A Chocolate Chip Change Strategy

We were discussing leadership and change. One executive told us she had a chocolate chip cookie theory of change. When she first joined the company, she would go to meetings and notice how many people were disengaged. She said they were like cookie dough. Usually there were also one or two people with light in their eyes. They were like chocolate chips. Her entire career she has sought to locate and link with the chocolate chips. That is how she has been able to get things done.

Her theory is our theory. When we set out to create a positive culture, we often ask a company to create a network of positive energizers. We ask them to select the most positive people from across the organization and use them to lead the process.

We met with such a group.   At the outset, the senior most person greeted them, and then they did personal introductions. The senior person reviewed the history and explained that they were being asked to guide culture change.   They were in uncharted waters and there was no existing map. They would have to create their own map.

Introductions followed. They had three tasks. They were to introduce themselves, explain how they access positive energy, and share their favorite vacation spot. Later, I asked them to reflect on the introductions. What were the patterns cutting across the group? They identified four.

First, they said that the people in the group expressed a sense of purpose and confidence. They naturally shared their challenges but talked of them as a source of strength. One spoke of a handicapped child. Because of the child, the parents and siblings tend to see their own challenges as insignificant.   Another said his father grew up in a tent, came to the United States with nothing, and is now a professor. The father’s example is so influential that the speaker believes he can access positive energy and accomplish anything.

Second, they said the people were intrinsically motivated. They love what they do.   A union member said, “I have been a lineman for over twenty years, but I have never worked a day in my life. I love what I do. Every day is an adventure.”

Third, they said the group was relational. Individuals had much to say about human connections. They spoke of immediate family, extended family, and other networks as a source of meaning. The lineman for example, rejoiced in the local union and then turned to his relationships with people in the national union and expressed genuine gratitude.

Fourth, the group was oriented to learning and growth. They particularly spoke of joy in the growth of others, expressed curiosity, and talked of learning and teaching.   One man, for example, rejoiced in his daughter and her constant progress in soccer. Another spoke of seeing herself as a teacher at work and rejoiced in the development of her people.   Many spoke of vacations as learning opportunities.

By the end of the discussion, it was obvious that the people in the room were fully alive. They were purposive, intrinsically motivated, relational, and oriented to growth. They were the chocolate chips in the organizational cookie dough. In creating positive organizational cultures, it is desirable to locate and link the positive energizers. It makes for a better organizational cookie.


  • Are you able to identify the chocolate chips in your organization?
  • Do you capitalize on their presence?
  • How might you increase their influence?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



One thought on “A Chocolate Chip Change Strategy

  1. Great illustration – who doesn’t like chocolate chips? You have such a gift when it comes to translating complex personal and organizational change into practical steps. I have enjoyed your work for several years. Frequently, I refer to the chocolate chips as “thoughtful leaders.” They play such a critical goal in the human connections necessary for positive change. Thanks for sharing.


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