How to Implement Change, Even when you don’t have the Authority


Years ago,  I became infuriated by the amount of paper being wasted on a daily – no, hourly – basis at work. We printed out everything. That’s not even an exaggeration. Emails, pictures, draft memos, draft reports, basically anything you could imagine, we were printing… and throwing away. At first I wasn’t too upset because I was told as long as we shred it it’ll go to recycling. Then I learned that wasn’t exactly true (read: not true at all). For days I was stewing over this. Each time I printed something out for my boss my heart broke a little bit. With each sheet I printed, I imagined tree after tree tumbling down to the ground, cute forest animals with big eyes running (or flying, or slithering) away in fear, with nowhere for them to go and plumes of smoke rising from the ground (I’m talking FernGully devastation here) and there was nothing I could do. I was the low woman on the totem pole, if I told people to stop wasting so much paper they’d laugh in my face. I knew this because I tried. I had dropped hints about the damage we were doing to the environment, but no one seemed to give a damn and I was getting really angry.

                Then one day it hit me. There’s always more than one way to reach a goal. I just had to think outside the box and discover a new way to get others on board to reduce paper waste. First, I had to come up with a game plan, the “save the world” approach clearly wasn’t working, so what would? Talking numbers! I needed to figure out exactly how much money was being wasted on paper waste. Once I realized just how much money we were spending I knew I had a solid argument. I even had a solid solution. SCRAP PAPER! Why throw away semi-used paper when we can save it for scrap paper?! My next job was to find an ally, someone with more authority than me, and would be willing to help. Once all of this was figured out I had a sit down with my colleague. We discussed a lot that day and she was excited to help me in this endeavor. It began small with just the two of us. We’d save whatever paper we could and place it in a scrap paper bin. Whenever we were printing out pages of a draft report, we’d use that paper from the bin.

Within a few weeks others began noticing what we were doing and they began to follow suit as well. The scrap paper bin became public domain where people would either come by for a scrap paper drop off or pick up. It was an exciting time! This was the first time I had ever successfully implemented a change at my company, and it felt great!  One day, my boss came over to me with a complaint about the new scrap paper system – there were times when he wasn’t sure which side was the old and which was the new, so we made some additional changes and began putting a big X across the old side of the page.

The purpose of this story isn’t to brag about my relatively small but successful change initiative, it’s to show you that no matter what your position is, you DO have the power to make a difference. A very wise teacher of mine once read us a quote that said “power is lying there on the streets, waiting to be picked up”.  Anyone can gain the power to make a difference in their lives. To make it a little easier for you here are some tips to help you get things done:

  1. Think about what you want to change and ask yourself: what is the purpose? What do I hope to accomplish (my goal)? Where do I want to go? Write down your answers and save them, it’s easy to lose track of where you’re going when you’ve been working on something for a while. Also, think about different ways to frame your change effort in order to get others on board.  No one wanted to change their printing habits when I said it was to help the environment, but when I said it was to reduce spending and save money people began to listen.
  2. Discover what you know. You may be surprised to find that most of the time you already know what you need to know in order to take action. The only thing standing between you and results is your own mind.
  3. Ask yourself what do I need to learn in order to take action?  There’s a ton of information out there, and it can be overwhelming, but since you set up your goal in the first step it’ll be much easier for you to sift through the information and focus on what you want to achieve.  Before you start looking for new information, make sure you know what you need and why you need it.
  4. sports-camp-clipartFind yourself a champion. Every change initiative needs at least one champion to improve your chances of success. Champions are people who believe in what you are trying to accomplish and want to help. They lead by example and show others that change isn’t going to kill them; it’s going to make them better.
  5. Realize there will always be obstacles on your path. Expect them. Every successful person has faced many obstacles. And they’ve failed over and over again. Remember! The problem isn’t failure; it’s how you perceive it. Most people think mistakes are bad, but the opposite is true. Mistakes are the path that leads to success. To truly succeed identify the obstacles on your path to achieving your goal  and brainstorm how you can overcome them even before they happen.
  6. Baby steps. What is the next smallest step I can take? Constantly focus on what you can do next. Without forward momentum, you will never end up where you want to be.
  7. Commitment. Remember, the conditions won’t be always be perfect for most of the steps you take but the important thing is that you’re taking action. You have to move forward in spite of the excuses your mind throws at you. There will be times when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, that’s completely normal. If you feel that happening take a short break and remind yourself that what you’re working towards is worth it.
This entry was posted in Change Management, Employee Development, Human Resources, Leadership, Leadership Development, Organizational Development and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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