Change from the Middle

change-1076220_1280A topic that has been on my mind for the last year is the idea of change coming from the middle; people like myself who have about ten years of experience, but don’t have a title with the authority to make change without approval. There were several case studies I read in my Organizational Behavior class and a few experiences from my own career that have kept it consistently on my mind. With a course about change coming up in the final semester of my MBA program, I wanted to write my thoughts about the subject now and then reevaluate in several months.

With millennials now over 50% of the US workforce, I am in a category of individuals who desire to make positive change, but are up against an older generation with different perspectives on many issues. In this situation, change can come slowly, if at all. So, how does one go about making change then? These are my thoughts.

  • Become a leader: This doesn’t have to come with a title or position, rather the feeling of those around you. Take on added responsibilities and/or volunteer for projects, don’t take shortcuts, do what is right and not what it easy. These are the practices that others see and understand the value of positioning themselves alongside.
  • Be the change: As is stated in my favorite quote from Gandhi, we have to be the change we want to see. What this means to me is that if I want something to be different, I have to put myself out there and set the example and take the risk. An example of this is challenging an established culture and choosing to blaze your own trail, such as working hard because that is what should be done, as opposed to doing the minimum because no one is looking over your shoulder.
  • Define the change: Even though those from a different generation may hold a different perspective, it does not mean they will not understand and consider a change. I think it is a matter of sharing in terms they will be able to understand. An example from a conversation I had with a client not too long ago comes to mind. He didn’t understand how spending time and money on being environmentally responsible would also be profitable. I explained that by being environmentally responsible, a different group of customers would be attracted to his business, which would increase revenue. A bit simplistic, but an example nonetheless.
  • Data: When all else fails, take the time to run the numbers and show what change can mean to the bottom line. This can result in more motivated employees, a more efficient sales force, better ways to reach potential customers and so on. Put together projections and reports using relevant data and let the numbers speak for themselves.

These are the best methods I have found and used to create change in my own environment. Now, I just have to see what new tools can get added to my “change” tool-belt this semester. I have big expectations from my professor, Dr. Bret Simmons, whom I have had for two other courses.

What other methods of positive change have you tried? Please add what has worked for you in a comment below.

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3 thoughts on “Change from the Middle

  1. Josh, Good column, and I’m glad Bret mentioned it on LinkedIn so I could see it. I’m a big fan of initiating the change by being the change and working hard when no one’s looking, just as you say. However, given the tendency for people to take advantage, I think we need to also cast a vision for change. That way we don’t end up setting the doormat-ish expectation that we will always be the one to make up for bad management and pull a dragging project over the finish line just in time. We need to find ways to analyze processes without antagonizing colleagues, propose solutions without pronouncing blame, and take constructive action without insisting on taking credit. One of the best ways to do this is by phrasing things in the form of a question. “What if we ___?” is a lot easier on the boss’ ears than “We should ___” or (much worse) “We should have ___.” Be the change, but don’t be a wise guy in the process. Cultivate communications methodologies that build team relationships, recognize others’ value, and respect others’ work effort — while leaving the door open for dialogue. Above all, never make a person the problem — keep the problem the problem. Message, message, message. Just a thought.


    • Thanks, Beth. I agree with you about making sure not to be a doormat. That was one of the many thought provoking messages from Adam Grant’s book Give and Take. I also agree about the need for a clear and deliberate message. Wording has such a huge impact on outcomes.


  2. Pingback: Putting It All Together | Learning and Doing

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