Change Management and Lance Armstrong in the 2009 Tour de France

July 14, 2009
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Sipping a cold New Belgium Mothership Wit brew, my husband and I watched seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and fellow Team Astana member, younger rival, and 2007 Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador, battle in the Pyrenees. The change management practitioner in me wondered if the factors in the 2009 Tour would pose unique challenges for Mr. Armstrong given the contentious team dynamics.

In Mr. Armstrong’s previous Tour wins, he was surrounded by a team with an unwavering, focused vision which was to do everything possible to support Lance Armstrong winning the Tour. There was no question about the pecking order – Lance Armstrong was the established team leader and every other team member knew there place. In this year’s Tour, Team Astana does not have a clear team leader. Alberto Contador has been the main leader of Team Astana in the past couple of years. With Lance’s arrival to the team, the lead role is questionable.

When asked about the potential division of leadership, Johan Bruyneel, Team Astana General Manager, noted on Team Astana’s web site,

“At the end of the day, the strongest rider will be supported, regardless of that person’s name or what they’ve


Sipping a cold New Belgium Mothership Wit brew, my husband and I watched seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and fellow Team Astana member, younger rival, and 2007 Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador, battle in the Pyrenees. The change management practitioner in me wondered if the factors in the 2009 Tour would pose unique challenges for Mr. Armstrong given the contentious team dynamics.

In Mr. Armstrong’s previous Tour wins, he was surrounded by a team with an unwavering, focused vision which was to do everything possible to support Lance Armstrong winning the Tour. There was no question about the pecking order – Lance Armstrong was the established team leader and every other team member knew there place. In this year’s Tour, Team Astana does not have a clear team leader. Alberto Contador has been the main leader of Team Astana in the past couple of years. With Lance’s arrival to the team, the lead role is questionable.

When asked about the potential division of leadership, Johan Bruyneel, Team Astana General Manager, noted on Team Astana’s web site,

“At the end of the day, the strongest rider will be supported, regardless of that person’s name or what they’ve accomplished in the past.”

I began to see a fascinating correlation between this year’s Tour and Team Astana and John P. Kotter’s popular Harvard Business Review article, “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.”

Mr. Kotter identifies, “Forming a Guiding Coalition” and “Creating a Vision” as two (of eight) steps in transforming an organization. Forming a guiding coalition involves organizing a group with enough authority and power to lead the change. Creating a vision involves clarifying the direction the organization needs to move.

Will Team Astana’s compromised guiding coalition and absence of a common vision be the bane of Mr. Armstrong’s opportunity to secure the winning title of the 2009 Tour?

The following weeks will be fascinating to watch. Will a Team Astana leader emerge that other team members rally around to secure a Tour win? Or will the issue of leadership and disparity in vision cause Team Astana to defocus?

Research show that 70% of all change initiatives fail. Prosci’s 2007 change management benchmarking report shows that the number one obstacle cited as the reason for failed change initatives is ineffective change sponsorship, including conflicts of interest among key stakeholders, mixed priorities, and poor alignment. Change management is a discipline, a discpline to manage the people side of change. Team Astana will be a fascinating change management case study that unfolds in the coming weeks.