How do people create Change?

In my last post, I mentioned 2 reasons to develop your personal positive power. Today, let’s take a look at Robert Quinn’s four ways to instigate change(in his book The Positive Organization). Let’s explore these four approaches – to see what is effective for a Positive Agent.

The first is well-known and rather easy to do: just tell people to change – and what to change. However, you have little control over the change – you just hope that people will change as you told them to.

If that doesn’t work sufficiently, you can try to enforce change with punishments and/or rewards. You offer people outside motivation to change so you have to keep those punishments and rewards coming. It takes more efforts but you’ll experience a little more control as well.

Participate in Change

If that doesn’t yield the desired results either, you can invite people to participate in the change development process. This is based on the idea that people support what they help create. This takes way more time and energy but can be more effective because you influence people while developing the desired change together. However, there is no total control – the participants may deviate from what you’d like to see – and you might be tempted to force, push, and pull again.

What are you personally going to do to change your organization? Share on X

The Change Circles approach that I developed for culture change, uses this participation change model and combines it with personal change. “As a participant to our circle, which of your beliefs and behaviors will you change to achieve our change plan? As the CEO of this organization, what are you personally going to do differently to enhance this desired future?”

If enough people keep doing what they always did, the organization will not change. That’s why I included personal change in the participative Change Circle.

Embody Change

Being the change you wish to see in the world – as Gandhi said – is the fourth and most compelling way of instigating change. It is also the most intense way to change and takes more time, energy, and effort.

This change is within your control (but not necessarily easy). You change certain beliefs and behaviors. Now you are different – and so are your interactions and actions.
What you say and do will elicit different responses from the others. Your change will influence the people around you and creates ripples through the system you are part of.

Being the change you want to see on your team has undeniably strong moral power. It shows: “Me, too”. I abide by the same rules as you. I take this seriously. I embody the change we propagate. I walk the talk. I go through the same discomfort to practice new behaviors. I feel awkward, too. And I do it anyway because this matters. I believe in this change.

Being the change you want to see on your team has undeniably strong moral power Share on X

Being the change might inspire others to change, too. As people tend to copy each other, here is your best chance to sprout positive change in your circles of connection and collaboration.

This stands out for me: there’s no change without personal change.
You cannot change the others.
You can only change yourself and hope to inspire the others, too.

So, let’s change the workplace and the world from the inside out by developing our personal positive power.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
― Rumi

This is book post #5 – introduction

Here is the earlier post.
Here is the next post.

If you’re confused – please start with post #1 or check the Positive Power overview and read the Positive Agent Manifesto.

Leaders, employees, consultants, citizens – everyone can make a positive difference from any position, without needing permission or resources from others. This blog will help you see positive possibilities and (re)claim your positive agency. Unstuck yourself and engage others via your interaction and actions. Transform into a positive organization where people and performance thrive.

I’m blogging my next book: “Positive Power at Work – How to make a positive difference from any position.” Your feedback is appreciated!

You can help me by liking, sharing, and commenting.

Leave a Reply

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Graham Williams

    From your previous blog I love “Power is the potential to do something” and in this one that “We need to be the change we wish to see”. Your book is going to be great and these blogs are lovely food for thought.
    Two thoughts (clarifications?!) that it is easy to fall into the trap of being or aspiring to be a powerful person – an extrinsic push. Different to your guideline of using power positively – an intrinsic push. Which comes from a whole (not fragmented) personal state/ foundation.
    For me being the change is also more about demonstrating what we wish the situation, World, followers to BE – less about getting them to DO. That is – DOING the change. So to relate ‘being the change’ to ‘power as the potential to do something’, Keltner (The Power Paradox: how we gain and lose influence) shows clearly how compassion and selflessness enable influence – both direct and indirect, and invoke followership. Compassion produces positive power.
    Bit longwinded – sorry – but this is what Gandhi, Rumi and Embodying change is about – not doing change or getting others to do change but being change.

    1. Marcella Bremer

      Thank you, Graham! Thanks also for reminding me of Keltner – whose work I love. Being the change is what this is about, not necessarily doing the change. Being kind will make others feel respected and empowered, as Keltner shows, and they will want to be around you and copy you. This way, our “being the positive change” may entice the others to change, too.

  2. Bill Mc Allister

    Being the change is the very essence of who we are, and having that conversation & narrative is crucial to having that affect,
    it is interesting in my work, that I ask those questions, and the people ask readily what is the answer ?

    To me it is knowing when to ask and does it feel Ok to do only those asking the questions will know that, and at present there are a whole multitude of questions to ask

  3. David Trickey

    ‘people tend to copy each other’ – absolutely, Marcella. But they don’t copy everyone. There tends to be a power law which says that there are a small number of highly connected and influential people and high number of people with low connectivity and influence. We’ve found that scale up (or lack of it) is always the challenge in a culture change project. Identifying those who others will imitatate and bringing them together to create a movement of change based on simple behaviors increases the spread of the desired change. See There is no change unless there is behavioral change. Because we can’t see ‘personal change’….only in how it appears as behavior.

    1. Marcella Bremer

      I know, David! Thanks for adding this. I’ve incorporated the Viral Change insights in my culture change circles approach (described in my book Organizational Culture Change – with a recommendation from Leandro Herrero 🙂 Identifying those individuals is crucial and also getting them to “be the change” so the viral change may spread in the organizational system.

  4. David Childs

    What has worked well for me is to combine option #3 (Ask) and option #4 (model). The purpose of the “asking” is to create inclusion, ‘buy-in’, tap the wisdom/experience of the staff, etc. The purpose of the modeling is more to model the overall organizational behavior (professionalism, inclusion, civility, positive approach, integrity, open honesty, etc.) and culture that you want everyone to assume. I have been asked to “transform” several “lost cause” organizations, and have consistently created dramatic “transformation” of staff attitudes and the organizational culture within 4-6 months by focusing on these 2 actions. Good discussion. Thank you.

    1. Marcella Bremer

      Thank you for sharing your examples, David. Indeed, we often use combinations of the four ways. It is great to consistently model the desired behaviors – it takes a little time to catch on and “go viral” but with persistence you can achieve real change.

  5. Jan Lelie

    People don’t create change. People change. Everything changes. Change is a verb, to change. The framing of your situation is key for the “success” of changing.

    Human beings are intentional beings. They change by using their intention. In every situation, there exist tension. The tension has to be released. There are two basic ways: reacting and creating. The first is “to move away from some-thing”, also known as “problem”. The second is “to move towards some-think”, also known as “project”. The first works well on the short term, that’s why we tend to learn that first. It does come at a price: in the end, nothing gets “solved”, no “real” change, just motion. And it builds the second type of tension.

    In my opinion, people build up tensions by repeating action-reaction, solving problems, until tensions get to high. They then break-down (also known as burn-out) and have again two options: renovation (for instance, from centralization to decentralization of vice versa) or renaissance (be reborn). The latter requires a level of wisdom, trust, patience or courage, many people find difficult to attain.

    In these times, there seems to open a new type of change, where the whole paradigm on change shifts. These two types of change are being recognized as two modes that invoke each other: the stronger the renaissance movement gets, the stronger the counter force of the restoration become – see Brexit, Turkey and off course Trump. In this way, we’re forcing a crisis in our system, that will lead us to the paradigm shift, through a apocalyptic series of events. Destructing and creating, the bad and the good, are just part of the ugly, changing.

    1. Marcella Bremer

      Nice theory, Jan… Let’s see what happens…. The gods of destruction and creation are the same kin. Change is the name of the game.