—a theory on creating a collective paradigm shift (Dannemiller, 2000). The external change agents revised the formula for this project based on Beckhard’s original work:

Dissatisfactions (D) x Vision (V) x First Actions (FA) > Resistance to Change. This formula was revised by the internal change agents to be:

Dissatisfactions (D) x Aspirations (A) x First Actions (FA) x Belief (B) x Others (O) = Transformational Breakthrough (TB).


This formula describes the conditions necessary for a collective paradigm shift.

 “D” – means allowing participants to voice dissatisfactions with the current state. Contrary to traditional OD approaches, this equation pulls from the Gestalt theory to resistance, based on the paradoxical theory of change. The paradoxical theory of change was a concept originated in 1970 by Arnold Beisser and then adapted by Fritz Perle’s Gestalt approach to change. The paradoxical theory is based on the belief that change rests on the full acceptance of status quo and assumes that resistance is expected, healthy and must be supported in the process. The Gestalt theory is covered in Chapter 34.

“A” – stands for engaging with aspired future. The word vision was changed to aspiration to fit the organization’s desire to become the butterfly, an organization that “thrills the customer” and is dramatically different.

FA” – stands for first steps and longer-term actions. Actions focused on getting the commitment and momentum to make the difference.

“B” – stands for belief. It represented the transformative belief to collectively being dramatically different.

“O” – stands for including and engaging others. This reinforced the inclusive culture they created, as described later in the chapter.

            The formula suggests that a collective paradigm shift occurs that is greater than any change resistance when applied. Research suggests it is impossible for an organization to return to its old ways of being once it has achieved the breakthrough (Dannemiller, 2000). Once the shift happens, organization members see themselves for the first time and the company differently, they have new mindsets both individually and collectively. This breakthrough in mindset gives the organization the ability to shift their behaviors to align with the future they aspire for instead of repeating unproductive patterns of the past.



From Dr. Ron Koller, one of my closest colleagues. 



“I was recently asked to contribute to an article on the Change Formula and interviewed a guy that was IN THE ROOM when Gleicher drew it up. The “guy” is Barry Stein, and is married to Rosabeth Moss Kanter. I thought some of you would be interested in the following excerpt:

A Formula is Born: Understanding Change

It was in the early 1960s when Raymond M. Hainer, a chemist who had worked on the Manhattan Project (Behrendt, 1955), was the head of Research and Development at Arthur D. Little (ADL). Not only did Hainer want to unlock the mysteries of the physical sciences, but also of the social sciences, namely organizational behavior. He directed David Gleicher (pronounced g-like-her), Barry Stein, and a few other scientists to take up the challenge. Hainer hired Sherman Kingsbury to be the group’s leader (B. Stein, personal communication, 2014).

Created on a Chalk Board

As a Boston based group, the scientists from ADL, sought out the best organizational minds they could, most of which lived and worked in fairly close proximity. The exception was OD legend Herb Shepard, who mentored the original four PhD graduates at Case Western Reserve in the early 1950s. ADL hired all four of the graduates. Shepard was the intellectual godfather of the ADL group, working as a consultant. ADL also hired a few local organizational professors as consultants Warren Bennis, Dick Beckhard, and Ed Schein from MIT, Ken Benne from Boston University, and Chris Argyris from Yale. This founding group worked on what became known as Organizational Behavior at ADL (B. Stein, personal communication, 2014).

One day, as the group was meeting, David Gleicher walked up to the blackboard to share his observations about the behavioral problem-solving work they were doing in organizations. He then wrote C=(ABD)>X on the blackboard. To Gleicher, it was nothing special, just a common sense way of thinking about the work that the group was doing. To the group, however, the formula became the go-to framework, especially for difficult problems that required an incredible amount of energy to resolve (B. Stein, personal communication, 2014). From its inception, the formula has evolved through three generations of development.

The Change Formula’s First Publication

The earliest known publication of the model was in Beckhard (1975). The original publication (Beckhard) included an attribution to David Gleicher by stating, “in determining readiness for change, there is a formula developed by David Gleicher of Arthur D. Little that is helpful” (p. 45). In the Sloan Management Review publication, the equation went from being called an equation to a formula and was printed as:

C = (ABD) > X, where …

C = Change,
A = Level of dissatisfaction with the status quo,
B = Clear or understood desired state,
D = Practical first steps toward a desired state, and
X = “Cost” of changing

The next time the formula was published was by Beckhard and Harris (1977). In Organization Transitions, Beckhard and Harris introduce the formula for change with no attribution to or mention of Gleicher. Gleicher’s formula appeared with slight revisions to B and D; where B = Desirability of the proposed change or end state, and D = Practicality of the change (minimal risk and disruption).

The first thing to note about the change formula is that it includes a multiplier effect. Each of the three (or four) elements needs to be shared collectively and significantly for change to occur. Depending on the organization and current realities one or more of the elements of the formula may need more attention. The goal is to create a solid and shared understanding in a critical mass of the organization around each factor.

Second Generation: Large-Group Events

In the 1980s, change was viewed as a mysterious, theoretical, and complex subject. Gleicher’s intent was for the formula to demystify change and serve as a guide for individuals, groups, and whole organizations in creating their preferred futures. This is when the second generation or iteration of the formula began to take shape.

Kathie Dannemiller of Dannemiller Tyson Associates (DTA) was studying and working at the University of Michigan under Ron Lippitt, who begin his early work through his dissertation with Kurt Lewin. Dannemiller was one of the first members of the National Training Laboratories (NTL); and, it was through the NTL experimentation and collaborative culture that several core organizational behavior theories and models were born. It was during that time that Dannemiller was introduced to the formula by Beckhard and Harris (1977) in their book Organizational Transitions. Beckhard’s book provided the formula, without a mention of Gleicher. Later, Dannemiller corrected herself when she learned the full story (i.e., the Sloan Management Review article in 1975) and found out that Gleicher and Beckhard worked together (K. Dannemiller, personal communication, 1998).

With a passion for usability and common sense, Dannemiller considered the formula from Beckhard’s book helpful, but not accessible enough for the general public. She thought Gleicher’s formula was brilliant, but looked and sounded too theoretical. She wanted people to feel smart rather than not enough or inadequate. It was her experience that people could not easily relate to Gleicher’s formula was what drove her to revise it. Dannemiller set out to preserve and honor the integrity of Gleicher’s formula while making it more usable, and therefore, more accessible to the world (J. Jacobs, personal communication, 2014).

Dannemiller distilled the essence of the formula in a descriptive fashion, rather than prescriptive. She had an egalitarian spirit and wanted this knowledge to be just as useful to everyone, from those working on the front-lines as it could be to the CEO and top leadership team (J. Jacobs, personal communication, 2014). Dannemiller and Jacobs first published the more common version of the formula in 1992. Paula Griffin (Wheatley et al., 2003) described the sequence of events as Gleicher starting it, Beckhard and Harris promoting it, and Dannemiller helping it take off when she made it easier to remember and use.

To make the formula more accessible, she used a mnemonic device in the revision. By mnemonic device, she changed Gleicher’s first element (A) to a D because D stands for dissatisfaction. As a result, the formula garnered higher face value as people felt validated when it was presented to them. Dannemiller (Dannemiller Tyson Associates, 1990) re-framed the Change Formula as the product of dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs (D), an ennobling vision of what we yearn to be – i.e., what is possible (V), and concrete first steps to take in the short term that are necessary in order to reach the vision (F). The product of these must be greater than the resistance to change (R) in order to bring about real change.

D x V x F > R

To bring about a palpable paradigm shift in a large group, she proposed that participants work on real organizational issues:

Start with building a common database about:
how we all see the past (dissatisfaction) and why we need to change,
a positive picture of the future we all prefer (vision), and
actions we can all agree are worthwhile in order to begin to change (first steps) (p. 8)

The formula is based on each element being multiplied by the others. There are two helpful conversations one can have with someone when applying the formula to a situation or in designing a participative intervention. Both rely on the multiplicative nature of the formula. First, if any one element is low it leads to the product of the entire equation on the left side being low, making it unlikely to impossible that change will occur, since most people resist change at least to some extent. This conversation focuses on interventions designed to increase D,V, or F, while decreasing R. Second, if any of the elements are missing (i,e., zero), the resulting product will be zero; therefore, D x V x F = 0, which is not greater than resistance (R). This conversation is more stark and addresses the issue of leaving out one of the elements, all together. For example, a leader might observe that they have created a compelling vision (V), yet left the strategic planning session without any discussion of first steps (F); hence, that is CEOs here comments that vision is meaningless and the strategic plan is collecting dust.”

Excerpted References:

Beckhard, R. (1975). Strategies for large system change. Sloan Management Review, 16(2), 43-55.

Beckhard, R., & Harris, R.T. (1977). Organizational transitions: Managing complex change (1st ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing.

Behrendt, E. (1955). What really happened at Texas City. Popular Science, 166(4), 151-154, 268, 270.

Dannemiller Tyson Associates (1990). Interactive strategic planning: A consultant’s guide. Ann Arbor, MI: Dannemiller Tyson Associates.

Dannemiller, K., & Jacobs, R.W. (1992). Changing the way organizations change: A revolution in common sense. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 28(4), 480-498.

Wheatley, M. J., Tannebaum, R., Yardley, P. Y., & Quade, K. (2003). Organization development at work: Conversations on the values, applications, and future of OD. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

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