The Dante 9 circles of hell for organizational development – part III

Some of you are already familiar with this analogy from the first two parts in this series, just as Dante in the classic 14th-centry poem “Divine Comedy” go through a lot passing the nine circles of hell; we too have to find our way past many difficulties reaching our objectives when developing our organization. In the first post, we suffered our way through limbo, lust and gluttony and in the second post; we were tormented by greed, anger and heresy. This is the last post and now we are reaching the end but first we have to pass through:

  • Violence – The 7th circle
  • Fraud – The 8th circle
  • Treachery – The 9th circle

Please let me be your guide through the very last three circles of organizational development hell, sit tight, you are in for a rough ride!


New processes, ways of working and roles are and will always be considered as threats. When you are good at something, it is because you had practice. When you are new to something, you might not be good at it, for a while. This is frightening for people. Fear does many things; for example, it has a tendency to make people a lot less clever, or even stupid. Fear of the new, being afraid to become insignificant or even redundant, will make people violent. Not to people, but to your professes, they will sabotage, destroy and in any way they can hinder the evolution we are trying to do. Just as the Minotaur in the seventh circle of hell started to bite himself, people will get contra-productive in the face of change, doing things that will hurt the organization and eventually themselves.

This is why I again want to stress the importance of making people part of the change, even from the very start, focusing on making them not only understand but embrace what we are doing, since they also are part of it. Just making people aware of the change when it is already happening will awake the Minotaur in most people.


Again considering the human nature in the face of great changes, we will certainly deal with people being false, saying one thing but thinking and, more importantly doing, something completely different. Dante met Geryon, a three-headed monster with three natures: human, beast and reptile. People will not tell you what they really think and what they really feel, but normally only what they think you want to hear, since you are management or on an assignment for the management. It I got a penny for each time someone said, “This is the new way of doing things” only to go back to their workstation and do things like they used to do, thus not at all following the new processes, I would be a very rich man. This reaction is extremely natural and part of almost every change process. Some of you might be familiar with some of the different models of change resistance such as FIRO or the classical Denial – Resistance – Exploration – Commitment. Well people, these models are on an individual level, showing you how different people manages change, and they will be in different phases at a different time. So being two- or even three-faced is natural and has to be taken into consideration, very few people are real in the face of big changes.

This is why you need ambassadors, on the “floor”, in the line organization, to help people quickly transport themselves through the “bad phases” to commitment.


Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at the ninth and last circle of hell, this is a tough one. Remember the three-faced people we just talked about, they will not only act contra-productively with their tasks, they will also conspire and seek allies and form unholy alliances towards you, this can for example start as an innocent coffee table discussion and evolve to a hate campaign or forcing people to choose sides. This all means that change will take a lot more time to have any real effect. The human nature unfortunately has a number of flaws. One of them being that we are easy manipulated to “get” opinions without any real effort to understand how things really are, we are gullible. However, this being bad news it is also good news.

Having opinions that really are just based on propaganda, someone else’s opinion or some sort of forced group common sense is easily changed. With communication, involvement and constant stimulation of the personal commitment. Such as showing quick wins, creating a spirit of “we are in it together” and making people feel involved and seen.

I think we all experience change in different ways in our personal lives and we deal with in the best way possible since we have to, it is our family, our children and our lives. In the workplace, we are not as open to change and prefer to keep things as simple as possible to keep our work easier. Companies needs to change to cope with our changing world, and as part of organizations, we need to change to. Every day I try to help people and organizations understand that the big, and hardest, part of change are the people. This since the flesh and blood of the organization normally have the lowest priority and therefore are managed poorly. The key of successful organizational change lies in mastering the human element, the sooner you understand this the better. Good luck and good speed everyone!

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