The Grinch – Change Agent

By Scott Franklin

It is starting to feel a lot like Christmas. Put up the tree this weekend, stockings are hung over the fireplace and Christmas carols fill the airwaves. This is all good and cheery, but what really makes it feel like Christmas is trying to memorize 15 songs for our Singing Christmas Tree this year (including Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus – did I mention from memory???), scheduling travel to see family, and Christmas shopping for my wife and three girls, including a 15-year-old who thinks that “Any new car would be fine, I am easy to please” is helpful Christmas advice. Needing something to cheer me up, I turn on “The Grinch” and realize two things:1) deep down, part of me secretly empathizes with him; and 2) there is an important change message in the story.

As Christmas in Whoville approaches, our old buddy Mr. Grinch is exhibiting some resistant behavior – appearing supportive while engaging in active sabotage, co-opting others to resist (although I am not sure his dog was as helpful as expected) and numerous other nefarious activities. As we deal with resistance, it is important to remember that people change for their reasons, not yours. In this case, our herculean humbug finds his own reason to change in the combination of two powerful realizations – that what we do makes a difference and our contribution is important.

Change is often presented as a technical exercise – implementing a new process, changing roles, acquiring a company. While this is all well and good logically, it usually fails to create an emotional connection and makes the change seem like a lot of tedious work. Enlightened leaders know that there is a natural desire to be part of something larger than ourselves and will craft the message to reinforce a sense of purpose. Linking the change to a larger purpose, such as ‘saving lives’, ‘protecting our families’, ‘being good stewards of our world’, etc., makes the change seem less daunting. Making a positive impact takes work, but I’m up for the task! Ye Old Grinster became aware that the spirit of Christmas was more important than the trappings, hence the heart two sizes too small was transformed.

Next, our verdigris villain finds the other side of the change coin – that my contribution is important. Once we link ourselves to the bigger picture, we look for where we fit. When each person can see how their contribution fits into the larger context, engagement increases. The Big G realized that he could make a positive contribution to Whoville happiness and his personal desire to engage in the change was complete.

If you really want to engage your organization, make an effort to reinforce the sense of purpose and show people where they fit. (And, by the way, if one of your change sponsors is abnormally green and lives in a cave, don’t assume that public support is the same as commitment.)  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


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