In her Manage to Change blog, Ann Michael has an interesting post on Change Martyrs. By change martyr she refers to the situation were ". . .the initial person highlighting an opportunity was unceremoniously dismissed, marginalized or otherwise rendered powerless." She goes on to point out that it is not unusual for this person's concept to eventually be implemented after they are gone. Unfortunately, this does happen more than we'd like. Being a pioneer or prophet can be a dangerous job!
Take a look at her post. She poses the interesting question of whether an organization is more accepting of an idea from the outside and tends be less accepting if an internal source is proposing the change. I think she has a point. Two factors come to mind that might explain this. Both have to do with the relationship between the future martyr and the rest of the organization.
First, an internal proposer is a known factor. We know where they stand in the organization, what their history is and what their political backing and clout is. Therefore, in their resistance to change the rest of the organization knows how to attack this potential disruptor of the status quo and is quite comfortable in doing so. With an outside change agent we know less about them, who supports them and how strongly and therefore proceed much more judiciously and cautiously. Our uncertainty gives the outsider a chance to adapt and counter with additional arguments and justifications.
Second, the change martyr themselves can fall victim to this familiarity. Since they know the organization and all the players they can often fail to adequately explain and sell their change. "They know me and what I stand for. There is no need to sell them on this new idea. Just that fact that I'm suggesting it should be enough for them." Wrong! The outsider knowing he has no support base instinctively knows he as a major sales job on his hands and acts accordingly.
We in IT are often in this role and would be well served to take some prudent steps that will both help get the change implemented and ensure we are around to see it happen. My suggestions:
- Work behind the scenes to make sure we have the key decision makers and influencers support and understanding. Work with them one-on-one to bring them along to the new concept. To use one of my favorite LBJisms "Better to have 'em inside the tent pissin' out than outside pissin' in."
- Sell, sell, sell. Change is hard. People need to be convinced and emotionally ready to accept it and that means it is up to you to sell them on the idea. This is an especially tough concept for most IT folks. We don't naturally like to sell. The facts should speak for themselves. The truth is they don't -- you have to be their voice.
What are your thoughts?