Can the Scottish vote impact your organizational change?


(Photo: Carol McCabe)

I’m not a Scot. I would have liked to have been this past Thursday though, when they held their referendum on independence. A Yes to break away from the United Kingdom, a No to continue their over 300 year union. In the end, the No vote won, but my heart had been stirred by the Yes campaign.

Despite the long odds at the beginning of the campaign, Yes’rs surged forward over the past year and managed to get over 44% of the vote. Watching this happen, it struck me that the „Yes Scotland“ campaign had done a lot of things right from a change management perspective.


First of all, Yes. To state the obvious, Yes is a positive statement, it affirms, it feels positive, it feels like progress. Consider if the referendum had been worded „Should Scotland continue to be part of the United Kingdom?“ This would have forced Yes Scotland campaigners to campaign for a No vote.Obviously they could have, and you can imagine slogans around „No, we won’t take it anymore“ or „No more outsiders telling us what to do“.But compare that with „Yes, we can be independent“ and „Yes, we can build a better future“ and you can immediately feel which one is constructive and empowering.

Appeal to values

Secondly, the Yes campaign made an appeal to values: independence, courage, national pride, even a sense of fighting for what is rightfully yours – copies of the 1995 movie Braveheart were selling like hotcakes in the weeks leading up to the referendum. An appeal to people‘s values can be very persuasive and is the way to win hearts if you get the values right. The danger organizations sometimes run into is that the values they espouse on the corporate website are not the values people see in action in their daily work. An effective appeal calls on credible values.

A sense of urgency

As change guru John Kotter pointed out, creating a sense of urgency in the organization opens the way to accepting and adopting change. The Yes campaign channeled discontent into a now or never attitude. Listening to voters being interviewed the desire for change and for wanting „something that isn’t this“ stood out, even in the absence of clear plans or fully understanding the consequences of independence.

Watching these tenets of change management operate outside of a company was a refreshing reminder of their power. What will you take away from the campaign for your organizational change?

(Originally posted on LinkedIn 19 September, 2014)