Driving Deep Organizational Change with Ashish Kothari and Robert Quinn

Many change efforts within organizations only scratch the surface, resulting in short-term solutions that don’t truly transform the organizational culture or improve business results. This only leads to a cycle of temporary fixes and persistent issues that delay growth. A more holistic approach to change is needed.

In this article, Ashish Kothari and Robert Quinn, Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, discuss how to drive deep organizational change effectively.

Incremental change vs. Deep change

Often, we respond to challenges by making small, logical changes that restore things to how they were before. Robert calls this ‘incremental change’; this type of change is merely maintaining the status quo, which can limit potential and leave deeper issues unresolved. 

Deep change, on the other hand, involves a fundamental shift that pushes real progress. It can lead to an “enlargement of consciousness” and an “increase in positivity,” redefining what is possible and setting a new course towards achieving higher purposes and greater successes. 

According to Robert, deep change means having a dramatic set of insights around the things you’re wrestling with. It is a new perspective, a new way to see the world. We must learn to embrace deep change to truly evolve, improve, and keep up with the changing world.

Integrating well-being in the workplace

Our organizations today need deep, systemic changes to truly foster well-being. However, many well-being interventions focus solely on the individual without changing the organizational context. Ashish believes that’s part of the reason why many well-being interventions today fail. They all focus on the individual. 

Leaders can shape this transformation by fostering environments that promote growth and excellence; that’s where a culture of well-being can thrive. Robert explains that leaders can only do this by caring more about a purpose than they do about their ego. 

Leadership is painful because it takes enduring the pain of learning. Deep organizational change requires leaders to commit to transformational practices beyond superficial adjustments to foster an environment where well-being is part of the organizational DNA.

How to embrace deep organizational change

How can we enhance the success of implementing deep organizational change and the integration of well-being in our organizations? Here’s a structured approach that Ashish brings to the front:

  1. Explain the why – It’s important to understand the motivation behind change. You have to explain the ‘why,’ because, without it, people revert to what they’ve always done since that feels safe and there is no learning possible.
  1. Teach the how – If you want people to embrace change, you must teach them how to implement it. You have to allow them to experiment and create an environment where it’s okay to fail because nobody gets it right the first time.
  1. Create incentives – Do not forget the incentives to motivate change. You needed to clearly articulate and measure them because unless we recognize, reward, and celebrate the change makers, the eye-rollers or resistors will win.
  1. Be the change and model it – As a leader, you play a huge role in embodying change. As Ashish puts it, “As a leader if you want others to change, be the change and role model it.”

Four factors of transformational leadership

According to Robert, leading change is a moral process that starts with leadership. But what makes a leader capable of leading deep change? A leader must embody the change they wish to see, beginning with a deep, personal understanding of their own “why”—their purpose.

Moreover, Robert shares the four factors of transformational leadership:

  1. Idealized influence – Leaders act as ethical role models, inspiring trust and motivating followers to adopt similar behaviors. Robert says this aspect transcends ego, leading selflessly, and being a servant leader.
  1. Individualized consideration – Leaders pay attention to each follower’s needs and development, helping them achieve personal and professional growth.
  1. Inspirational motivation – Leaders provide a clear, compelling vision that inspires followers to pursue shared goals enthusiastically.
  1. Intellectual stimulation – Leaders encourage innovation and critical thinking, challenging followers to think creatively and solve problems. This means a leader should constantly challenge individuals to think for themselves, giving them assignments that challenge and improve their abilities and constantly pushing them to do more.

As a leader, when you equip yourself with these factors, flourishing happens. If you’re flourishing, you’re more likely to flourish and invite others to flourish as well.


Today, organizations are constantly challenged by new technologies, changing customer preferences, and shifting global markets. Deep organizational change is essential to stay competitive and relevant in this fast-moving world. Looking ahead, we must ask ourselves: Are we ready to embrace the necessary changes, or will we hold on to old ways until it’s too late?

Many change initiatives in organizations often lead to recurring problems and stall growth. In this article, Ashish Kothari and Robert Quinn, Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, discuss how to drive deep organizational change effectively.

Learn more about Robert at his LinkedIn.

Listen to the podcast with Ashish and Robert below.

Access and subscribe to all of the episodes of the Happiness Squad Podcast here.

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With the focus on enhancing joy, health, love and meaning in your life, my transformational approach is interdisciplinary and integrates learnings from spiritual wisdom traditions, philosophy, positive psychology, neuroscience and organizational development.

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