Posted By : Markus Hesse
10th October 2018
Too many chickens… too few pigs
Too many chickens… too few pigs-image

Involvement vs. Commitment: Implementing transformative change successfully needs a culture of mutual accountability. 

One day the chicken says to the pig: “You know what, I was thinking we should open a restaurant.” What sounds like the beginning of a pretty lame joke is actually an often used metaphor in change management. The pig replies: “I’m not sure. What would we call it?” After careful considerations, the chicken suggests: “How about a name like HAM-N-EGGS?” The pig is shaken and replies: “No, thanks. I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”

The key message of this story is that the pig has to sacrifice itself if they want to offer ham in their restaurant. The chicken, on the other hand, just has to provide the eggs, which does not require it to give up its life. Thus, the pig is fully committed to the project, while the chicken is only involved.

When it comes to producing ham and eggs, you need both chicken and pigs to contribute to the end result.  However, between the two, there are distinct differences in their contributions. The pig had to lay down its very life to provide the ham for the meal. It is more than involved in the process. It is committed to it. 

The chicken? The chicken doesn’t make nearly the same sacrifice. It merely provides a few eggs — something that can be done on a regular basis. The chicken is involved in the meal, it’s not entirely committed to it. In change management, ‘pigs’ are those who are fully committed to the vision and desired change, they take full responsibility for successes and failure. ‘Chickens’ are those who expect to participate and provide their input, but are sitting on the fence, waiting to see if the change is successful or not. They don’t actively take responsibility to get the change done. Thus, are only involved, but not committed.


Many organisations, which go through a transformative change process, face obstacles on the way. Often, their actual organisational culture doesn’t match the requirements. Flexible and adaptive operating models strongly depend on an organisational culture that promotes, fosters and demands self organised teams. The teams have to work autonomously with mutual accountability to make these approaches work. If an organisation struggles at this point, this is because of the organisational culture being shaped by chickens. Highly participatory decision processes, many people get involved, the topics are discussed at various committees – so a very high level of involvement, but just a few people who are actually committed, demonstrating ownership and accountability.     



In a “pig culture“, the team is truly committed to the organisation’s success. The members aren’t just sitting on the fence and waiting for change to succeed or fail, they demonstrate their commitment every day, by supporting strategic initiatives and demonstrating the desired behaviour in meetings and coffee pot cooker conversations. They understand the “why” and “how” of the strategy’s benefit and approach. They are willing to invest into the organisation’s success. If the change process gets stuck, they’ll be right there getting their hands dirty to get things back on track. When things go wrong, they step up and take accountability. Why? Because they understand the added value. It’s not just about the gain for their own position within the organisation or the rise of their personal brand. They understand that leadership is not the same as authority.


In a culture characterised by chickens, we often hear conversations such as, “just keep me in the loop on how it’s going.” They’re involved, but not truly committed. When the organisation struggles to make progress, people often quickly point out why its due something else, such as lack of resources, wrong decisions at the top, low supplier’s performance. At that point, people are only involved. There’s some dedication, but true commitment for changing the status quo takes more than talk. It requires action.


The Bacon Starts At The Top 


When we’re talking to executives about significant  change they want to implement in their organisation, it’s not unusual for us to hear: “Yes, our Senior Managers really need some guidance. As for me, I don’t need any help. But them? They definitely need support and coaching. Keep me posted!” Well, with all due respect, it starts at the very top of the organisation. A “THEM” and “US” mentality surely doesn’t demonstrate commitment from the top. If the rest of the team gets an — “I’m too good to get my hands dirty, but I want to know what’s going on” — feel from an executive, don’t expect 100% buy-in to the change. That’s involvement. Not commitment.


… where no one has gone before 


If your organisation is about to test or establish new finance models, high performance teams, the integration of latest technology in operations or the move towards an agile operating model, you might explore new territory. Consider organisational culture as a critical success factor for change. What exactly is the behaviour that you want to see within your teams and across the organisation? How does the working environment promote and demand this behaviour? What are the obstacles which are hindering people to demonstrate self organisation? We recommend to reflect on the organisation’s culture. Our tool “Culture” supports a self diagnoses of the cultural environment. We can help you and your team to identify root causes for “chicken” behaviour and facilitate the change process towards a successful implementation of agile project management. Contact us for more information.

Markus Hesse

Markus is the co-founder and managing partner of Direct Impact Group, ltd. He combines experience as consultant and coach of international projects in a variety of industries for Fortune 500 and mid-sized companies with experience in executive management of international organisations. His core competencies are agile strategies and transformative change programmes. Markus Hesse’s educational background includes an M.A. in Business Coaching and Change Management. He is author for the EURO-FH university in Hamburg on change management and accredited member of the Europan Association of Supervision and Coaching.