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Quit Talking about Change

By Kathy Miller on April 15th, 2014

ThinkingThe more you talk about change, the less likely that it will occur.  Why?  Because most people do not really want to change and take offense if you tell them that they should.  The word change connotes that we have to be or do something different, which, in turn, implies that we aren’t good enough already.  No wonder so many people view change negatively. Moreover the phrase “managing change” is even worse.  It could imply to some that something will be done to them.

Let’s admit it.  Most of us do not like to be “managed.”  The word implies that we are under the control of someone else. Who wants to be controlled? My take on it is that we should manage tasks but not people – especially if we want them to be engaged in their work.  Engagement and feelings of task ownership go together.  And all of us say that we want engaged employees.   So in our work on sustainability, why do we emphasize the word “change”?  Instead, what if we talked about the future that we want and how we will get there?  Isn’t that approach more motivating?

Last year I worked with an agency that was faced with many challenges.  A new leader arrived and immediately told all that they had to change.  In the words of one long-tenured employee, “ He told us that everything we had done before he arrived was wrong.”  No wonder the morale of the organization sagged and people dug in to their own definitions of how they should carry out the mission. And guess what?  The employees should have input into how they do their jobs. The leader’s role is to set the direction. The employee’s role is to figure out how to get there.  Of course I do not mean to imply that leaders should do nothing after establishing the course.  They have the responsibility of providing resources, support, and guidance.  They can nurture the employees’ growth and development.  They can engage with employees in ways that enable them to make sound decisions and to do excellent work.

As we think about how we can contribute to a sustainable world let’s not refer to change and managing change so much. Instead let’s set a direction for the future and work with our employees to create a vision that we all share.  Then let’s put together a plan for how we will move forward.