Three Choices

I was reading a review of Driving Technical Change by Roger The Geek (his label, not mine.)

He has both positive and negative things to say about the book. Read the review, I think his criticism’s fair. However he said one thing that sticks out to me.

Do you want to fight for technical change on your team or do you move from team to team or company to company looking for that great fit?

Basically, in early talks I gave on this I phrased it a little different:

You have three choices:

  1. accept the status quo
  2. leave
  3. change your organization

 

This was inspired by Martin Fowler‘s quote:

You can Change Your Organization or Change Your Organization.

The problem I see in Roger’s question, is that it sort of assumes that work has only one compelling feature: the work. I see this from time to time, and I’m not entirely sure that Roger is saying this, but I feel in the minds of many people it assumes that passionate people don’t stay at a job where people are resistant to change. It implies that the people that do want better things have to leave to grow.

I know it’s not trendy to say this, but there are times where being an adult means that you can’t just hop from job to job following your passion. Having a family, a mortgage, and other ties require that from time to time you have to suck it up for a paycheck, heath benefits, and stability. You aren’t always free to leave.

This is not to take shots at people who set up their lives to enable this. They value their freedom, and they earn it by sacrificing other things. I respect and admire that, but theirs is not the only path to passionate fulfillment in your life.

This is also not to say you shouldn’t try to leave a bad situation. Just that you have to weigh your options and take passes on riskier ventures waiting for the right opportunity.

But while you wait where your coworkers aren’t interested in change, what do you do? If you cannot leave, your choice is between accepting the status quo, or changing the organization.

I’d argue that if you accept that status quo it is the first, if not the only, step to giving up on the passion at your job. That’s cool. No judgment. It might be right for you. It was decidedly not right for me.

Let’s assume that it’s not right for you – you have the passion to want other things, and as stated before you can’t change jobs… then you’re going to have to change your organization.

At first that seems like you’re making a poor decision. Fighting a fight that you cannot “win.” But what is “winning”? I’d argue that making your organization better isn’t a journey to a destination – it’s the journey itself. So even if you don’t get everything you want, you can still effect some change, rejecting the status quo, and making yourself a little happier in the meantime.

Success at change has to measured by your deltas, not your destination or current location. People tend to lose sight of the fact that between where you are, and where you ultimately want to be, there are many, many better places.

Keep that in mind as you drive change.

2 thoughts on “Three Choices

  1. Terry, for the most part, I’m in agreement. Many of us see ourselves in the role of “change agent”. In my organization, one of my primary roles *is* to drive change. On a day-to-day basis, observable change may be non-existent, and the lack of that visible change can be frustrating. However, when measured over time (something people who hop from one job to the next over short durations of time may never see), the change is often profound and can be highly rewarding.

    As you said, change isn’t a destination, it’s a journey and driving change in an organization isn’t really a win/lose proposition. It’s about continually trying to move the organization forward, even if you sometimes take one step forward and two steps back.

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  2. Excellent points on a subject that is very complex. I also don’t consider job hopping to be a good thing. I does seem prevalent these days. I like the metaphor of change being a journey. We all need patience during this journey and our paths are not always downhill.

    The idea in my head when I wrote the comments in my review was that some younger workers take a very “all or nothing” view and can get very frustrated when they don’t see immediate acceptance of their ideas. Tactical retreats are sometimes necessary and hopefully we will know when to use them effectively. Over time, people will learn the politics and understand how to move forward even if marginally.

    One resource that would be helpful in understanding tactics and strategies is “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. It is available on-line. There is a lot of wisdom there that can be used to understand strategies that transcend warfare.

    I do believe that people can be too passionate about some issues. There are people who won’t let go even when their cause is lost. They poison the water so much that they won’t be taken seriously again by the decision makers. That is why I point out that you need to understand when the battle is lost and not expend all your energy on the unmovable object. You may be able to get what you want by a tactical retreat and movement in another direction. Eventually, things change and you can fight the battle again when management changes or some disaster proves your point. A retreat can allow you time to network with colleagues and management to discuss the issues privately. This can be very effective to plant seeds that grow into the change you believe in.

    I plan on passing your book around to younger colleagues and mentees. I do think it is worth reading and describes techniques that can be effective.

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