Change management at work: Lead the charge or get out of the way

Changes in the workplace are neither inherently good or bad; just make sure you know which side you fall on

Dear Bob ...

I see you've been plugging a new book on business change management. Seems to me you're making a false assumption: that all change is good. I know we've been told that often enough, but that just means it's been repeated a lot, not that it's true.

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I'm on George Will's side of this topic: "Most improvements make matters worse because most new ideas are regrettable." Are you going to argue with him when he's so obviously right?

- Against it

Dear Against it ...

Of course Will is right. His political leanings were never in doubt. Whether he's correct or not is a different matter.

First of all, had you read the book (which would involve your buying a copy -- I don't see a downside here), you'd know I don't claim all change is good. Far from it -- in fact, I point out that in World War II we called the good guys "the resistance" and still consider Europe's change promoters to be as evil as any collection of leaders in history.

In the world of business, the most likely situation is that all change is good for some stakeholders and not so good for others. That's going to happen when organizations make decisions, including the decision to avoid a change or, for that matter, all change.

Will's contention is, of course, utter nonsense, as everyone who is happy not to have to earn their living by plowing a small plot of ground with a hoe will agree.

Not everyone sees eye to eye on what constitutes progress, of course. There are some basics most of us wouldn't be happy doing without. For example, here in Minnesota, central heating comes to mind. I presume Will wouldn't consider that to be a regrettable idea, although had he been alive when it was introduced you never know.

As a practical matter, employees are often made responsible for leading change. When that's your job, you either conclude the change is simply unethical and resign, or you decide it's your job to make it happen. Once you decide to make it happen, the rest is technique.

That's what the book is about, and I'm unapologetic about helping change leaders succeed.

- Bob

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