It Starts With One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations

27 Mar 2014

It Starts with OneBy Stewart Black
ISBN 9780133407303

Book Review by Tara Rivkin

The premise of J. Stewart Black’s book about leading strategic change, It Starts With One, is that “Without individual change, there can be no meaningful organizational change.” Professor of Global Strategy and Leadership at IMD, Black has worked with over 10 000 executives. From his research, has learnt that around 80% of organizational change initiatives fail.

Why is this? The reason is, he says, that organizations tend to take an ‘organization-in’ rather than an ‘individual-out’ approach. What he means is that most executives implement organizational change and expect individual behaviour to change accordingly; such change often happens for a short time and soon falters, or does not happen at all. He uses the example of a large industrial firm that instituted a new CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. Most customer knowledge was in the possession of sales people who were soon to retire; this knowledge needed to be systematized and made accessible to the entire sales team. The sales team was trained to use the CRM system but within three months of its company-wide launch, very few people were using it. Changing the system did not automatically change the behaviour.

According to Black, “Lasting success comes from changing individuals first and then using organizational levers to sustain the change. This is because organizations change only as far or as fast as their collective individuals change.” Developing new behaviours at the individual level and integrating them with new systems is the only way, Black argues, that change will stick. Change needs to begin at the ground level and move outwards.

Change is hard, particularly changing the mental maps of everyone in an organization. Change is expensive. Change takes time and effort. Change often begins with the person leading the initiative.

Black dedicates his book to discussing how to overcome these obstacles and successfully lead strategic change.

“It Starts with One: Changing Individuals Changes Organisations” is available online at:  or