Best Practice Area Change Management Product Management Product Marketing

Challenges and Change provide a bonanza for Product Managers

Product Managers Challenges
Written by Karl Hellman

Part 4: What to do if your organization just doesn’t want to change

©2011 by Karl Hellman and Robert S. Siegel

In part 1 of our series on entrepreneurial product managers, we discussed where product managers find entrepreneurial opportunities.   Part 2 focused on how product managers acquire entrepreneurial skills.  Part 3 showed how to build a culture that supports the entrepreneurial product manager. This final part addresses the stubborn resistance we so often meet and what to do about it.

What if your organization just doesn’t change?

We’ve all been there:  We did the training.  Product Managers executed on-the-job projects. Top Management voiced their support.  We held cross-functional meetings….

…and the organization reverted to old patterns.

In his book, Immunity to Change, Dr. Robert Kegan explains that we often don’t accomplish our goals because we have one foot on the gas and one on the brake. It’s as if we have an organizational immune system protecting our companies from change.  But sometimes the organizational immune system fights off something that seems foreign (like a transplanted organ) that we really want.

Dr. Robert Kegan, Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development Harvard University and the Co-director for the Change Leadership Group.

We may genuinely want to be better at doing entrepreneurial work.  But deep down, where our decisions and actions take form, we want something else even more.  Kegan prescribes:  “Becoming aware of the competing commitments or contradictory intentions can lead us through the incremental process to make real changes in our companies.”

Kegan observes that there are three ingredients to accomplishing change:  “ for short- hand purposes we’ll designate as ‘gut,’ ‘head and heart,’ and ‘hand.’ (p 210)

The entrepreneurial product manager makes the connection to “gut” by convincing the organization that the “cost of…self-protection…has just become too big a price to continue paying.” Entrepreneurial product managers find these cost arguments in the nature and causes of the anomalies they are turning into opportunities.

The entrepreneurial product manager makes the connection to “head and heart” by first recognizing that “No amount of thinking or effort alone will be sufficient to solve an adaptive problem, since how we feel is inherent in the problem itself.  And because how we feel is intricately tied to how we know, we cannot feel differently if we don’t know differently.” (p214)  The entrepreneurial product manager’s challenge is to paint the picture of the new business opportunity that includes an explanation that the world is working differently than before imagined, and that “we can still be safe—and even experience more expansive benefits—doing things we never thought possible before.” (p214)

The entrepreneur employs the “hand” by taking actions.  “We must begin to take new action. Success follows from taking intentional, specific actions—the reaching hand—that are inconsistent with our immunity so that we can test our mindset.”  (p215)

So, to begin overcoming your own organization’s immunity to change, start by looking into the mirror. Yes, you want to become better at entrepreneurial work.  But what do you want even more that prevents progress? In most cases, you won’t want to completely abandon the competing values.  But you need to systematically examine and make the trade-offs that preserve the best of both goals and commitments.

How entrepreneurial is your company? Go to to take a 10 question quiz, and get an immediate assessment–and ideas on how to make your company more entrepreneurial.

Karl Hellman
is President of Resultrek (, an international marketing consulting and training firm.

Robert S. Siegel
is an experienced Product Management Executive, Content Creator and Web Developer.  Mr. Siegel authors three popular blogs:,, and


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About the author

Karl Hellman

Dr. Karl Hellman brings over 25 years of consulting experience to his teaching. He first worked in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, and then became an accountant for the 20”/80” Hot Strip Mill, before attending Northwestern and converting to the field of marketing. Eventually, he joined a Harvard Business School faculty consulting firm and was put into business for himself by Coca-Cola.

To see his complete library of works, visit