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How ‘Small C’ Change Can Beat Large-Scale Rebuilding

Many business leaders are convinced that large-scale change is necessary to bounce back from difficult times. But is this really the best solution in the face of uncertainty?

Boris Groysberg, professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, correlates this concept with the success of FC Bayern Munich coach, Hansi Flick, when everything pointed to a different outcome.

In 2019-2020, the German champion started with a miserable performance, missing results, alarming defensive problems and struggling to defeat even rather small German teams.

When he arrived, at mid-season, unlike most football coaches do, Flick did not shuffle players or staff, nor did he reform the playing style or tactical formation.

Flick only added three substitutions to his line-up and only one of eight assistant coaching positions changed.

The result: The team won 33/36 games.


What was the recipe to his success?

According to Boris Groysberg, even as COVID maintains a high degree of uncertainty about the immediate future, pressure on leaders continues to mount to engage in “Big C” change: rapid course corrections through job cuts, recruiting a fresh management team, and redesigning roles and responsibilities to score quick wins.

But how effective is Big C change in reality?

Is Big Change always the right action to revitalize a dispirited organization?

Could “Small C” retooling work better in some instances than an exhaustive, complete turnaround?

Boris Groysberg research results show that leaders can reinvigorate a failing business using team members already in charge, and without large-scale change of direction. Small C retooling can unlock the full energy of an organization and set the team on the road to success.

What did Hansi Flick did? He “simple” introduce a new style of leadership that pulled the team out of its downward spiral and rekindled its self-confidence.


This are the 5 lessons that any business leader, looking to emulate a turnaround with an existing team, can learn to bring new success with the same ingredients.

  1. Empower your team

All leadership transitions create uncertainty, so leaders need to empower team members to help them sense they can make a difference. In the end, the team will do the work. Instead of questioning everyone and everything in a crisis, leadership should create an atmosphere of trust and confidence.

  1. See leadership as teamwork and shared responsibility

In challenging times, the team effort is all that counts. A close involvement of those affected in the decision-making process is crucial to achieve a joint turnaround. Business leaders should create opportunities for team members to make an individual contribution and take ownership.

  1. Managing individuals and a team

In challenging situations, blame and resentment can overtake support and solidarity in business. Teams, however, can only succeed through effective collaboration. New leaders need to replace blame and denial with dialogue and communicate extensively with the team to learn about personal situations. To turn lone fighters into a force, leaders need to convey to each team member the importance of their role and clarify their contribution to the overall objectives. At the end, leaders must master the complex task of putting aside egoisms for the common cause and creating a winning attitude in the team.

  1. Trust in experience and institutional knowledge

In the corporate world, it is often an obvious choice for incoming managers under pressure to deliver results to identify longstanding employees as representatives of blocked change. However, it is crucial to understand the specifics of an organization in order to act with rigor and precision. Besides their deep knowledge, long-tenured team members can become real gamechangers by mentoring younger colleagues in the demanding situation instead of being impeding roadblocks.

  1. Lead by example: servant leadership style

For leaders, it is essential to phase the postulated expectations with their own leadership behavior. Leaders should actively value the needs and contributions of team members and ask themselves: “What can I do for others?” By nature, developing a reputation takes time, but a servant mindset and consistent behavior helps to create trust. Becoming known for inclusiveness and honesty helps others accept change and encourages them to put team success first and personal fame second.


Effective leaders who want to bring about a rebound should carefully consider the nature and scope of the changes they are initiating. It is often the Small C change that empowers the team and creates the conditions that lead to great success.


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