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Reflection – W. Max Eichbaum

by on November 29, 2007

Meeting with the Bobs or Reflecting on the Responsible Incorporation of Outside Change Agents

“Bill Lumbergh: So, Peter, what’s happening? Aahh, now, are you going to go ahead and have those TPS reports for us this afternoon?
Peter Gibbons: No. Bill Lumbergh: Ah. Yeah. So I guess we should probably go ahead and have a little talk. Hmm?
Peter Gibbons: Not right now, Lumbergh, I’m kinda busy. In fact, look, I’m gonna have to ask you to just go ahead and come back another time. I got a meeting with the Bobs in a couple of minutes.
Bill Lumbergh: I wasn’t aware of a meeting with them.
Peter Gibbons: Yeah, they called me at home.” –

Through the mechanism of satire, the 1999 movie Office Space was able to highlight errors in – and poke fun at – various aspects of typical United States’ corporate culture and best practices. What is amazing is that these negative aspects were so prevalent in the organizational environment that the film makers were able to produce a fairly successful movie centered on them. While most of the movie’s humor is based on hyperbole, it is also rooted on relevant observations. In particular to the concept of change management, the movie’s plot operates amidst – and derives many of its character growth mechanisms from – an organizational change effort. This reflection will focus on an element of that change management effort that I feel is critical but often overlooked in the literature: the issue of how and when to use outside help (Bobs) throughout a change management effort.

I believe that there are two methods by which involving Bobs can really help an organization succeed in its change efforts. The first method is to involve them during an organization’s discovery phase. During this phase the organization is trying to describe its current state and examine why it should change. This is necessarily a highly reflective experience and critical to the change effort as a whole; it is the foundation on which the effort will be constructed. Depending on the organization, it may be susceptible to errors during this phase. Disgruntled employees whom may have preexisting aversions to change efforts as a whole may knowingly disrupt the process with little recourse. Happy employees with tendencies to focus on the positive may ignore existing negative aspects of the organization’s current state. Long time employees could miss obvious reasons for change because they lack alternative perspectives to evaluate from. All these situations have the same outcome: they cause the change effort to begin construction on a faulty foundation. Of course, involving Bobs could go a long way to preventing these common pitfalls during the discovery phase. The Bobs could police the disgruntled employees, solicit a balanced view from the positive employees, and provide the long time employees with a richer perspective. In every case, Bobs could be used to provide the change effort with more insightful and accurate information from the discovery phase.

The second method for making effective use of Bobs is for the facilitation of meetings throughout the rest of the change effort. Change efforts can bring out many tough issues and highlight diverging visions. This is not a bad thing though. In fact, it is in many ways the very purpose and fuel for the change effort. The problem is that change efforts also have to be efficient and timely because they are often engineered to make use of some existing or potential environmental situation. Bobs and be involved throughout the change effort to maintain a productive dialog. By facilitating meetings of the team leading the change, Bobs can bring out the important issues and make positive gains from them in a timely manner.

On the other hand, Bobs can also be very detrimental. If implemented without discretion, they can fracture an organization or provide the sense that the change effort is a rogue entity, independent of the organization itself. This could lead to a significant drop in organization-wide buy-in, crippling the change effort. Still, for what they are good for, Bobs can help an organization through the though discovery and facilitating processes in its change effort.

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