Santa Claus – Change Agent

By Scott Franklin and Sherri Large

The holidays are upon us. Christmas music is covering the airwaves, holiday decorations are everywhere and Christmas specials are airing nightly. Each year around this time my family and I scour the TV guide for one of our favorite Christmas specials: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. As I watch the movie now as an adult my take on the movie is much different from when I was a child. First, I feel sorry for poor Rudolph. I guess bullying was a problem even at the North Pole. Second, there is an important change management message in how the group came to accept the change in the reindeer organization.

Rudolph was different from the other reindeer. He had a bright, shiny red nose that seemed to glow out of control. The other reindeer laughed and called him names, and refrained from inviting him to join the routine reindeer frivolities. They had their team of eight and liked it that way – adding this new (and significantly different) member would upset the way things are around here. Apparently, reindeer are strikingly similar to humans in many ways. They prefer the current state and treat change as something to be done by others (“now if the elves could just get their act together, things around here would really improve…”)

The reality is that regardless of how much Rudolph wanted to become part of the team, he had so little power and influence in the organization that all of his efforts fell on deaf ears. In many organizational change efforts, the ‘push’ to change the organization is delegated to the project team, the change champion, or the person who has the most to gain from the change. With both reindeer and people, this is a losing strategy – although one that is attempted time and time again.

Fortunately for Rudolph, good ole St. Nick stepped up as the sponsor of change. What interests the big guy in the red suit fascinates those with pointy ears and antlers. As quickly as he is able to scoot down the chimney and back up again, Santa was able to get the entire North Pole behind his decision to let Rudolph guide his sleigh on Christmas Eve. Santa realized on that foggy night that Rudolph’s nose was an asset to his operation. Archives and recently recovered North Pole recordings show that even before the limited visibility meteorological challenge, Santa liked Rudolph and wanted him to be accepted by the group. However, it was not until Santa began acting as a sponsor, did the organization change.

As the sponsor, Santa took three major steps to ensure the success of the initiative:

  1. He actively and visibly supported the change
  2. He built a coalition by getting all the other reindeer on board.
  3. He communicated the change to the organization, making sure they understood what would change and why.

Time and time again, research has shown that the top factor in successful change is effective sponsorship. Leadership and change are inextricably linked. If you are not going anywhere, do you really need a leader? We all love (and have loved) Santa for the joy he brings to little children on December 25th, but now we get to add his picture to the Change Management Wall of Fame. (And c’mon Santa, this has got to get me on the ‘Nice’ list this year…)


With over 20 years experience in organizational design, change management, and delivering sustainable improvements, Scott is a well-respected authority on organizational change, specializing in the leadership responsibilities of change management. Scott is a Prosci-certified change management professional and a certified trainer for Prosci’s change management programs. He brings specific expertise in the areas of creating a combined learning organization in parallel with a strengths-based organization, while simultaneously creating a culture of execution. You can reach Scott at [email protected].

Sherri Large is the business manager for the Life Cycle Institute. Sherri holds a Masters of Mass Communication from the University of South Carolina, a Bachelors of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communication, and is Prosci-certified in change management. You can reach Sherri at [email protected].

© Life Cycle Engineering


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