Desire Always Precedes Change

2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership).

Therefore, the post appearing below is a copy of the one which had originally appeared there on January 11, 2009, so we will be able to reference it in the future when the original url it had been published on is no more…


Desire Always Precedes Change

” and the 10 Steps to an Organizational Culture of Change Agents

Welcome to Sunday Koa Kākou. Sunday is the day I answer questions you send to me. If you have a question connected to management and leadership, leave a comment here, or email me.

From the Say “Alaka‘i” mailbox:
Reinventing work is easier to write than accomplish. One of my recent experiences (or management failures) was attempting to automate many annual procedures. Regardless of effort, each year, the same questions returned. I developed a procedure manual, provided training, but these did not seem to help as much as I desired. So, my first question is, what is the most effective way to streamline business so that leadership is more free to create and innovate? Next, somewhat related, how do you introduce change into a stable, traditional system?

Desire always precedes change.

I wonder if everyone else wants this to happen as much as you do?

Organizational change pioneer Richard Beckhard once shared this observation,

“People do not resist change; people resist being changed.”

It’s an insightful distinction which helped me a great deal over the years when it came to facilitating change. It also saved me a lot of frustrating work which produced poor to marginal results at best. I switched from saying, “This is what we’re going to do” to stating a problem as rationally as I could, and then asking, “What are your ideas; what shall we do about this?” I started to look for authorship, either individual or collaborative, and not compliance.

I was also adamant about stating my issue as a definite problem versus a “possible opportunity.” Opportunity can be a pretty word saddled with wishy-washy intention. On the other hand, a problem begs resolution. The message had to be clear that not working on a new solution was not an option. We were going to work on a new solution; however I was completely open to what that solution would be, and how we’d make improvement happen. Nine times out of ten I wasn’t the one with the best idea anyway; managers are rarely the ones closest to the problem, and they have to discover who is.

Once we all agreed on the best course of action, I made sure I had a leader in place (optimally the most passionate author of the idea, or the one the result would impact most), and I became a supporting player, part of the road crew paving the way. My most important job as manager was to make sure there were no speed-bumps or roadblocks; no barriers, obstacles —or excuses. My job became about supplying movement forward with all the stepping stones; training, resources, knowledge, authority, funding, cross-functional access” whatever was needed so that progress didn’t stall.

Beckhard’s wise insight was that people are much more inclined to work on their own ideas versus someone else’s. If change and reinvention is necessary because something isn’t working, chances are everyone wants something different to happen, not just the manager.

So that’s the first question to answer; does everyone feel the need for change (or streamlining) just as much as you do? If not, why not? Is there any fear of that automation? Are there any job security issues lurking beneath the surface? Why might they be tied to the old way, preferring to shelve your new training?

What are those questions which keep coming up? I suspect those questions are clues to doubts that you must reveal and talk about openly.

Does the organizational culture have to change?

You called your present system “stable” and “traditional,” and I’m wondering if there might be some resistance in the form of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If so, your biggest opportunity for change right now is your organizational culture itself.

I once had a boss who coached us in Beckhard’s insight another way. One of his favorite coaching responses to us junior managers faced with resistance was,

“Desire is always nine tenths of any deal. Get the desire. Then that final one tenth will be a cake walk.”

If your team is to change something, they have to want it, and then they have to own it —their ownership is that ticket to your securing the freedom you want to create and innovate in other areas. In most organizations there are plenty of prospects for change and reinvention (managers author change too); working on those prospects must happen continuously so that it becomes part of your organizational culture. When it does, that streamlining you’re looking for happens constantly, tackled in bits and pieces every day as new opportunities reveal themselves.

10 Steps to an Organizational Culture of Change Agents

Here’s what I would suggest in an optimal strategy aimed at getting your organizational culture much more comfortable with on-going change:

  1. Fix problems as opposed to seeking ‘transformational change.’ State your desire for change as a specific issue or problem which must be addressed, and why.
  2. Ask for help, expertise and new ideas, and assure people of the supporting role you are willing to accept.
  3. Get the right person to work on the right initiative, ideally authored on their own or in partnership with you and/or their work team. Ask for a leader to step forward; assign one if necessary.
  4. Suggest pilot projects so that an atmosphere of experimentation is created in the workplace: Chip away at any fear of making mistakes.
  5. Quickly acknowledge their progress, and all successes big and small. Win those battles versus drawing out the war.
  6. Be sure recognition is heaped on freely. Give credit EVERYWHERE credit is due. Say those all important two words: “Thank you.”
  7. Celebrate in a HUGE way when change does streamline or replace old systems.
  8. Step into a coaching and mentorship role when needed: Be sure all ‘big-picture’ cross-functionality is completely addressed so that new system buy-in reaches every corner of the organization and the change sticks. Be a Change Champion.
  9. Set the stage for the next performance: Be sure there is enough encouragement and ‘assumed permission’ so that reinvention can happen again when the next problem crops up (i.e. it’s welcomed and it’s totally safe).
  10. Teach others to be the problem-staters too, so that over time ALL systems and processes are addressed, not just those you notice problems with.

What do you think? Have I missed anything?


  1. Dean Boyer says

    For me, the sequence is desire + decision + discipline = change. I have not seen the results I have desired without the discipline part, especially.