Driving Change versus Driving People

Learning new things often requires learning new terms, especially when the old terms (e.g., leadership, change management) are overburdened with vague and contradictory definitions and descriptions.

Through my work with large organizational change, I’ve learned that I need new terms to describe two very different change methods, driving change versus driving people.

I’ve found driving change produces both near and long term success while driving people sometimes creates near term results but rarely produces long term success.

With the difference in results, you would think most people trying to make a change would be driving change. Yet most  are daily driving people.

How can you tell which one you’re doing?  First you need to know the descriptions and definitions of each term.

I intend to make a sharp and immediate distinction between the term driving change and the term driving people.

Let’s picture something together.

You and 20 other people live in the middle of a huge forest.  Last night the forest was hit by a terrible storm.  The only road to get out of the forest was in bad repair before, but surveying the damage this morning you see newly downed trees and whole sections of road were washed out by the overflowing streams.  The goal is to get the 20 people and you out of the forest.  You aren’t the boss.  You’re just one of the 21 people.  But, the boss has instructed you to get everyone out of the forest, including him.  What do you do?

Scenario 1:  You could create your list of what must be done, but keep it to the level of “clear three trees” and “fill in four wash outs” (similar to strategic initiatives on communications, people or diversity for a large organization).

You could set basic expectations: you need as much effort as everyone can give, not everyone has to do the same thing, but all have to do something, and any problems they have that need larger attention (e.g., approval to use the last of the saw blades, permission to not follow typical road bed requirements this time) come straight to you so you can get approval from the big boss as fast as possible.

You could ask the group who would like to volunteer for trees, washouts, or staging supplies.  Within each group of volunteers you could ask them who would like to lead the group (e.g., coordinate the tools and supplies necessary for the group to complete their task, not boss the others in the group around).

You could turn them lose on their self-selected tasks.  You could make sure you were out in front not barking orders, but clearing what you could from their paths, be that twigs or process problems or interpersonal disputes (e.g., maybe it is best if Bill chooses to work in the other group so he doesn’t hear Jim talking politics while he’s chopping the tree).

You could make sure they have what they need, not that they are always working.  It’s not about how much they work; it’s about how much they get done.  You’re answering their questions quickly.  You’re celebrating the small and the big successes.  You congratulating them on what they can accomplish.  And you’re probably getting a lot done.

The act of setting the big vision pieces, allowing freedom of action within basic expectations, removing obstacles to accomplishing team goals, dealing quickly with small problems, and celebrating wins is an example of driving change.

A generic definition of driving change is: choosing a change for yourself and clearing the obstacles for others to internally choose the change too.

Have you ever worked with or for someone who drove change? Or, did Scenario 1 see like blog fiction to you?

Perhaps Scenario 2 will be more familiar.

Scenario 2:  Remember, you’re not the boss, but you have to get everyone out.

Maybe you’d start listing all the steps it would take to fill in the washouts and clear the trees, then you’d start giving everyone a job from the list of tasks.  The boss gave you the use of his authority and he expects you to use it.

If this were like most other scenarios just like this (think project engineering, or department process change implementation), at first people probably would follow your orders.  They’d perform their tasks when the boss was looking, but would drop their shovels and axes when he wasn’t.

Those few who believed in what you were doing would be working hard at their wash out or tree, but you probably wouldn’t notice or celebrate their efforts.  You’d be too busy focusing on those who had stopped working.

You wouldn’t want to, but you may quickly resort to asking the boss to please make them do their tasks.  He may agree to your request once, but probably not twice.  He’d be rightly too busy with other, more urgent tasks, and  would not appreciate being burdened with the job he’d given you to complete.

The act of ordering people forward down the washed out, tree covered road, metering out work as you see fit, focusing on those not helping instead of those who are, while begging the boss to order people more is a common example of driving people.

A generic definition of driving people is: using some coercion (e.g., orders, fear of negative consequences, removal of positive consequences) to externally compel someone to change.

Knowing the definitions and descriptions of driving change and driving people is key if you’re to understand much of what we’ll discuss at this blog.

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