Why Being a Change Agent Is Like Being a Swamp Thing

So this week I find myself faced with another uphill climb of trying to change something that is “the way it has always been” because I truly believe that the change is the right thing to do. My peers tell me to keep pushing that rock up the hill, and that they are right behind me. Think that means that I get squished when the rock is too heavy, and they have time to jump out of the way…

I know that being a project manager can be hard. Not just the juggle of resources, stakeholder management, impossible timelines, limited budgets, and needing to get herculean efforts out of a team that doesn’t report to you or consider what you need them to do a priority—but it also can be hard because we are identified as the bad guys forcing people to change their job.

Most of us know our jobs. We come to work each day, login, and know that we are doing pretty much the same thing that we have been doing the past few days. We might WANT things to happen better or faster, but we don’t always WANT to be the ones who change to make those better faster things occur.  My Google wisdom says that it takes 66 days to form a new habit. That is, IF you can get the person to even perform the new habit.

As project managers we are the bad guys causing change. We make organizations progress through a new product and new process. Externally you can look at these projects and say, “Wow, those are great and really beneficial for the organization”; internally sometimes it feels like you are the lowest form of swamp life for making people do things that are uncomfortable, new, and different.

Managing the organizational change aspect is a tricky dance of inspiring people to WANT to change and needs to be part of your assigned tasks on the project plan. Determining how to inform and educate is easy, but transforming the behavior and acceptance is much harder. Having a specific plan that involves senior management sponsorship can help. Repeating the benefits of your new product or process early and often (even after release) is also a great way to instigate change. Find champions within your organization and ask them to help support your cause. Early evidence of how faster and better the new product and process is can also be a way to turn the tide of resistance.

One of the most important things to realize is that although you may be seen as the swamp thing at this moment, once there is mainstream acceptance you will be understood as wanting to actually help progress the organization. I’d like to say that this means that the next time you have a new project that requires behavioral changes in the organization that it will be easier… in fact you will always get to be the swamp monster with the rock, but the more your organization changes the smaller that rock you are pushing uphill will become.

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