Lessons from a Change Agent

Instigating change to make a substantive impact on a company’s growth trajectory can be an exhilarating experience.  But going from inspiration to material reality is a process rife with opportunity and threat.  These are tough and potentially treacherous waters to navigate, from the politics to the fiefdoms to entrenched thinking and the all too human resistance to change.  If you are a catalyst for change, or seeking to become one, help is on the way. 

My career as a global CMO and a strategic advisor at Chasm Group has taken me to places like Kodak during the 1994-96 transition from traditional to digital photography.  Compaq during the acquisitions of DEC and Tandem, and the turmoil around the HP deal.  Siebel Systems during its meteoric rise to CRM greatness, and its subsequent fall.  IRI, a private equity-backed firm seeking to move from data to decision support systems outside its traditional MRD stronghold.  And many companies seeking to reinvent themselves. I have seen this movie and thought I’d share 10 useful tidbits.  Hope you will share yours.

  • Don’t use the term “change agent”.  It casts others as veterans who are part of the problem and suggests they’ve been sitting on their thumbs…even if it’s true.
  • Understand the hunger for change.  If there is no burning platform, you can’t create one operating as a team of one.
  • Speak about “us”.  Take the Japanese approach of uniting against a common enemy.  And check your ego at the door.  Lavish genuine praise on others, sometimes giving credit where it’s not due.
  • Find like-minded people.  You will need to enlist the support of others across all levels and departments.  Remember, this is a “we” mission you are embarking on. 
  • Make sure you understand what win-win means.  It seems obvious that buy-in requires win-win scenarios.  Anyone who will be affected by the changes you are catalyzing must see the personal benefits to them.  WIIFM.
  • Network like crazy.  Self explanatory.  You need a lot of friends.
  • Gather all the data and intelligence you can.  Make sure you know the facts and can make a rational, empirically based argument.  You cannot fly at 50,000 feet, and expect to land the plane.
  • The divine is in the details.  You may know where you want to go, but you’d better know how to get there.
  • Listen to the philosophy of Bugs Bunny.  You need to laugh when it hurts, and not take things personally.  “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again”.
  • Always finish what you start.  If you are embarking on a journey of change, see it through.  This is not something you dabble in.







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