A few months ago we talked about the “weirdness tightrope,” and some of the difficulties inherent in being a change agent. In this article, we will explore techniques you can use to “walk that weirdness tightrope,” yet survive, gain credibility and be successful for your clients. It makes no difference if you are an internal change agent for your company or an external change agent like me, "walking the weirdness tightrope" is not an easy task ... under any circumstance.
To do that, we’ll first explore the special abilities change agents must possess. Then we will discuss the role of culture, and, finally, we will discuss how you can manage your weirdness and not only survive but also prosper as you assist your clients along the path of cultural change.
Engineers and Change Agents
I want to make sure we both are singing from the same sheet of music here. In any cultural change initiative there are always two major questions.
- What do we change to?
- How do we create that change?
The cultural change we are referring to is nonspecific. It could be a simple change, such as launching a new product; a larger change, such as implementing quality circles; or it could be a very large, penetrating, full-blown implementation of the Toyota Production System. It does not matter how large the cultural change initiative happens to be, these two questions need to be asked and answered.
I can tell you with certainty that no matter how complicated the first question might be, it is dwarfed by the second question. The “what” question is basically a technical question that can be handled by the professionals who can design a change initiative. Even though they may not be engineers by discipline, I call those folks “social engineers.” On the other hand, the question of “how we make this change happen?” is very people-related and must be handled by the behavioral scientists, the “cultural change agents,” and fortunately or not, many of these folks are engineers by degree.
Here’s the rub. Shake a large tree and you could fill the former Sears Tower with professionals who fall from the tree who have the knowledge to provide technical solutions to your problem. These professionals are the social engineers. Unfortunately among these social engineers there are a scarce few who also can design the necessary change process so the technical solutions can be effectively incorporated into your business culture. These immensely talented folks are the change agents, and they are a scarce commodity indeed.
Furthermore, if you are a driven change agent, wishing to delight your client by implementing the appropriate cultural changes so your client can become a “better money-making machine and a more secure workplace for all,” then you need to be able to walk the “weirdness tightrope.” To do this you must “manage your weirdness” so you can:
- Increase your credibility and survive in the short term yet
- Maintain your weirdness and continue to make the changes necessary so your clients prosper, in the long term.
We will discuss a six-step approach to managing your weirdness but first a word about culture...