Change – Do You Let It Be or Make It Happen?

Before the plastic storage bag was invented, we had wax paper. And when we had wax paper, we had machines that could take a roll of wax paper and turn it into individual sandwich bags. I don’t mean a kitchen appliance, I mean an industrial machine that cut, folded, glued, counted and stacked bags at a rate of 2-3 per second. That way, whoever made lunches didn’t have to go through the trouble of folding a piece of wax paper around the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I was once an expert on how that machine worked, what the key failure modes were, how design could be improved, how to pump just the right amount of glue, and how to slip the stack of 100 bags into a carton.

Then the damn chemists went and innovated plastics and polys that were better than wax paper at most of the things you used wax paper for. You wouldn’t slide fresh baked cookies onto it or use it to wax the playground slide, but it was clear that wax paper was on the decline, and that machine I was expert in would soon make a good boat anchor.

Fortunately, the skills I used to gain that expertise were useful in other ways, and on other equipment. Still, some of the learning became obsolete. Soon after, many other technical skills became obsolete, because technical advances move fast. And I kept current. My role as an engineer was to make things run better than they did the day before. I had to change habits and procedures of maintenance and operations employees in some cases, and in other cases has to modify the machinery in some way. But my role was to create improvement – to create change.

Change is gonna happen. In fact, we all want change to happen. We want better medicine, cleaner water, more reliable cars, and, it appears, better smartphones.

In the workplace, when changes are coming, we frequently look to the communications teams or the HR teams to deliver the message. And it looks something like this:

  • Here is what’s changing
  • Here is why it is changing
  • Here is what it means to you
  • Here is what we need from you

It’s a proven approach. The  good HR teams know how to do this really well.

The great HR teams know how to do more than tell and explain. They take what they learn from past change implementation and do it better the next time. They get ahead of the change, they build it into all the messaging and make it less of an event. They demonstrate flexibility and they equip leaders to manage change by demonstrating their comfort with it. They make change the norm and just don’t accept a “Let It Be” attitude. They make it happen, and people get used to the flow of change. Especially if you have an HR team that has the business acumen to tie the changes to business need, and doesn’t try to create change where it doesn’t help the business.

We all know the phrase that “change is the only constant”. It is up to leaders to be constantly steering and adjusting speed throughout the voyage, not just when the iceberg gets in the way. And HR – well, its up to you to help the leaders see that and model that.

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