Changing Where People Sit Accelerates Change

post from R. Kendall Lyman and Tony C. Daloisio:

months ago, we took a taxi from our hotel to our client to teach a class about
change. After a longer than normal ride, we realized the driver didn’t know
where to go. Because we didn’t speak the same language as the driver, we found
it hard to communicate that we were going in the wrong direction. After several
failed attempts to find out where we were (including changing taxis), we
eventually arrived in time to teach the workshop. But not until we were
anxious, upset, and worried that we might not make it in time. Just before
arriving, we realized that our little taxi adventure was similar to how people
experience change.

With the accelerated pace of change today, we can all feel a little out
of control, frustrated, and anxious about what is happening in our world—just
like riding in the back seat of a taxi in a foreign city. Why? Several reasons. First,
it feels different when we are receiving versus leading change. When we are the
recipient of change, we don’t always get to lead. Consequently, are we
confident in the “driver” of the change? Do we feel like we’ll reach our
destination using the most direct route? Or is it more like our taxi
experience—do we feel lost and unsure about where to go? To some it feels like
they’re being taken for a ride, while others wonder “Are the only options to
suffer or sever?”

Second, do leaders of change share ownership
and accountability? Do they allow employees out of the back seat and into the
front seat? Do they engage all of those effected by the change in planning an
effective route to get everyone to the correct destination? Are employees
allowed to influence the speed of the journey? And are all passengers confident
in the leaders’ ability to get them where they are going? In some of the change
initiatives we have seen, people have told us that riding in the back seat of
the change would be an improvement. Their reality is that they feel like
they’re locked in the trunk getting banged up, flailing around, and getting car
sick from smelling the fumes.

And third (just to take the metaphor a little further), who gets access
to the keys of the change vehicle? Are employees expected to just receive the
change from those above, or do they get to take ownership? Do leaders give responsibility
but then micromanage every move by taking the wheel out of employees’ hands if they
aren’t driving quite right?

Buy-in, commitment, and
accountability for change is dramatically different depending on where people
sit in the car and if employees think they have some control over the outcomes.
Announcing the change and hoping that people will voluntarily change behavior
(a typical approach we see a lot), or mandating the change and expecting people
to comply (an approach we see even more) never works. Why?

Niccolo Machiavelli, the Italian historian,
philosopher, and writer

said: “There is nothing
more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous
to handle than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies
in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders by all
those who could profit by the new order. This lukewarmness arises from the
incredulity of mankind who do not truly believe in anything new until they have
had actual experiences with it.” If we are not careful, it would be easy to label
Machiavelli as a change pessimist. Phrases like “nothing more difficult,”
“nothing more doubtful of success,” and “nothing more dangerous” could easily
discourage the most courageous of heart. Why would anybody embark on such an adventure—no
matter how bright the change vision may be? Yet careful analysis of the Italian
politician’s insights could also yield a less pessimistic and a more realistic
view of change. Yes, it’s hard; there are enemies to change; and it’s going to
take effort to overcome the “lukewarmness” of the status quo. But the real
secret to change is getting people out of the back seat (so to speak) and
engaged in the process. Changing seats changes employee’s view. And when they
can see and influence the direction, speed, and process, most employees will want
to be part of the new order of things.

Kendall Lyman and Tony C. Daloisio
are authors of Change
The Way You Change: 5 Roles Of Leaders Who Accelerate Business Performance
Lyman is a founding principal of The Highlands Group. Daloisio is founder and
CEO of Charter Oak Consulting and a principal of The Highlands Group. Please
visit for more information.