The butterfly analogy for transformational change often minimizes a huge element – the caterpillar.  It is the caterpillar effect that matters most In change management; it can destroy your business.


There are many parallels between garden caterpillars,
organizational change, and performance.


Caterpillars wreak havoc in my garden. They can demolish a bed of greens in a matter of days. Those little white butterflies, I see only as a symbol of devastation.

I go out to my garden every morning to see what is what is happening. At the first IMG_0904
sign of a little hole in a leaf, I take immediate action. These tiny little caterpillars are very hungry and as they ravish the greens they grow exponentially fast. It is stunning.

If I skip a few days, a whole bed can literally be wiped out.

big caterpillar


The leadership lesson:

Pay close attention and continue to dialogue with your people on a regular basis.  Small rumors or discontentment grow rapidly into big issues and silently destroy your garden!  Note: employee disengagement and turnover.

Be open about the change…Avoid caterpillar soup.

Many years ago, I harvested greens from my garden, cleaned, chopped them and put them in soup for my family. As we sat eating together, I was surprised to find a caterpillar in my soup! I knew the caterpillar was not poisonous and was considered

a delicacy in other parts of the world. Assuming the likelihood of caterpillars in my daughters’ bowls was low, I quietly walked over to the sink and removed the caterpillar from my soup.

My daughter Kye asked, “What are you doing mom?” I wasn’t forthright with her and brushed her question off.

Moments later she shrieked as she found a caterpillar in her soup! And, rightfully so, accused me of not being honest with her.

That story, while humorous now, will follow me forever. And I am not so proud of it.

The leadership lesson: Be forthright about what is going on. People can deal with what they know. Had I mentioned the caterpillar, she could have looked in her soup, found it and trust would be intact.

Be proactive – Have a plan

In the garden, adding beneficial insects, carefully removing old plants and rotating crops proactively defends the garden from caterpillars. Make sure your plants have fresh air! This requires planning and minimal resources. The return on your investment has got to be 1000%.

Leadership lesson: Get beneficial support for your people, honor the past and rotate responsibilities, which keeps your people and processes fresh!.

Keep in mind, a well-fed caterpillar eventually flies away from the garden it devastates!  What do you want a great garden (organization) or a temporary butterfly?!