I first experienced this change model as a young management consultant in the late 1960s, and was overwhelmed by its effectiveness then. Over the years, I have made this approach a central tenet of how I work with client organizations and our own. Richard Axelrod's book is the best description I have seen to date of the key elements of this model and the reasons why they work. I heartily endorse that you become familiar with this book, which will undoubtedly be a standard reference for many years to come. I was particularly pleased to see how well he has combined the perspectives of many other business and nonbusiness thinkers in this area.
The key challenge to successful change is in communication. Everyone agrees on that from Axelrod to Bob Kaplan to John Kotter. The four-aspect model here is particularly well designed to overcome communication stalls and miscommunications. These aspects are widening the circle of involvement to get more ideas from more people (this is a corollary to the key observations of complexity science for self-organizing order at the boundaries of systems), connecting people to each other (in order to drop barriers to communication), creating communities for action (by establishing a mutual purpose and direction), and embracing our social concepts of democratic treatment of all (to overcome skepticism about the authenticity of engagement potential).
By way of analogy consider the writing of the original Constitution of the United States. How would this have worked out if George Washington had simply dictated what he wanted? As you can imagine, there is no way that George Washington could have come up with that document by himself. Well, that's the way most organizations try to make changes. The leader dreams up what she or he wants and tell or sells everyone else. Next, what if George had called in four of his buddies from Virginia and hired two consultants from New York? Would they have developed the Constitution we have? Probably not. It mostly would have reflected the perspectives of Virginia and New York. Even if they had, no one would have been very committed to it. The process the Constitutional Convention actually used is very similar to the one that Mr. Axelrod espouses.
The book's material is clear, the examples compelling, the warnings are timely, and the directions are appropriate.
What are the limitations then of this book? I see them in five areas: First, you have to experience this process to appreciate its power. So you can read this book all you want, and you may not "get it." My advice is to put yourself in a situation where you try out this model and find out how well it works. Second, there are a lot of other things that can go wrong that are not described here. Think about Russia. The country has gone a long way to create free markets but new enterprises are often floundering. Part of the reason is that people don't think and don't yet prefer to operate in entrepreneurial, participative terms. Many individuals and groups have that same problem. Third, the writing style of the book is too intellectual relative to its emotional intensity to engage many people in its message. Fourth, you may need a guide for the first few times you try this. Those with expertise are in relatively short supply. Fifth, if the people involved in the process do not develop their understanding of how to analyze systems-related issues and devise ideal solutions, you will still be missing a lot of potential for improvement.
You can think of this book as complementary to the ideas presented in the other superb new book on overcoming the communications stall, The Strategy-Focused Organization. I suggest that you read that book as well. The on-going measurements of the Balanced Scorecard process can be quite helpful in establishing all four aspects of the change model. If, independent of these perspectives, you also create a superior business model and strategy, you can be further aided by having irresistible forces consistently favoring your progress. Tie together those three perspectives, and you should be unbeatable.
After you have finished experiencing and applying this improved change model in your organization, I suggest that you consider how you can extend it into other organizations you care about, like the schools in your community, the charity you sit on the board of or volunteer for, and the local hospital.
May you always work openly and successfully with all stakeholders to build better solutions and implement them rapidly!