How to Implement a One Percent Change

Kim Cameron and I have taught many one-week programs on positive leadership.  On Monday afternoon, Kim usually introduces the notion of a one percent change.  Reviewing a number of studies, Kim shows that small, manageable changes, over time, can have a very large impact.

On Tuesday mornings, I do a review of the most valued ideas covered on Monday.  Invariably one of the most prized ideas is the notion of making a one percent change.  For the rest of the week, we keep the notion alive and ask participants to translate what they are learning into one or more one percent changes.  On Friday we ask them what changes they plan to make.  Instead of inundating us with proposals, they look at us with a sense of fear.  Why would any manager fear making a one percent change?

Melissa Seedorf is an engineer who works in the Central Power Plant at the University of Michigan.  Currently she serves on the Utilities Employee Advisory Team.  At one of our positive leadership events, Melisa formulated a one percent change.  Recognizing that many of the meetings in her shop have a dark and critical tone, she decided that at the start of every meeting she would hold a new ritual called the “positive moment.”  She would invite each participant to share some brief description of some recent occurrence for which they were grateful.

Now pause for a moment.  You are Melissa and you have decided to initiate this one percent change.  What do you know is going to happen when you try to make the change?  What preparation will increase the likelihood of your success?

Predictably, Melissa reports that her initiative brought “hesitation, irritation, and resistance.”  The uncomfortable participants suggested the practice was a waste of good time.  They offered sarcastic comments, like this one: “Well, at least I’m not dead yet.”

This was only a one percent change and yet it brought predictable resistance.  All of us understand that if we ask people to make positive, public changes, they will feel uncomfortable and react as the people reacted to Melissa.  This is why even the most senior executives fear the notion of making positive changes.  This is why, on Fridays in our course, executives are slow to commit to even small changes.  They have a very real fear of being laughed at and marginalized.

What did Melissa do?  She knew the resistance was coming.  She clarified her belief in the change.  She committed to it, and she prepared herself to face the resistance.

She said, “I had to give some very tough feedback.”  She met the resistance with confidence and stood her ground.  She did not let the resisters off the hook.  She reviewed the objective.  She told them negative views were acceptable in all the rest of the meeting, but in this opening portion they were invited to have the courage to share their authentic gratitude.  Predictably, during the first couple of months, they continually tested her.  Yet Melisa remained constant.

Today everyone cooperates, and they even cheer for one another.  Melisa takes note of each statement and often sends a message afterwards in which she recognizes a given contribution and offers her own gratitude.  The practice has become so successful in her area that her boss has taken it to other areas.  Most units do not move toward social excellence because the boss does not have the courage to take even the smallest first step.



  • What is appealing about the concept of one percent changes?
  • In making unusual changes, how much do you and others fear being laughed at?
  • What do you learn from Melissa about courage and constancy?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



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