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Shake it up, baby: Becoming a change agent in a static organization

If you want to inspire change in a complacent organization, you have to stick your neck out. Is it worth the risk to challenge the status quo, or should you keep your head down and your mouth shut?


Your work environment is stuck somewhere in the last millennium. Things move at a snail’s pace, and inefficiencies abound. You know you could help your organization change for the better. Yet how can you be a revolutionary, a change agent in an organization of people who just want to leave at 5 p.m.?

Simply put, you have to stick your neck out and confront some “but it’s always been that way” policies. But be warned: Doing so may not make you very popular at first—it could even put you at risk of antagonizing the wrong people.

Why be a change agent?
Why take the risk of winding up in the crosshairs of office politics? Here are three good reasons:
  • Survival. Sometimes you can see that your organization needs to change—and that if someone doesn’t inspire that change, you’ll be out of job. This is a great motivator for shaking things up: Do it or line up for unemployment.
  • Fame. By inspiring change in your organization, you risk raising a few hackles. But if things go well, others will take notice. You’ll be known not just as John Smith, C programmer, but as John Smith, the guy who helped the company stay afloat.
  • Fortune. If the changes you inspire lead to a new revenue stream and you’ve negotiated points, or if you have a really fair employer, change may be very profitable. A change that can save money or make money is usually seen as a change for the better. And it’s easily justifiable to executives and financial accounting types.

If it ain't broke, why fix it?
Perhaps the organization you work for seems to work just fine without your notions of change. Business goes on, people show up to work, and you collect a paycheck. In that case, why initiate change?

Change is necessary because in the information age, if you can figure out a better way of doing something, then the way you’re doing it now is “broke.” For instance, does someone on your team monitor patch releases and then implement them? If not, and you’ve avoided disaster so far, some people might conclude this task is unnecessary. But the truth is, you’ve just been lucky.

To be a change agent, you need to do more than raise the issue; you need to propose a solution—and, if possible, be part of the solution you propose. (You want to be seen as an innovator and a valuable contributor, not as a do-nothing whiner.) So, if nobody’s monitoring those patches, why not volunteer to do the job?

Providing a reality check
In today’s economy, change is a way of life. By accepting and evangelizing that simple premise, you can help change the attitude of your organization.

Initially, not everyone in your organization may believe that change is inevitable and necessary. Some may point you to the ”if it ain’t broke” cliche (which you can now correct them on). If you demonstrate that change may be profitable and back it up with hard facts, it becomes more difficult for senior management to push back.

E-mail your coworkers and managers white papers, reports, and competitive information on changes other organizations are making. You’ll make it harder for upper management to remain complacent, and they’ll see you as a contributor with a finger on the pulse of your industry.

Conclusion
Being a change agent is risky, but it’s a risk worth taking. Besides the fame and (perhaps) fortune you’ll personally accrue, you’ll be making a difference in your organization.

Running against the wind
Have you ever been a change agent? Was the experience a good one, or did it backfire on you? Tell us how it went or post a comment below.

 

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