Change Management is more than Chess or Checkers

by Krishna on January 6, 2007

Marcus Buckingham (author of “First, Break the Rules” and “The One Thing You Need to Know”) says that managing people is like playing chess, not checkers. The reason is that each person has their own individual talents and skills. The good manager knows how to use each person to capitalize on their capabilities.

But the chess analogy only goes so far. You don’t see a rook saying, “Oh no, you don’t. You are not sacrificing me to save your king.” Change management affects people – real, thinking, feeling people. They have their own reactions and ideas regarding the changes. People have different priorities in life. While I have seen that most people are very sincere and dedicated to their work and company, there are a whole slew of things that influence them – family, health, moral values, lifestyle, etc.

Of many questions that people think about when they are asked to make a change, here are some of them:

  1. Tom: I have to manage this quality program along with my other projects and I am already working 60 hours a week. How do I manage this and still manage to spend at least some time with my family?
  2. Jack: These standards are too tough for me to handle. I would like to admit this to my manager, but I cannot afford to quit this job now because of the slow labor market. Let me just lie low. Meantime, I will start polishing my resume.
  3. Henry: I understand the productivity improvement program, but what will I get out of it? Probably at the end of this, they will lay off half the division. Probably, I should start updating my Monster profile.
  4. Sam: When I joined this company, I thought this was a creative organization. Now they want to micro-manage me and account for every minute of my time.

And so on. Every single person in the organization has their own thoughts or feelings about the proposed change program. Accordingly, their behavior is driven to accept or oppose the change. While management may want to have everyone forget everything and die for the organization, people don’t behave that way.

The book “Who Moved My Cheese?” talks about how people should accept change by narrating a parable about 4 mice. While some of the observations are spot on, I have felt that the book was a bit condescending because sometimes change can be brutal and affect people who have played by the rules.

A case in point is outsourcing, which has led to lost white collar jobs. While it may be beneficial for the overall economy, consider the people who spent small fortunes in college learning a particular skill or technology, lose their job one day and have to spend months unemployed. These are real concerns for those who are still employed.

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