The White Rabbit - Change Agent

By Scott Franklin

In ‘Alice in Wonderland’, we know the White Rabbit as eternally behind schedule and skittishly hyperactive. What is easily overlooked is his firm grasp of the subtle intricacies of effective change management – for example, when he offhandedly advises Alice:

“Don’t just do something, stand there!”

Although this statement initially appears counterintuitive – after all, much of formal change management is getting individuals to actually do things differently – the change will only be effective when the right people do the right things.

Oftentimes during change, so much emphasis is placed on end results that we take shortcuts on the way those end results are achieved. For example, during a recent engagement, a client was implementing a new process for the operators to follow. To meet the expectation of a speedy implementation the area manager intended to provide the process training to the operators. On the surface, that might not sound like a bad idea. However, by doing so the manager was missing a valuable opportunity to engage the line supervisors in the change. When questioned, the area manager felt that the line supervisors were not as familiar with the new process as she was and would not be able to provide effective training. Once she said it out loud, she realized that she would be better off taking time to train the supervisors and leverage them to train and coach the employees on the new processes.

During another implementation, visual control boards were being installed at each manufacturing cell. The operators were made responsible for filling out the hourly production totals. As expected, some operators were filling out the boards consistently and others were, shall we say, less consistent. The change management facilitator assigned to the project took the opportunity to show the operators how to fill out the information correctly. The question posed to the facilitator was “why isn’t the supervisor addressing this” with the response “they are very busy and I just want to help them.” While the facilitator’s dedication is admirable, the truth is that unless the supervisors take ownership of their operators’ performance, this change is doomed to early failure. In this case, the facilitator should observe, but take no direct action. The next step would be to share his observations with the sponsor and create a plan to coach the supervisors on performance expectations and additional training on what to look for and how to address deficiencies. This effectively transfers ownership of the process to the appropriate individuals and greatly increases the potential for effective, sustained change.

Taken literally, “Don’t just do something, stand there” is overly simplistic. It doesn’t mean to do nothing, it simply means to think through the process and make sure that the right things are getting done the right way. Whoa…gotta go, they are calling for final boarding and I’m late, I’m late….


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