The Pain of Change


Change is hard. If you’re the change agent, it’s difficult to change the “old guard,” who are “set in their ways,” and “don’t get where it’s all going.” And, if you’re one of the ones they’re trying to change, it’s most certainly difficult, with those “newfangled big shots” who seem like “all hat and no cattle” as they spout off odd sounding “vision casting” while scribbling all over the whiteboard.

Well, whichever you are, here’s an exercise that may help you. It occurred to me to try it many years ago and I’ve done it with the wonderful “legacy” employees at every new turnaround leadership gig I’ve had.

It’s really a simple word picture, but I’ve found it’s actually fun and effective to actually, physically try this with at least one of the more willing, extroverted “legacy” staff and at least one of the newer employees. (That last sentence seems kind of like the Brady Bunch, with Mike bringing his three messy boys into Carol’s swanky home of three lovely girls.) Anyway, The exercise should be done in the presence of all of the staff, and I’ve found it seems to help the “changers” and the “changees” better understand one another.

Be self-deprecating. Laugh together a bit more. You’re building a new team culture now.

Here is the ten step process:

  1. Bring a football into a staff meeting.
  2. Throw it to one of the more outgoing “legacy” employees.
  3. Ask them to throw it back to you.
  4. Throw it back to them.
  5. Now ask them to throw it back to you with their other hand.
  6. Laugh together.
  7. Then you throw it with your non-throwing hand.
  8. Laugh more together.
  9. Explain how you know in this new role (as change agent/turnaround leader) you’re asking everybody to do it differently and you know that’s difficult. We all have muscle memory and favor a certain existing way of doing things.
  10. Be self-deprecating. Laugh together a bit more. You’re building a new team culture now. One–not two–where the “legacy” and the “imported” staff are becoming integrated.

Going back to the Brady Bunch thing, Mike and Carol’s kids are starting to get along. But, remember Marcia Brady’s wisdom… “Mom always says, ‘Don’t play ball in the house’.” Seriously, if you have more of a serious office culture, you might want to use a Nerf football or do the exercise outside. It’s quite difficult to throw with your non-throwing arm. Even for the change agent.

What tips do you have for productive change management?



  1. Chip, great idea…what a great way to begin the process and create a “memorial stone.” Chances are most people won’t forget it. One thing I’ve learned is constantly communicating the new vision and doing small things to reinforce it. People watch leaders (unfortunate but true) and the little things we do to reinforce what we believe and where we are going help people to see that we mean it, we’re excited and committed.

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