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Orchestrating Change




Professor Elaine Estervig Beaubien

Tenured faculty, School of Business

Edgewood College


Management Training Seminars

6520 York Heights

Waterloo, WI 53594






Change is an inevitable part of personal and organizational life. Families, communities and organizations exist in a dynamic, open system. All variables in the system are in a state of constant flux and if an organization or an individual does not adapt, they will become obsolete.


Coping with the challenge of change takes flexible, strategic planning and mature implementation. A change agent is a leader within the organization or community who helps propel it into the future. Individuals and organizations that will succeed in the future will be those who are proactive, not simply reactive. The pace of change makes it critical that creative planning be done. 


Why orchestrate change? Why not let change just happen around you?  Why must you go through the painful process of changing your habits, ideas, skills and knowledge?  The answer lies in self-control. Those people who react to the changes in their environment will always be one step behind.  They will feel uncertain and apprehensive.  They will feel the dissonance of not quite being in step.


In contrast, those people who embrace the concept of an ever-changing environment will become change agents.  They will prepare themselves for transformation and their value to their organizations, their families, their community and themselves will be elevated.


Be comfortable with a certain level of ambiguity and uncertainty.  Don’t stand in front of a wave and try to stop it.  Turn and surf the wave.  Feel its power and enjoy the ride.  If you try to stop it, you may drown.  A powerful wave will not be stopped by the will of a human incapable of adjusting his position.  As John Naisbitt said in Megatrends, “Trends, like horses, are easier to ride in the direction they are already going.”


“Life is change . . . Growth is optional . . . Choose wisely . . . ”    Karen Kaiser Clark


Nothing stays the same.  Look around you, assess your environment, evaluate your relationships, take inventory of your resources, appraise your skills and you will have to acknowledge the reality of change.  Look at some old home movies, read a few newspapers from the last decade, talk to people about their personal and professional lives and the change is dramatic.  Did you really wear bellbottoms and say “groovey?” Does a feeling of nostalgia grip you when you think of a more leisurely pace in the work place?


The globe is spinning faster and faster. Our ancestors did not move geographically as often or as far; professions remained stable; the social order dictated behavior and relationships and innovation was a slow process.  People could leisurely adjust to the occasional change in their lives.  Today, everything from technology to information is changing by the minute.  Nothing remains static.  Obsolescence is faced by new college graduates.  Being well trained at one moment in time does not guarantee competence in the next moment.  It is an exciting, stressful time and it looks like the pace is not going to slow down.


"Every time I figure out where it's at, somebody moves it.”  Ziggy


Change is what people fear most . . . or is it? You have probably heard that humans have a pathological resistance to change.  While change is indeed uncomfortable, I think most people would agree it is not fatal. Change means there is a need to modify or alter one’s behavior.  This is not always greeted with fear and anxiety.  There are many changes people would enthusiastically embrace.  What if you were given the opportunity to change your mortgage rate to a much lower percentage? What if your hotel reservations were changed to a large suite at no extra expense because of an over-booking situation?  What if someone wanted to double your salary? Can you think of some changes you would welcome?


It is not so much that people resist change as a process. It is the possible result of that change that causes dissonance. Fear of loss, insecurity with new expectations, fear of the unknown, lack of ambition, uncertainty, ambiguity, and fear of failure/success are some of the possible byproducts of change.  These are the things that people resist. 


Don’t sabotage the possible success of a change by assuming people will resist it.  If you can show them that the outcomes will be favorable or will not cause harm, there should be a way to get people to embrace it, endorse it, welcome it or, at least, not resist it.


If you wish to emerge as a leader, you will need to be a recognized change agent. A change is making things different. A change agent is a person who acts as both the catalyst for the change and the driver responsible for its successful completion.


Change agents are risk takers. People make quite a professional and personal investment in what they are and in their current reality.  To change is to move out of the comfort zone. The attitude of the change agent is critical to his success.  Essentially, change requires learning something new and this inevitability can make one feel obtuse and uncomfortable.  This is particularly true when the skill or information is complicated and requires a great deal of practice.


“Change makes us stupider, relatively speaking.” The Dilbert Principle:


Change agents are students. Whether it is in formal education, working with a mentor, attending conferences, or just visiting the local library, change agents never stop learning.


Change agents are optimists. Change agents are realistic, but expect the best.  Optimists make a habit of putting setbacks into perspective.  They don’t take adversity or failure personally. They know it is not lasting, and it certainly is not epidemic.


Change agents are open minded and embrace diversity. They know that the  only way they can personally grow is to expose themselves to new people, new experiences and new ideas. They are attracted to the excitement of travel and adventure.


Change agents are flexible.  They can adapt to the changing environment.  They can stretch, expand, act and react.  


Change agents are curious. Curiosity is “freewheeling intelligence” (Alistair Cooke), “the lust of the mind” (Thomas Hobbes), “a peephole in the brain” (Egbert Hubbard). A curious person is enthusiastic about personal and professional development.  They have passion for learning things they don’t know.  It gives them patience and a high tolerance for ever changing demands and expectations.


Change agents believe in continuous improvement. Change agents believe that growth and development is not an option . . . it is a critical part of being human.  They look at continuous improvement as an opportunity, not an obligation.  They are excited by new possibilities, and challenged by innovation.


Change agents work as a member of a team. A change agent is not intimidated by excellence.  They surround themselves with people who are good at what they do. They realize that the collective mind is fertile and that cultivating the best in people will lead to results far greater than the sum of its parts.

Change agents have a sense of humor. Change agents are able to see the humor in the relationships and circumstances around them. They can smile when things are bad and laugh when things get worse.  It is a sense of comedy and wit, not the ability to tell a joke that gets people through the inevitable waves created by the forces of change. Most particularly, they can laugh at themselves.


Change agents know where they are going! Change agents have a clear vision of what they want and how they are going to get it.  They know where they are going and have mapped out the route.  Their goals are specific, time bound and written.  They have a plan of action.  They have vision.


“No one ever pulled a rabbit out of the hat without putting one in there in the first place.”


Change agents are decisive. With a plan and a map, the change agent moves forward decisively.  When tough decisions have to be made, they make them without fear. Indecisiveness wastes time and erodes confidence.


“If you want an easy job to seem difficult, keep putting it off.


Change agents are motivated. Some change agents are intrinsically motivated.  They want to change to enhance their self worth and to feel more confident.  Others are extrinsically motivated.  They will change when they are rewarded for doing so. Most people are both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated and need to see that the change will have a positive impact on their well being and their security. The outcomes of any change should be assessed and explicitly developed.  They should be kept in mind in order to motivate.  It will sustain both the energy and the interest.


“There's a way to do it better, find it.”  Thomas Edison


Change agents are physically prepared. They need physical energy to sustain the change process.  The brain needs to be alert.  The human body is capable of incredible endurance.  However, there is a limit.  A well rested, well fed, healthy, hearty change agent will produce better results than an exhausted, hungry, sickly one.


Change agents are forward looking. They don’t have time for personal vendettas.  They don’t dwell on past failures.  They don’t hold a grudge or expend valuable energy on continuously revisiting a bad experience.  They realize that to carry all this baggage around with them would slow them down.

Change agents have integrity.  They must be trusted without question.  Trust is something that is earned.  It is a central value that does not have a compromise.  It cannot be used intermittently or most of the time.  It must be consistent and unfailing.  Enough said.

 Change Agents have passion. People who exhibit a love for their vision are more likely to get others to assist them.  The passion sustains them and adds spice to the journey.


"Individuals have made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when they plant shade trees under which they know full well they will never sit."  D. Elton Trueblood