How to be a Champion of Change!

21 Sep

Change is not simple. I had an idea to move my favourite living room chair closer to the window. I imagined sitting there, relaxing, and at the same time, watching what was happening on the street. I would be able to not only hear, but also see some of the latest construction, see cars being ticketed, and see leaf blowers and other noisy stuff being deployed to make our neighbourhood beautiful, while we all became a little deafer.

Change is not simple and I am still sitting far from the window. To put the chair where I wanted to would have meant moving Daisy’s mat, moving the television and a few other things I liked just where they were. Changing one thing usually means changing a lot of other stuff (lesson #1) and may be very daunting. Something that seems a good idea, at first glance, can be quickly abandoned when related obligations and consequential change are better understood.

It is about the same at work. Maybe our managers are somewhat grim and employees, in general seem somewhat morose and uncooperative. Then we hear about “engagement” and how that can motivate employees to be more interested, more innovative and voluntarily do extra work without expecting to be paid for it.

Engagement seems a great idea, so we had a few hundred coffee mugs made up, inscribed, “Engaged and Happy! Engaged Employee of the Day!”. We met with all the managers and told them to get employees engaged and someone wrote a small presentation for managers to tell employees how they should be more engaged and there would be awards for those who do it best.

Despite all our effort, It did not work and we could not understand why. We had made a significant investment to engage employees and it seemed in vain. Grudgingly we hired a consultant to try to solve the mystery. She told us that telling people how to change and offering awards is not enough. She said that we also had to change to be people that employees would want to engage with. Effectively she told us (or so it sounded) that we had to be less grim, that we were part of the problem. We did not like her either, so we went back to developing more rules and regulations to compel employees to be more productive and resolved to punish those who were not. There were too many changes required, in our opinion, going the engagement way.

Most change is holistic and some change we are instinctively (or necessarily) very good at. The changes in season, for example. We adapt well to wearing more or wearing less and in spring and fall can be very adept at switching between the extremes.   The greatest teacher of inevitable change, that we all experience, is aging and adapting to whatever stage we may be at, as comfortably as possible while still often trying to give the illusion that we belong to another preferred stage.

Back at work, it is much the same. The average person may change the way things have to be done based on new technology or changes in the business, but the attitude may not correspondingly change. There may be acceptance of change as needed and required, but with reservations. Some employees may handle change in a responsible way, but still somewhat clinging to the past. I have known people, including at senior management level, duplicating work as they persist in doing things the old way as well as the new way that they do not trust. Do they want to be heroes by finding fault with the new system? That can be a little short sighted and not likely to be career enhancing.

Embracing change is important, but understanding and speaking the language of the specific change is more important – a form of engagement to new ways. The person understanding not only their small part, but how it fits into everything else. Adopting a new mindset to new ways and exploring their potential rather than focusing on limitations and possibly appearing like a “stick in the mud” lamenting the loss of the good old ways!

One of the most traumatic changes can be the change of a boss, particularly when the old boss was respected and well liked. It will not work if the approach to the new boss seems more like humouring him/her while trying to steer things back to what used to be. That may be seen as implied criticism, which is not helpful when trying to build a relationship. To understand the new age change, it is necessary to try to understand the new manager viewpoint as well as possible, to try to think through from the perspective of the new boss. If change is necessary (as is always the case) it is far better to work from and expand from the new manager thinking rather than seeking to reintroduce the practices of the departed boss, no matter how good he or she may have been.

What do you think? These are very simple concepts about change. How important are they? Do you think most people instinctively adopt similar approaches or are more likely to cling to the past? Do we need to be more holistic and more open minded about how we consider change? Is business change a natural part of evolution that we need to be fully part of? How do we separate real change from gimmicky buzzword type things that come and go as minor distractions?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.


5 Responses to “How to be a Champion of Change!”

  1. Howard Spiegel September 22, 2014 at 4:13 am #

    Hi Ian

    Seems like this is where you are publishing your articles now. That’s a change 🙂
    Here are a few thoughts.

    1. Change is hard and therefore this is what creates the resistance. The current path is always easier. Not necessarily more effective, but easier.

    2. Here we are talking about engagement again. Engagement will only occur when the immediate supervisor/leader is able to instill the motivation through a series of actions that include a) displaying the change, b) showing why the new way is better, c) rewarding the change, etc.

    3. For organizational change to occur everywhere, the change must be visible from the top through all levels.

    4. You learned the hard way that change cannot come by offering coffee mugs and asking supervisors to engage more. Is that really an award/reward for change? Would you give the CEO a mug for changing and becoming more engaged? Of course not so why assume others would have a different reaction.

    5. Engagement can increase when tied to proper rewards. The proper rewards vary by company and cultures.

    Just look at most mergers. The cultures clash and engagement fails. Why? Because of the perception of winners and losers. Which of the old company’s folks wind up in which positions? It takes a great deal of effort to make the new teams gel and often it does not work despite everyone’s best efforts. Why so much resistance? Because it is just so hard to change. Easier to move on sometimes than change.


    • ianclive September 22, 2014 at 5:26 am #

      Hi Howard,

      Thank you for joining me here. Yes, this is a change after five years on Toolbox, but no burning bridges and probably more a choice between alternatives that continue to remain open. My chair by the window, but without removing the chair by the door!

      Thank you, Howard, for your great points. Yes the “mug” concept is too simplistic and although naive, it can also be laziness, preferring to spend a few dollars rather than making a personal investment in creating an environment where people feel trusted like adults, are given some freedom to act and some flexibility (particularly time) so there is a feeling of belonging and being counted on to do the right things.

      The perception of winners and losers is certainly a key concern and if an innovative and “taking risks” culture is being promoted in a controlled environment, the winners are likely to be the ones who best conform to the CEO’s views of an engaged employee which may focus more on agreeing rather than coming up with any new ideas.

      Just some thoughts. Really good to resume our exchanges in this changed environment.

      Very best wishes,



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