Welcome to Walmart


A Walmart Greeter at Work (Image credit: Walmart blog)

The refrain “Welcome to Walmart” is a familiar one to anyone who has visited their many stores. The Walmart Greeter is a first touch welcome to anyone entering the store. A point of engagement they are also a key part of the business value proposition for Walmart because research clearly indicates that retail sales are higher, customer satisfaction is greater and stock loss is reduced when a customer is greeted on arrival to the store. The greeter isn’t there for just their familiar communication.  They play a critical role in the Walmart business and customer proposition.

Welcome to Walmart on Workplace by Facebook

Walmart has today announced that it will be implementing Workplace by Facebook as its global collaboration platform. Walmart, the world’s 3rd largest employer and the largest private employer, has chosen Workplace as the ideal platform to engage its global employee base of over 2.1 million

Walmart stores depend on people to create the Walmart customer experience from Greeter to Store Manager or from Logistics worker to Buyer to CEO. The opportunity to improve engagement with this massive globally distributed community of workers on one Workplace platform is an enticing one for Walmart. While I know nothing of their decision-making process, I expect that their choice of Workplace is based on the ease and familiarity of its user interface, the strength of its mobile proposition and feature set and the opportunities for integration and bots to help a massive global community.  The strong endorsement of Workplace in a recent presentation by Starbucks  is encouraging for any retailer considering the platform.

Remember Walmart has more than its own employees to engage in collaboration. Walmart has always cleverly involved its suppliers in collaboration to improve its business performance and returns. It is famous for having presented its suppliers with its massive datasets and encouraged them to deliver insights back to its buyers to shape merchandising and marketing decisions. The ease and simplicity of engagement on Workplace presents another opportunity for this global supplier community to engage through multi-company groups to help drive the Walmart business.

Walmart’s decision is a strong endorsement of the value of collaboration and the role Workplace can play to realise value for organizations. Since the launch of Workplace last year, we have seen a newfound interest in collaboration in organizations around the world. However, Walmart is a notoriously frugal organisation that lives in its ‘Every Day Low Cost. Every Day Low Complexity’ model throughout its global organization to be able to consistently deliver its ‘Every Day Low Price’ proposition around the world.  Walmart would never invest in Workplace unless it knew the value of Workplace would deliver returns that enabled it to further its proposition and significant business value.

The value creation opportunity for collaboration can be simply described using the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration.  Let’s look at how the use of collaboration for everyday work can help realise value for Walmart.


Bringing Walmart Together – Connect & Share

Retail at Walmart’s scale is a demanding business. Employee communications and employee turnover are massive costs at the scale of Walmart’s operations. Leveraging Workplace to create more engaged employees and to simplify communications across Walmart will save money for Walmart around the world. Importantly, this approach will also deliver value for Workplace’s employees by connecting them to others in the massive organisation, giving them easy access to relevant information and also demonstrating the opportunities for them to make a greater contribution.

Bringing 2.1 million employees together and helping them to better understand how to execute their roles in line with the Walmart strategy is also a key part the first phase of value creation. At Walmart’s scale even small issues of misalignment can have massive costs. Identifying duplication and wasted effort is a full-time challenge for an organisation of this scale. Walmart has always had a strong focus on using information across its business from its massive data operations to its culture of sharing successful promotions and initiatives across stores. The use of Workplace will offer opportunities to accelerate this sharing and broaden its reach beyond head office and store management communities right to the superstore and distribution center floor.

Collaboration as a Platform for Digital Transformation – Solve & Innovate

Walmart has outgrown other global retailers to reach a scale of stores and global operations unique in human history. However digital transformation means that to many analysts and observers this scale is more a threat to Walmart’s survival than an opportunity. The Amazon threat to Walmart has been a long standing one and the battles between the two retailers have been fierce, but they have largely been competing in parallel for consumer’s attention. Now with Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods and Walmart’s acquisition of Bonobos sees the two moving towards competition across the breadth of channels consumers use.

In this context, Walmart needs to continue its digital transformation across its business, whether in its stores or its digital business operations. Agility and collaboration will be key components of this journey. Walmart needs Workplace to deliver it a community of employees across any of its businesses who can come together to work, to solve problems, to learn better ways and to transform the business as a result. Amazon works with speed and agility and uses learning everywhere in its business. They will bring this focus and their relentless customer centricity to Whole Foods and all their future retail propositions. Walmart will use Workplace communities to underpin its own transformation in this way.

Digital transformation is not just about delivering a website and a few digital processes. Walmart is already far beyond that level of the use of digital approaches in its business. If its challenge was process transformation, then Walmart would not need Workplace. Walmart needs Workplace because its transformation involves change for both people and the very nature of work. Digital transformation involves taking both process and people into the opportunity to deliver innovative customer experiences, to test and learn in the market at the speed of consumers and to leverage the opportunities created.

Walmart’s frugal business approach raises an interesting final question: will they support adoption and business value creation on the Workplace platform? As a platform that can generate strong engagement, customers can be reticent to invest for more. The people dimension of digital transformation also highlights the investments that Walmart will need to make to move beyond simply connecting and sharing. A clear business strategy for value creation, ongoing community management and capability building for employees are critical to realising the value of digital transformation quickly and enabling employees to maximise the value of their use of Workplace. Working out loud must be learned & practiced. Remember Walmart will be engaging a massive global community with diversity of culture, business approach and lines of business. Uniting all of these employees and partners in one new set of work practices will require change to maximise the value.

Community management investments are the catalyst for business value creation in collaborative communities.  Sustaining this investment is important to ensure that the highly engaging platform grows to a broader, richer and more effective pattern of work. I would recommend Walmart makes these investments to launch effectively and to accelerate it’s growth.  In this they can demonstrate a strong lead for all other Workplace customers on how to best leverage the platform.

Welcome to Walmart on Workplace by Facebook. The journey ahead will be an exciting one to watch. As this journey develops we need to remember that like the greeter, Workplace is not just in use for communication, it will be a fundamental platform for the business value creation as Walmart transforms itself and its work.

Simon Terry is a member of Change Agents Worldwide has used the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration with global organizations for over 4 years to improve the effectiveness of collaboration.  

Change Agents Worldwide is a Workplace by Facebook Partner, specialising in adoption services to enable organisations to accelerate the realisation the strategic business value of collaboration. Ask us how we can help your organization accelerate the benefits of collaboration and future work practices.

Work Ahead for 2017: Foundations, Personal & Organisational Work


As the end of November approaches, that time has come again when we must consider whether we have the right initiatives in place for ourselves and our organisations as we get ready for 2017.  How are you transforming the capabilities and work practices in your organisation to make sure that your teams are more effective in their work?

Why is Work Changing?

The way we work is fundamentally changing under the influence of five main drivers:

  • Pervasive Global connection: As internet connectivity has gone mobile, we now have the ability to connect with, to converse with and to see the whole system of our stakeholders any time anywhere.
  • Automation: Digital technology has enabled us to automate simple tasks and string together increasingly complex processes and systems.
  • Data and Analytics: As digital connection and digital automation expands so does our ability to gather data and analyse that data to provide insight and run complex algorithmic processes.
  • Changing Consumer Expectations: As consumers are exposed to the potential of digital through consumer technology and consumer services, the businesses must meet disruptive and exacting standards for convenience, service, value and speed.
  • Accelerating Pace of Change: Disruption, greater responsiveness to change and ever-shortening cycles of feedback are the new norm for business and our work practices must adapt to enable our businesses to keep up.

We have already seen great change in digital transformation.

Further dramatic changes in the nature of work are here but ‘not yet widely distributed’ to borrow the phrase of William Gibson.

2017 Future of Work Recommendations

With these pressures on the way we work, every business should have a focus on how it is changing the way its people work and the practices that will support ongoing transformation of work. Here are my recommendations on what work you should have on your backlog for the new year:


These five are in place in your organisation today. However, they may not be well understood, managed or serving your purpose.  As you look to 2017 it is always worthwhile to ensure that the foundations are sound and well aligned.


Purpose: Be clear on your personal purpose. Look for that purpose in the work you do. Clarify the shared purpose in your organisation. Don’t impose a purpose designed around the leadership table. Discover the purpose through the stories and the work that bring your organisation together.

Strategic Value: What value are you trying to create to fulfil your purpose? What kinds of value matter most to your stakeholders? When do they know you are creating value? What measures tell you that you are achieving your goals?

Networks: To compete in the network era, your organisation must be networked. How are you bringing people together to connect, to share, to solve problems and to respond to the networks around your organisation? The technology matters less than the connection, the behaviours and the shared purpose. Are you clear on the strategic value of your communities, are they well supported with sponsorship, investment and community management so as to accelerate their value creation?

Culture: Move beyond words on a poster. Move beyond generic platitudes. Move beyond an agglomeration of individual team cultures. What specific values are shared across your organisation? Why do these help fulfil your purpose? How do those values translate to expectations about behaviours in and across your teams? Is the culture in your organisation effective for your purpose and the value you are seeking to create? How do you personal role model the behaviours you expect from others?

Employee Experience: Are you working somewhere that values the employee experience and is adapting it to changing work and changing roles in the organisation? How have you aligned your employee experience to your desired customer experience? Does your workplace create rich value for employees and enable them to express their potential in fulfilment of purpose? Does your employee experience work as well for the one-hour temporary contract worker as the long term employee? Does it work equally well for all levels of the hierarchy and all corners of your network?

Personal Effectiveness:  Four Key Future of Work Practices

These four personal practices are enablers of the future of work. They enable an individual employee to deliver greater value in their work by responding to the opportunities and information in their environment. Agile and adaptive they empower employees to continuously improve and innovate.


Working Out Loud: Sharing work in progress in a purposeful way with relevant communities will accelerate learning, sharing and feedback cycles. Start working out loud now.

Personal Knowledge Management: Learn how to turn the personal information flood into effective sense making, learning and sharing. A critical skill to make sense of complexity and to leverage networks for learning.

Adaptive Leadership: Enabling the rebel and the change agent to lead more effectively in any system. Improving understanding, influence and the increasing the breadth of leadership techniques to create collective change in any system.

Experimentation: Move beyond the limits of your expertise. Learn by doing. Resolve uncertainty through action. Shorten cycles of decision making and feedback to increase personal effectiveness.

Organisational Effectiveness: Scaling & Accelerating Change

Organisations are made up individuals. These four practices of organisational effectiveness scale and accelerate the personal practices through a focus on design of systems for connection, learning and adaptation.


Open Collaborative ManagementMiddle managers are often those who find a change to digital ways of working most threatening and disrupting. Open up the work of management. Move management from planning, allocation and control to facilitation, alignment and coaching. Shorten cycles and improve the performance value of feedback. Foster the role of managers as network navigators and brokers. Management can be a critical point of leverage in achieving more open, more collaborative and more effective work.

Scalable Capability Development: Turn each employee’s learning into a contribution to scalable system for delivering strategic value. Create Big Learning systems that scale learning around strategic capabilities for the organisation’s success. Coordinate your learning agenda as an agile change program. Curate the capability building of your teams and leverage social learning to bring 70:20:10 and a performance-oriented approach to learning to life at scale and in the workplace.

Effective Networked Organisations: Take advantage of the networks in and around your organisation to rethink your business model and organisational design choices. Break the centralised/decentralised binary and move beyond hierarchy. Enable autonomy, foster alignment and improve effectiveness for purpose. Skill your teams to achieve effectiveness in the wirearchy. You don’t need to purchase a new management system. You need to adapt your approach to managing knowledge, trust, credibility and results to your purpose, culture and community.

Agile Innovation & Change: Adapt to the changing needs of the environment and stakeholders to deliver new value. Accelerate innovation and change through new approaches and by putting in place the systemic support for employee-led innovation, change and transformation to a more responsive organisation.

If you or your organisation are interested in exploring any of these areas of work, Change Agents Worldwide are ready to help. Our members are leading practitioners in the future of work and developing innovative change programs for organisations around the world to make work more effective.

Simon Terry provides consulting, advice, speaking and thought leadership to global clients through his own consulting practice, and as a Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide, a network of progressive and passionate professionals, specializing in Future of Work technologies and practices.  The focus of Simon’s practice is assisting organizations to transform innovation, collaboration, learning and leadership


The Five Daily Reflections of the Change Agent

Reading Seeds for a Boundless Life, a book on Zen Buddhism by Zenkei Blanch Hartman, I came across a reference to the Upajjhatthana Sutra’s Five Daily Reflections. The Sutra recommends daily reflections to help Buddhists to focus less on their attachments to ego & desires and more upon their actions.

Reflecting on these, I saw a parallel to common challenges for each change agent’s practice of bringing about a better world. Change agents are taking on difficult work, not for the benefits of ego or any personal desire. Change agents act out of a purpose to make an impact that helps others.  At the same time what surprises many who take on change is that the road is harder and more difficult than they ever expected.

Every change agent lives with these five daily reflections:

  • I can’t go back. There is no way to go back.
  • I can’t avoid obstacles. Obstacles are the work.
  • I don’t have forever. Time is limited.
  • Everything changes. Loss is part of that change.
  • My actions and my interactions are how I make the change work.

Five Reflections of the Change Agent

Once a change agent sees the need to make a change in the world, it becomes impossible to ignore. They can’t wish it away or pretend things are as they were. They can’t undo their commitment to purpose.

Embracing that commitment means accepting that there will be obstacles to be overcome. The obstacles aren’t inconveniences or distractions. They are the work to be done to bring about the change.

Time is always a constraint. Time demands we make the most of every opportunities to create change. Time means we must start now. Time means we must involve others.

Just as we must embrace the obstacles we encounter in our work, we must accept that there will be loss in bringing about change. Some things we lose will be important to us and to others. Part of a change agent’s role is to help others understand and manage that loss.

We have only our actions and our interactions. That is how we bring about change. That is how our change will be judged. Ends don’t justify means. The means are a key part of the change.

Change agents can and do wish it were different. Keeping reflections like these ever in mind helps us to avoid the disillusionment that comes along with unmet expectations and unfulfilled wishes. Change agents are pragmatic and realise that little changes without the hard work to make change happen.

The Leverage of the Change Agent

Give me a lever and a place to stand and I shall move the earth – Archimedes

There’s a tiny thing on the edge of a rudder called a trim tab. Just moving that little trim tab creates a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. It takes almost no effort at all – Buckminster Fuller

Change Agents move the world to change because they understand the importance of leverage. Small actions can be leveraged into larger outcomes through their work.

barrow-454173_1920The Leverage of Purpose

Change agents take grievances, disappointments and frustrations and turn them into purposeful action. Crowds can easily share a grievance. However someone needs to help the group to turn abstract frustration into a shared purpose. Discovering that shared purpose in a group is a lever of influence and motivation that scales rapidly.

The Leverage of Networks

Change agents understand that networks are extraordinary ways to scale their influence. They can connect with likeminded individuals, share information, solve challenges and develop new ways of working. The network expands the influence of the change agent across their organisation and across the world.

The Leverage of Role Modelling

Change agents do. Change agents understand that the most effective way to lead change is to show others change is possible through action. For every role model there are thousands of eyes in networks who can be influenced to magnify the scale of the change.

The Leverage of Experimentation

Change agents take advantage of the leverage that comes with experimentation. If you do more often, you have had a greater impact. Rather than wait for the perfect information, change agents experiment to learn and create an example for others.  Experimentation enables networks to scale beyond individual expertise and accelerate learning and change.

The Leverage of Tension

Change agents create tension. For many organisations, the existence of people pushing for change creates tension that focuses new attention on the need to change. Creating and shaping tensions in the organisation is a role that change agents play to create the ‘low pressure’ pull through the resulting focus, discomfort and action.

The Leverage of Generosity

Change agents give because a culture of giving expands influence. Working out loud with a generous intent, giving of their time and effort to help others or focusing on the needs of others are highly effective ways to move change forward and set an example that encourages others to do the same.

How is your organisation leveraging its change agents to create needed change?

Simon Terry is a Charter Member of Change Agents Worldwide, a network of progressive and passionate professionals specialising in future of work technologies and practices. If you would like to understand how you can better leverage your role as a change agent or the change agents in your organisation, get in touch with Change Agents Worldwide.

The Fabulous Cannon Of Aha: You Should Know…Lois Kelly

In Change Agents Worldwide, we had a conversation thread recently about how we talk about each other, so that others might know us betterLois Kelly and I agreed to correspond. Now, I have never met Lois in person. So what am I to suppose?

Well, importantly, and this is pivotal to the ideas of social business practice, I do know her through the network, through others with whom I have high trust relationships. This trust, and the value one puts into it, passes between network nodes like a genetic marker. It resonates.

Honestly, this network value is enough for me to say I value Lois. It is an automatic recommendation. But what happens when I dig a little deeper?

Before our video meeting, I clicked her avatar and profile page in our Change Agents network. Immediately, I get something more, partially by what is left out.

There is a close up headshot photo of her welcoming smile and her kind eye (singular). Her photo is cut in half, we see one the right side of her face. This I like, because it makes me wonder: what else? What is out of frame, awaiting discovery?

This resonates. I have long used an avatar of the top half of my face, eyes looking up, searching for something. It is the look of wondering, of seeking and creativity. This is how I hope people see me.

Then there is her “descriptor”: Creatively uncovering, communicating possibilities.

Sure, I’m buying. 

In VUCA times, possibilities are all that are available to us. It is a great place to aim for. I am distrusting of those who have answers all the time. I do know that Lois is a driving force behind Rebels at Work, and I have read a lot of that team’s writing, used quotes in presentations, and been inspired by the simple, direct ideals.Her brief bio includes:

The answers are found by listening and discovering in new ways, with unusual questions.

Lois’ website even has a section called #365questions  – she clearly doesn’t lack for inquiry!

So, I have a start, and plenty of holes. What is missing, what is just out of shot? Turns out, plenty enough for one hour of video chat!

We are all multifaceted, there is always more to us than anyone can know. We should be careful to boil someone down to the bare essentials. So, I shall share what I feel about Lois’ competitive advantage – what I sensed in her that is rare compared to all the other geniuses out there in the world.

I am always looking for a balance in people, how they manage the necessary tension in being multi-dimensional, how they hold themselves in the dance of dichotomy. For me, Lois’ tension is between rebelliousness toward, and relevance to, corporate audiences.

I am naturally attracted to the rebellious side. What’s not to love about someone who

“gets shot out of a cannon every morning”!?

That is a simple enough reason to say “I like you!” Her Rebels @ Work driver is such personal work for her – she has been charging into work for her entire career asking “Why don’t we do it that/this way?”

Early on in her career, that creative, exuberant approach got her into tight spots, stepping on (or maybe laying) landmines, until a senior leader told her, “Get revenue attached to your ideas, and you will be successful.” Madison Avenue beckoned, and the rest is (her) history (to tell).

So, here we have an ideas person. I meet plenty of those, always interesting, often marginalized. Lois is different. She is relevant. She understands organizational politics, she knows when to push and prompt, and when to wait and encourage emergence.


She can act as an external rebel and she can work to cultivate the internal rebels to develop the processes need for change.  Importantly, she reads the executive to see if they want to engage in the profound underpinning discussions of change or if they want to keep things simple.

Often, the intellectual, challenging conversations (the ones practitioners cherish) will ‘bore them to death.’ So she instead works to unlock the ‘one thing to do to get things moving.’

She leans on her studies of positive psychology and behavioural science – 95% of our decision-making is managed in our sub-conscious, so unlocking that understanding allows leaders to have better conversations about why they like what they like and want what they want.

This search for, and understanding of, relevance in the workplace led her to write a 2005 book (on what we might today call “social business”, among many contentious monikers for the workplace changes we see happening in the 21st century,) about “Conversational Marketing.”

Making it safe for leaders to investigate emergent practices and ready themselves for change, one step at a time, is prescient. Many contemporary #SocBiz visionaries struggle to make their views coherent enough for big business to buy. Lois has it down.

This ying-yang of rebel and relevance is a beautiful thing to observe. It ebb and flows so naturally in conversation, it is a lullaby for change. Is that balance, that interplay, her natural genius? Possibly. But she is also a constant learner too, she is never satisfied that she is done. Hers is a work in progress.

I will finish with a weird and whimsical image, one which I hope Lois will enjoy. If it is spot on, then she takes the acclaim as someone who shares creatively and naturally. If it is off mark, put it down to my active imagination that she was able to stir quite delightfully in a video chat hour that flew by.

On her website she lists a passion for uncovering “aha.” It conjured for me an image of the Fabulous Cannon of Aha, with Lois, smiling wryly, lighting the torch paper. The customer has three choices at the start of every day:

  • Lois can fire you from the cannon,
  • you can fire her from the cannon, or
  • you can both be fired from the cannon, and she will hold your hand the whole way.

The choice is yours! But here’s the thing: no matter which choice, it will work and it will be fun.

In the person-to-person economy, really knowing people is critical. You should know Lois Kelly. And here are two other people you should know…Simon Terry; and Richard Martin.

This post first appeared on the ←This Much We Know.→ blog.

How a possibility hunter thinks


What makes Change Agent Worldwide members tick? Lois Kelly interviews Jonathan Anthony.

I’ve had a crush on Ben Franklin for a long time. I named a company after one of his experiments, (Thunder House), my office is in the former 1772 bookstore and printing press of one of his protégées, his Junto inspired my long-running book club.

Thinker, creator, writer, experimenter, activist, diplomat, conversationalist, risk taker, and passionate advocate of free speech. This guy wasn’t interested so much in what was, but what could be. He pushed thinking to the edge with an innate sense of wonder and curiosity. Most of all, he made things happen.

So when I met Jonathan Anthony, a fellow Change Agent Worldwide member, via video call, I thought, “Wow, he’s like a modern day Ben Franklin with a cool accent.” (Jonathan grew up in Britain.)

(Note: if you’re part of fascinating online social networks give yourself a treat and hop on a video call to really get to know interesting people. It’s like a runner’s high without the first mile of pain, and you’ll learn something surprising.) 

A voracious reader, learner, writer, and participant in diverse social networks inside and outside his company, Jonathan sees emerging patterns early on, “translates” what these might mean to business, and then pulls his company to the edge of that big trend. He shows people what’s possible before that possibility has entered the zeitgeist.

Jonathan is a possibility hunter.

“I drive ideas to the edge, ideas that are way too big for the organization. I go big because the organization will always push back and make the thinking smaller,” he explains. “The edge is a renewal process for any organization. Ideas on the edge eventually becoming the center.”

He’s able to create that healthy creative tension because he’s good at reading people and his Spidey Senses help him understand how to navigate within the organization.

“As a corporate intrapreneur and change agent you can’t just be smart,” he says. “You have to have a feel for the organization – and map new ideas to the environment. Having thick skin, being OK with ‘no,’ and a healthy self-esteem also help.”

Jonathan has worked in Vancouver for Teekay Corporation for nine years. His title is director of corporate communications, though what he does goes far beyond that traditional title. He is strategist, activist, scientist, artist, imagineer.

Most of all he is a giver, generously offering ideas to people in our Change Agents Worldwide community, inviting his team to think bigger, and guiding  his company’s leaders out to the edge of possibility where the air is fresh and the views are both expansive and majestic.

Inside the mind of a possibility hunter

What were you like as a child?

Totally certain of myself, smart, fun, annoying, but interesting.

What are your most distinctive character strengths?

Ability to read people and situations.

What is your favorite word about work?


What is your least favorite word about work?


What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally about your work?

The power of networks.

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally about work?

Process. Same old, same old.

What sound or noise at work do you love?

Hearing my team talking out loud about their work, and about what they’re hearing and learning on Yammer.

What sound or noise at work do you hate?

The phone ringing. It’s almost always a cold call from marketers.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Video artist.

You can connect with Jonathan @ThisMuchWeKnow and on his blog: This Much We Know. 

The Great Change Agent Controversy

tumblr_static_2064Ok, so perhaps it’s not a controversy but Liz Ryan’s recent article in Forbes entitled, “Don’t Hire A ‘Change Agent’ — And Don’t Be One” has stirred up some passions in the circles I travel in, particularly within the Change Agents Worldwide community for obvious reasons. It has led to excellent rebuttals by fellow Change Agents (I wear that badge proudly) Jennifer Frahm (on LinkedIn), and Heather Stagl (via her blog), and probably more to come.

Despite disagreeing with most of Liz Ryan’s piece, I have to preface this by saying that I have a lot of respect for her, having followed her writing for a long time. She regularly shares excellent thought leadership on how to change our workplaces and management practices from the cold, machine-like model of the Industrial era to more human-focused ones. In fact – dare I say it – I consider her a Change Agent in her own right! Which is precisely why I found this piece so out of character.

Let me start with what she gets right. “If you really want change, then the change has to start at the top,” Ms. Ryan writes. You won’t find many change management practitioners arguing with this statement. For traditional top-down companies (an important caveat in a world that is seeing the rise of more and more non-traditional companies, e.g. holocracies) this is indeed the best way to make change happen. I won’t say ‘only way,’ since grass root, bottom-up efforts that influence the top are possible, just much less likely in rigid hierarchies.

But the operative term in her statement is “start at the top”. While change should start with the CEO (or division president or any leader of a unit that can make significant decisions without going higher up the chain), it doesn’t begin and end with her. Unless you’re talking about very small companies, today’s organizations are too big and too complex to let the responsibility for change sit only with the CEO/leader.

To agree with the argument in the Forbes piece, Ms. Ryan is asking her readers to make a considerable leap of faith between the point at which a CEO arrives at the decision to implement change and when the desire to go with that change actually takes hold of employees. Her assertion is that once a leader shifts their view (and listens to the calls for change coming from others), there is no need for Change Agents because suddenly “everybody is in the same groove” – as if the calls for change they listened to represent the universal desires of all employees! Anyone who has spent time in a large corporate environment knows that nothing is further from the truth.

Competing strategies, varied approaches to common issues, budget battles and more abound in large companies. These can all play havoc with a CEO’s change initiative. But more than these largely political games, the real fears and anxieties of employees who will be on the receiving end of the change, whether warranted or not, are what will derail even the efforts with the best of intentions. Employee concerns don’t just magically disappear because the CEO’s got her groove on!

If the CEO and the leadership team want the effort to succeed they better be prepared to focus on the people side of change, which means taking employees by the hand and leading them through the change process, which involves a lot more than selling an initiative. It’s one thing to create the desire in people to want to change to a new way of doing things and another to enable them to do that by helping them obtain the abilities needed to thrive in the new environment, i.e. new process, system, structure, policy, etc. CEOs and leadership teams alone can’t possibly do all of this, nor should they. They should set the right tone and help engender a change-ready environment through communications and sponsorship activities. Anything more is welcome, but not practical in our busy organizations. This is where Change Agents can play a vital role, by being the guiding hand that leads a cautious and stressed employee through the chasm of change and into a (hopefully) better place.

Change Agents inside of companies can take the form of both skilled change managers knowledgeable of the complexities of change, and enthusiastic employees (usually those who have made the leap on their own) embedded in the business that can provide the employee perspective and needed subject matter expertise (as related to the organization’s work). Both are needed since formal change managers can’t personally guichange-agent-badgede everyone. They need to rely on “deputized change agents” (or project advocates) who know and can empathize with the impacted staff. The combination of both types, executed within the framework of well thought-out “change platform” (a topic for another day), provides the support, assistance, and community environment needed for employees to collectively embrace a change.

That’s how I like to think of Change Agents. Not the Mafioso-type “corporate muscle” that Liz Ryan implied in her piece. They are not “footman” or “flunkies” for CEOs. Change Agents are generally passionate employees who care about their colleagues (or clients in the case of change consultants) and have a strong desire to help them through difficult periods.

Change Agents don’t push other people’s agendas or try to sell corporate initiatives like a Used Car Salesman. Instead, they gravitate towards those projects that they feel will make a difference for their organizations and for the good people working side by side with them in the trenches of corporate life.

Change Agents can see what a CEO cannot and use that perspective to lead change from within.

Change Agents don’t blindly follow agendas; they rally people around a shared purpose and show them how the change is aligned with it.

Change Agents operate from a position of trust (which, ironically, is what Liz Ryan says is the only way to push a strategy through), rather than fear.

You can find people in companies that do what Liz Ryan has described in her piece, but one thing’s for sure…they aren’t Change Agents.

The Dizziness of Freedom by Diana Renner

Diana Renner and I were discussing working out loud this week when Diana mentioned that she had an unpublished blog post in development that I recognised as the feeling of the ‘trembling finger’ when I am about to work out loud. This guest post is a result of that conversation. It is too good not to be widely shared – Simon Terry


It has been almost two years since I stepped into the unknown and became an independent consultant. Looking back, it feels less like a step and more like a leap. In a single gesture of defiance, I traded security for freedom, leaving behind a relatively comfortable, predictable role in a large organisation. I had never expected to end up working on my own. But the promise of freedom was alluring. It still is. At the same time freedom opens up possibilities that are terrifying.

In his book The Concept of Anxiety, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard explores the immense feelings of dread that accompany that moment when we find ourselves at a crossroads in life. The moment when the choice to do something hangs in perfect balance with the choice to do nothing. Kierkegaard uses the example of a man standing on the edge of a tall building or cliff, from where he can see all the possibilities of life. As he looks over the edge, he experiences both a fear of falling and at the same time a terrifying impulse to throw himself intentionally off the edge.

Every edge I have stood on has provoked feelings of dread and excitement. Whether going into a first meeting with a new client, writing a few pages in my book, or facing a bored and unmotivated group, I have struggled with what Kierkegaard calls our dizziness of freedom. Just like Kierkegaard’s protagonist, staring into the space below, I have contemplated many times whether to throw myself off or to stay put.

However, what seemed risky and largely unknown two years ago rapidly has become part of a familiar landscape. It would be natural to relax and enjoy the view… Yet I have learned that it is at this very point that I need to become more vigilant than ever and exercise my freedom to choose in three key ways:

  • To rally against the safe but numbing comfort of the status quo. I need to keep reminding myself that the greatest learning is just outside of my comfort zone. I need to keep stretching myself to keep growing.
  • To resist the strong pull of the crowd. I have found perspective on the margins, not looking to the outside for approval or acceptance, not following a trend just because everyone else is following it.
  • To interrogate the world’s criteria for what is good or successful. I am suspicious when I am being offered a formula to quick success or many riches. It is powerful to be able to question mainstream expectations, and carve my own path with courage and purpose.

The responsibility that comes with the freedom to choose is terrifying. But the cost of not choosing is even more so.

We need to welcome this dizziness of freedom as a sign that we are, in fact, just where we need to be. A sign that we need to slow down and reflect on the risk, then step off the edge anyway.

Diana Renner – Leadership consultant, facilitator, author of ‘Not Knowing – the art of turning uncertainty into opportunity’, Chartered Management Institute Book of the Year 2015, UK.
Twitter: @NotKnowingLab