Tag Archives: procedural justice

Disruptive change required to avoid existential threats

Decorative ink drawing by Zahrah Resh 2005It is easy for ideas or plans for transformational change to transition into transactional processes that deliver only incremental change.  Transformational change is about major shifts in culture, strategy or technology that causes substantial alterations in structure, organisation, behaviour and performance; whereas transactional changes occur within the existing structure and organisation.  Leading transformational change is hard and requires courage, vision, a willingness to listen to all stakeholders, decisiveness and communication, i.e. procedural justice and fair processes [see ‘Advice to abbots and other leaders‘ on November 13th, 2019].  If any of these components are absent, especially courage, vision and decisiveness, then transformational change can transition to a transactional process with incremental outcomes.  When the need to change becomes urgent due to existential threats, the focus should be on disruptive change [see ‘The disruptive benefit of innovation‘ on May 23rd 2018] but there is a tendency to avoid  such transformations and retreat into transactional processes that provide the illusion of progress.  Perhaps this is because transformational change requires leaders to be selfless, courageous and to do the right thing not just the easy thing [see ‘Inspirational leadership‘ on March 22nd, 2017]; whereas transactional processes occur within existing frameworks and hence minimise psychological entropy and stress [see ‘Psychological entropy increased by ineffectual leaders‘ on February 10th, 2021].  This tendency to avoid disruptive change happens at all levels in society from individual decisions about lifestyle, through product development in companies, to global conferences on climate change [see ‘Where we are and what we have‘ on November 24th, 2021].

Image: Ink drawing by Zahrah Resh, 2005. See ‘Seasons Greetings in 2020‘ on December 23rd, 2020.

Acknowledgement: thank you to a regular reader of this blog for the stimulating this post with a comment about transformational change left to the last minute becoming transactional.


Advice to abbots and other leaders

For some years I have been practising and teaching the principles of ‘Procedural Justice’ and ‘Fair Process’ in leadership. For me, it is an intuitive approach that involves listening to people, making a decision, then explaining the decision and resultant expectations to everyone concerned. It was given a name and attributed to two researchers at INSEAD Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne when I attended the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina in 2008. However, last weekend, I  discovered that it is much older because it forms part of the advice to abbots in ‘The Rule of St Benedict‘ written around 540. In chapter 3, entitled ‘Summoning the brothers for consultation’, Benedict says ‘whenever any important matters need to be dealt with in the monastery, the abbot should gather the whole community together and set out the agenda in person. When he has listened to the brothers’ advice, he should consider it carefully and then do what he decides is best.’  So long before Kim and Mauborgne discovered the effectiveness of this approach, Benedictine abbots were using it to run hugely successful abbeys, such as Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire where I came across a copy of  ‘The Rule of St Benedict’.


The Rule of St Benedict, translated by Carolinne White, London: Penguin Books, 2008.

W.Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, Fair Process: Managing in theKnowledge Economy, Harvard Business Review, 81(1), pp.127-136, 2003.

Traditionalist tendencies revealed

Thank you for the supportive comments in response to my post on January 4th about to blog or not to blog [see ‘A tiny contribution to culture?‘].  They dispelled any lingering doubts about continuing to write every week.  When I first started writing this blog, I didn’t have an editor.  Then, for a while an English literature graduate, who I know well, acted as my editor.  He didn’t run off with the butler but his enthusiasm waned and I am very grateful to my current editor, who ensures that my narrative threads are not severed or [too] tangled and my sentences are complete.

Feedback is a tricky thing because often it only comes from a small but vocal minority; so, how much notice should one take of it?  We live in a world where the ‘customer’ is always right and a response to feedback is often an expectation.  I felt some pressure to respond to last week’s comments and they were positive – it becomes almost an imperative when the comments are negative, even when expressed by a tiny minority of ‘customers’.  This might be appropriate if you are running a hotel or an automotive service department but seems inappropriate in other settings, such as education.  Engineering students need to develop creative problem-solving skills and research shows that students tend to jump into algebraic manipulation whereas experts experiment to find the best approach.  This means that engineering students need to become comfortable with the slow and uncertain process of creating representations and exploring the space of possibilities, which is achieved through extensive practice, according to Martin and Schwartz. Not surprisingly, most students find this difficult but are uncomplaining; however, for some it is not to their liking and they provide, often vocal, feedback along these lines.  This is fine and to be expected.  However, in the post-truth world of higher education, many administrators and governments appear to value the views of these vocal students more highly than the experts delivering the education – at least so it seems much of the time.

I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t evaluate the quality of educational provision but perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask our students after they have had the opportunity to experience the impact of their education on their post-university life as well as considering the impact of our students on society.  Of course, this would be much more difficult for administrators than collating a set of on-line questionnaires each term.  However, it would have a longer time constant which would be more conducive to evolutionary rather than revolutionary changes in curricula and pedagogy.  Now I sound like a traditionalist when I have been trying so hard to be a post-modernist!


Martin L & Schwartz DL, A pragmatic perspective on visual representation and creative thinking, Visual Studies, 29(1):80-93, 2014.

Martin L & Schwartz DL, Prospective adaptation in the use of external representations, Cognition and Instruction, 27(4):370-400, 2009.