Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life

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Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life

A June 4, 2014 DFW HR Roundtable Discussion

3d-book-coverWhy is it so hard for us to start big or small changes in our teams, organizations or communities? Our thoughts get in our way, and we rely on the same steps that have worked for other situations. But, a true change—a wave—is different, says Patti Johnson, chief executive officer of PeopleResults and former Accenture senior executive. A wave requires stepping out and building commitment that grows organically.

At our June 4 DFW HR Roundtable, “Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life,” Patti Johnson shared how anyone can start or contribute to a wave. Here is guest blog from Patti, with some highlights from her discussion.

Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life
By Patti Johnson

In Make Waves, I explore the behaviors and habits essential for starting a successful change. Interestingly, some of the very behaviors and habits that get in your way are also associated with being a strong leader. A wave is different. Working independently, having all of the answers or a desire for personal recognition, and needing a complete plan up-front can work against you.

Let’s look at three common ways you can undermine your change:

“Good News: I Have All of the Answers!”

Jonathan Morris of Young Presidents Organization shared that the kiss of death for your change is showing up to a discussion with, “Good news, everyone. I have all of the answers!” A change, by design, can’t be done alone. You need others.

Many of us earned our reputations and progressed in business because we are problem solvers. If you were the one at age 10 waving your hand wildly from the back of the classroom because you had the answer, this is for you. Yes, I know it’s painful. Remember that starting a wave isn’t the same as earning an “A” or tackling your to-do list. It’s not a command-and-control effort, but creating momentum toward your goal and engaging others to be part of it. As a result, starting conversations with others early is essential.

Wave Makers are predisposed to action, even when they don’t have all the answers. Beginning before you know exactly where you’re going can run against the conventional wisdom about the habits of effective leaders. It’s counterintuitive for those who love to have all of the answers or who like detailed planning. But moving early and quickly is essential for Wave Makers to build interest and engagement from others.

Inviting others to be part of your wave—especially at the beginning—will not only make you smarter, the wave will become “our” wave not just “your” wave. Become comfortable moving forward even without all of the answers.

“I’m Successful, Right?”

I’ve found that Wave Makers have adaptable persistence. When you dig a little deeper, you see that one of the key reasons that they learn, adapt and keep going is that they aren’t focused on the personal recognition. They have their eye on the bigger prize—the change that they can see in the future. Consequently, they don’t see a crisis when they have a setback or their approach needs a refresh.

They are focused on learning from each setback and the goal. In fact, most expect bumps and challenges. Their confidence and self-worth aren’t damaged. Their ego can handle an obstacle or being wrong.

In a recent New York Times articleThomas Friedman shared why Google values people who learn from failure. He said, “Successful, bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure. They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved. What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘Here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’ You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time.”

Keep your eyes on the goal and learning, not on personal recognition or accolades. It will keep you moving ahead.

“I’ll Start as Soon as I Have This Thing Figured Out.”

The desire for perfection can be underneath the desire to only start after knowing all of the answers. Yet, that day of knowing everything may never come.

Most perfectionists don’t intend for their desire for quality to become an obstacle. Perfectionism is a badge that many even wear with pride. Know the difference between perfection and excellence, because waves require quick action before there is the perfectly defined solution.

I have seen—and have fallen into—perfectionism traps that get in the way of forward motion. For example:

  • Waiting for the perfect time, though there will never be one
  • Wanting to have a solution all figured out before beginning
  • Feeling uncomfortable sharing an idea or intent without a well-thought-out plan
  • Believing you have the perfect plan after hours of work, and excluding other ideas as a result

If you have perfectionist tendencies, remember that starting a wave is about movement and progress, not one big successful event. Don’t let perfectionism and the quest for the ideal solution keep you from going for it.

Brett Hurt, Wave Maker and co-creator of Bazaarvoice, shared his view on starting. He said, “You’ve got to get going. Surround yourself with other people who are incredibly passionate about your cause, and move. If you have a dream, you have to get moving, or it’s never going to happen. Now, if I’m looking to invest in an entrepreneur, for example, I’m looking for motion—someone who is really going after their dream and is passionate about it. They can approach it differently than me or have a different personality than me, but they have to be going after it. Let’s get going. If you really believe in it, why not? Why aren’t you moving?”

As you kick off your next wave, remember that what works beautifully in another situation may be an obstacle with your change. A wave is different. You can’t do it alone.

This post includes excerpts from Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life.

Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, Patti was a senior executive at Accenture. She has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, “Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life,” hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at


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