Change Is Good: G Is for the Golden Rule

Slalom Consulting Roger Kastner

A Consultant Manager with Slalom Consulting, Roger works with clients and other consultants in the delivery of Organizational Effectiveness and Project Leadership services and helps practitioners achieve greater success than previously possible.

A colleague told me about a technique he learned at a workshop that calls out the inherent unfairness of not engaging individuals prior to rolling out a change which has a significant impact on them. The technique is brilliant:

  1. Ask participants to pull out their wallet and pass it to the person on their right.
  2. Participant #2 will then go through the wallet and determine what Participant #1 truly needs and does not need in their wallet.
  3. Then Participant #2 hands the wallet back to Participant #1 for future use.

The point of this technique is to demonstrate how change feels to most people who are not engaged in the development of the change or how it is implemented, and if you are like most people who I’ve shared this with, you are probably feeling a little uncomfortable at the thought of being a participant in this exercise.

If you were participant #1, you would want to know if you could provide personal and valuable guidance to participant #2, such as to explain why you need 5-6 coffee shop punch cards. You would want a voice in the process, because it’s only fair since it’s your wallet, right?

This technique is so powerful that you probably only have to verbalize steps #1-3 to prove the point; the lack of engaging the impacted individuals of the desired change raises a certain amount of resistance due to of a lack of fairness in the process.

Acceptance of change is more likely to be achieved when your target audience feels like they’ve been treated fairly in the change process. Therefore, the likelihood of success of a change significantly increases when your approach embraces the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It’s just that simple.

The Value of Fairness
Fairness has a positive impact on acceptance when there is a perception of engagement and transparency during the development of the change. Conversely, in the absence of fairness, users feel change is being done unto them without their input. Without fairness and a sense of inclusion, some will feel justified in their resistance to change.

OK, wait a minute, this talk of the “golden rule” and “fairness” is beginning to sound very warm and fuzzy. And, a lot of our stakeholders and sponsors think Change Management lacks quantifiable dollar impacts to their bottom line. That’s simply not the case.

Think about a project as an investment, with the expectation that the benefits will be worth multiples of the original investment. This is commonly referred to as Return on Investment, or ROI. Project Managers should be all about setting, managing, and delivering on expectations for scope, schedule, and budget, which are the components of the Investment, or the “I” in ROI.

The “R” in ROI, however, is commonly held outside the responsibilities of the Project Manager, because the benefits of the project are rarely fully or partially realized when the project closes. The “R” is the result of the target audience accepting, adopting, and embracing the solution. Therefore, Change Management, done well, ensures the delivery of the “R.”

Now Change Management feels pretty quantifiable, right?

Why abide by the Golden Rule?
Let’s look at the other side of the coin—why would you choose to not adopt the golden rule principle in your change approach?

  • Time? If you have the power to overcome resistance to the change, then yes, you may save time by not engaging the target audience. However, the costs of damaged relationships and lack of trust will likely have long-term negative effects, such as the quality of acceptance and the additional time and cost for repairing relationships.
  • Cost? Time is money, and so is re-work, re-attempts, and do-overs. Other things that cost money: attrition, poor productivity, and attempts to recover morale.
  • Quality? By engaging fewer people in the development of the change, especially the people closest to the problem-space, the quality of the solution will decrease.

So, if it saves time, reduces costs, and increases quality, and will ultimately drive the realization of benefits, not abiding by the golden rule in a change initiative seems irresponsible.

Wrap it Up
So, a change approach that embraces the golden rule by embracing fairness will help deliver acceptance and increase adoption of the change, thus resulting in a higher ROI and the achievement of project objectives. It’s that simple.

Applying the golden rule approach should look familiar to readers of this blog series.

In A is for Ask, I highlighted that a lot of change initiatives feel like a “tell,” similar to the wallet technique, and feels like a few people telling the masses how they will change and why it’s good for them. Instead, by asking individuals how they feel about the change and what would prevent them from embracing the change, the act of “asking” will result in a constructive feedback that will inform the resistance management plan.

In E is for Engagement, I highlighted how involving impacted individuals in the development and implementation of the solution will improve the quality of the solution while creating champions for change.

Sure, hitting the initiative’s objectives and ROI is very important for sponsors, but honestly, that’s not my primary motive. For me, I like the golden rule approach (insert warm and fuzzy alert), because it treats people with respect and dignity, and it honors the expertise they bring to the workplace. Of course, it’s also the best way to achieve the ROI and project objectives, so it meets the needs of those who have respect for the bottom line and for the people. A Two-fer!

It’s just that simple.

About Roger Kastner
As a member of the Organizational Effectiveness practice at Slalom Consulting, I'm excited to share my perspectives and experiences with Change and Project Management to help clients and practitioners achieve their goals and objectives.

7 Responses to Change Is Good: G Is for the Golden Rule

  1. great post …and a great way to look at, and aproach organizational change!

  2. Harriet Barton says:

    Excellent! I’ve received new insight about what makes great management and enhances creative output. Thanks so much. HB

    • Roger Kastner says:

      Hi Harriot – I’m glad to hear it was helpful. There are so many parallels between good managing and good parenting. These principles are imprinted in our brains early on, why fight them? Good luck!

  3. josephlogan says:

    “Now Change Management feels pretty quantifiable, right?” Exceptionally well put–and yes, it does.

  4. Nicey Hilton says:

    LOVED this. And passed it on to several colleagues and organizations. Absolutely best exercise I’ve ever heard of to bring the change message home.

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