Change Your Organization Tactics

Ten Decent Tactics for Changing Your Organization, With My Six Favorites at the Top

  1. Do your work. You weren't hired to change the organization. Do the work you were hired to do, or risk losing respect, and with it, the ability to make any changes. (4 Dec)
  2. Understand why. There's a reason why things are done the way they are, and it isn't because your coworkers are incompetent or malicious. Sometimes they may be ignorant, but even that isn't the only reason. SeekFirstToUnderstand. (4 Dec)
  3. Be respectful. Don't ever look down at anybody, no matter what, not even in the privacy of your thoughts. A differing opinion does not mean ignorance, and ignorance does not mean stupidity. (18 Dec)
  4. Be careful with vocabulary. Jargon that means something positive to you might mean something different and negative to someone else. For example, "iteration" might mean "continual refinement" to you and "rework due to poor planning" to your audience. (15 Jan)
  5. Establish an escape route. Determine how you can successfully get out, whether that means finding another job, going back to your old duties, or something else. Think about how and why you would make your escape. (31 Jan)
  6. Talk slowly. Explain ideas in a calm, measured tone of voice. Sometimes technical people speak at ten miles a minute, particularly when they're excited about an idea. Your tone should denote "wisdom of the ages" rather than "geeky excitement." (22 Feb)
  7. Understand motivations. As you proselytize, be aware of what motivates the person you're talking to. Less busywork? Higher quality? Feeling of control? Address these motivations. (4 Dec)
  8. Find the gap between desire and perceived reality. People have to want to change, and they'll only want to change if they think it will get them something they can't get otherwise. (10 Feb)
  9. Be flexible. Sometimes the organization needs to change to fit the process, and sometimes the process needs to change to fit the organization. It's easier to change the process. (4 Dec)
  10. Be calm, happy, and confident. It's easy to get frazzled by all the things that are being done wrong. Stay calm. It will inspire confidence in you. Find small things to do that give you a feeling of accomplishment at work, and have good relationships with family and friends outside of work. (14 Jan)
  11. Lead by example. People naturally imitate those they respect. Lead by example, and in the beginning be prepared to do all the work for all of your suggestions yourself. (3 Dec)

The above list was made by CollectingSeashells, which only allows you to keep ten things. Picking only ten tactics was very, very hard. The following tactics are the ones that got dropped. (If there's more than ten tactics above, it's because I've added some and I'm waiting for divine inspiration to tell me which ones to keep. [EditHint: merge seven and eight?])
  1. Don't be a wallflower. If you know there's a better way to do something, speak up. (3 Dec)
  2. Shut up. If you know there's a better way to way to do something, and you've already talked about it a bunch this week, keep it to yourself. (3 Dec)
  3. Prepare to get fired. You might come across as incredibly annoying. You could get fired. You could make enemies. (3 Dec)
  4. Don't gloat. If you make a change, and it's successful, don't gloat. Don't remind people it was your idea. Don't say anything at all. (4 Dec)
  5. Be patient. Don't expect to make a change every day. Don't expect every change to succeed. (3 Dec)
  6. You have no authority. You can talk about stuff, and you can make suggestions, but you can't force anybody to do something. Remember that. (If you do have authority, this list isn't for you.) (3 Dec)
  7. Be flexible. Some processes, like XP, have very specific and rigidly defined sets of rules. You aren't in a position to be specific and rigid. (4 Dec)
  8. Involve management. Somehow. See HowToTalkToManagement. (4 Dec)
  9. Present solutions. Talk about solutions to problems, not problems alone. (4 Dec)
  10. Find support. Find other people in the organization that share your views. Sometimes two voices are more convincing than one. It's also nice to talk to someone that agrees with you occasionally. The more respected these people are, and the more accessible they are to you, the better. (4 Dec)
  11. Find a support group. My stress level went down enormously once I started posting this diary. That made less techy at work, which made me more effective. It's easy to feel all alone when you're the only one (4 Dec)
  12. Stay within your sphere of influence. Don't try to change parts of the organization that you don't have continual contact with. (3 Dec)
  13. Be experienced. Don't suggest something you haven't personally succeeded with.(3 Dec)
  14. Don't act superior. Everyone will hate you if you do. (18 Dec)
  15. Create memes. You can cause change on a bottom-up basis, but it will be hard and impermanent. Simultaneously work on creating memes that change people's way of thinking and permeate the organization. Your bottom-up efforts will contribute to the memes, so don't get discouraged. (18 Dec)
  16. Respect is your currency. The more people respect you, the more credibility you have. The more credibility you have, the more opportunities you'll have. Earn respect by your actions. (18 Dec)
  17. Never criticize people. There's problems with the process, sure. Criticize the process. Improve the process. Leave names out of it. (4 Dec)
  18. Be helpful. Show people how your changes will make their lives easier, not more difficult. ThinkWinWin. (4 Dec)
  19. Take ownership. Take ownership of things that nobody owns and that are related to your change goals. If you assume ownership and lead in those areas, leadership will naturally fall to you. In time, you'll have actual authority over the things you took ownership of. Your actions will be more visible and you'll be able to earn more respect. (18 Dec) I removed this one because I haven't actually had success with it yet. It sure sounds good, though, doesn't it?
  20. Work top-down and bottom-up. Direct some of your efforts at bottom-up change: lead by example and cajoling on the parts of the organization that you have continual contact with. Direct other efforts at top-down change: write essays and give presentations about the changes you want to make to people with authority. (11 Dec)
  21. Baby steps. Talk about big goals for as long as you have a receptive audience, but when it comes to actual change, make it small. Only make changes that require a very small change in routine. (3 Dec)
  22. Be natural. Don't follow these or any other rules by rote. Instead, internalize the concepts and then do what comes naturally. (18 Dec)
  23. Cultivate champions. Find at least one person who works with you, has more influence with management than you do, and is sympathetic to your basic philosophy. Establish a positive working relationship with them and use them as a conduit to management. Be honest about it. (18 Dec)
  24. Repeat yourself. It's going to take a long, long time for your suggestions and changes to sink in. Say and do things over and over in different ways. Don't be annoying about it. (17 Dec) The rule of thumb where I work is to say it 3 times each to 3 different groups - 9 times total.
  25. Find small pleasures. Trying to change an organization is a frustrating, thankless job. Find things that you can do easily that give you a feeling of accomplishment, and do them. (18 Jan)
  26. Don't hit "Send." When you create a document advocating some sort of change, don't send it out right away. Instead, wait a day and review it before sending it. (8 Jan)

Perhaps Queue your thoughts would be a better title -- you *do* eventually hit "Send" after a day or so, right ? I do this for most of my email, not just documents advocating change. I HaveThisPattern. I refuse to use email software that won't let my emails sit and marinate for a while. 2 reasons: (a) When I re-read email after a day or so, I'm more likely to "see" confusing sentences, typos, etc. than if I re-read it moments after I compose it. (b) While I let it marinate, I often read or hear something that seems relevant -- or something else that makes the whole point moot, so I delete the message unread. -- DavidCary

  1. Change the build process. Bad Habits, even if everyone agrees they are Bad, keep creeping back unless something automagic reveals them on every check in. And once the Bad Habit has been revealed, facilitate a rapid fix rather than assign Blame. (17 Aug 2005)
  2. Don't give up. You'll frequently feel like you're not accomplishing anything. Keep trying... but consider circulating your resume. (29 Jan)
  3. Rely on family and friends. Job satisfaction can't be the only thing that contributes to your happiness. (31 Jan)
  4. Don't criticize everything. If you find fault with everything, people won't take you as seriously. Pick something specific to work on. (14 Jan)
  5. Speak to problems. Don't try to introduce an agile process for the sake of introducing process - talk about how it will solve real problems. Make sure they're problems management will recognize. (29 Jan)

Please don't use these. They're mostly from a single experience. There's no research behind them. Some of them don't even say what I really want to say. I hope to improve them over time.

-- CyoGuy

The above was extracted from ChangeYourOrganizationDiary, which provides some useful context.


I nominate this page as one of the ReallyValuablePages. Kudos and thank you to whoever created the above list - in my humble opinion it contains significant wisdom and reflects genuine insight into something that is a matter of LeaderShip. -- RandyStafford

Seconded -- JeremyDunck

Actioned -- DavidLiu

Please don't use these. They're mostly from a single experience. There's no research behind them. Some of them don't even say what I really want to say. I hope to improve them over time.

That's maybe too strong an admonishment, CyoGuy. These rules ring true to me. I particularly like "Don't try to change parts ... that you don't have continual contact with." That's a keeper. Change is risky enough; if you lose that contact, then all sorts of ill-spirited stuff can grow. People do weird stuff when they're even a little spooked, and change always seems to spook. -- WaldenMathews

Somebody added "Note that the success can be small." to "Be experienced. Don't suggest something you haven't personally succeeded with." I took that back out, but I'm willing to discuss it. -- CyoGuy

A continuing thank you for posting the diary and this page. For this reader, the stories and the top ten rules and the rejects, together, are more insightful than any taken alone would be.

Yeah for steady improvement! Bearing in mind "different rules for different fools", this fool gets more mileage from rule 12 ("find the gap between desire and perceived reality") than rule 5 ("speak to problems") as of Feb 11. And rule 11 ("dont criticize everything") seems related, but I can't figure out how. I guess "time will tell".

I've never been happy with the idea of "Change your organization rules," so when StanSilver suggested calling them "tactics" a month ago, I jumped on it. In the "did nothing" sense of the phrase. But now I've finally changed the page from "rules" to "tactics." I hope it's an improvement. --CyoGuy (now, somebody please think of a better pseudonym than CyoGuy!)

How about a name derived from "Change Your Organization" like Oregon Chaney?

Prepare to get fired kind of reminds me of some of RumsfeldsRules? (see One of them states "Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the president and do wonders for your performance." OK, maybe I don't work for the president, but the best advice/counsel I've been able to give to my boss has been when I told myself, you might get fired for this but it needs to be said/done anyway. Sincerity and willingness to sacrifice usually have the opposite effect -- not getting fired, but making a difference. --KyleMaxwell

1. Do your work. You weren't hired to change the organization.

Hmm ok. But what if you were?

No that's possibly not clearly phrased. Better case is --

What if you were hired to do many things, one of which is to change the organization? I'm in charge of the trainees, and ALSO supposed to steer development into an agile methodology (basically of my choosing, although I have to confirm my decisions with management), and ALSO I'm supposed to do some coding now and then.

The answer sounds obvious to me, but maybe you have some further wisdom that's escaping me, so I thought I'd ask.

Don't you think that do your work applies just as well here, if it's your job to change it, change it...

Take ownership. I removed this one because I haven't actually had success with it yet. It sure sounds good, though, doesn't it?

I have had success using this tactic in small organizations. In such organizations, there's always more important work to do than people to do it and job definitions are often fuzzy (YouKnowYoureInaWildWestCompanyWhen). So it can be possible to take on optional responsibilities. In the single larger organization I've worked at, people had a more defined sense of territory, so it was more difficult to make changes that affected them. There were also more people involved, making it more difficult to reach consensus. And if the change required another department to buy-in, either get them to suggest it or forget it.

The most glaring such success is in a small, non-profit: my local church. This was some years ago. A musician and vocalist, I wanted to learn how to be a leader. So I started using leadership tactics. I learned much of value to my job as a software engineer. One thing I did, as our music team grew, was to take ownership of new jobs that needed to get done, including being a music director. Over several years and many trials, I gained the respect and responsibility of a leader.

We need one more bullet point on how to deal with Dumb people who do not understand even the most simplest scenarious and offer a complex convoluted workaround even for the simplest task
Some Wiki Pages Related to the Above Tactics
See also ChangeYourOrganizationDiary repeated at bottom to improve clarity


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