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  • Gilbert Kruidenier

The Change Rebellion



All my reading, writing, coffee chats, online conversations and going to events seem to lead to the same outcome: it’s time for a rebellion in Change Management.

The many new connections and positive and encouraging messages I got on my posts, combined with the work and writings of Corporate Rebels and Rebels at Work are proof enough for me, something is happening. By now I am very much convinced that I am not alone, that there’s 1,000’s of rebels out there and they are ready to join the Change Rebellion!

I did my research (which means I read a Wikipedia site with an uncanny level of detail) and found that over the past 5,000 years, about 850 revolts were staged. How many of those did you hear about lately? And how well do you think you know the facts? What really happened in Egypt in 2010, or during the French Revolution? What motivates viewpoints for #neveragain? Most of us don’t really know, history is written by the victor and the world is a different place now. My main question was: ‘Did they work?”. The answer is a disappointing and resounding: “Nope”.

Without making this into a history lesson, the process is almost always the same.


Obviously, this is a gross simplification, I am not trying to include all the socio-dynamic complexities of how revolutions and rebellions come to be, quite the opposite, because, who has time to read all that, right?! Before moving on to why they didn’t work, I should probably clarify the difference between a revolution and a rebellion.

Revolutions take time to eventually overthrow and replace their established government or political system. A rebellion is often much angrier, more of an open, organised, uprising to one's government or ruling faction. You can have one without the other, not all revolutionaries were rebels and not all rebels lived long enough to become revolutionaries. Lots of rebel leaders die an early death, figuratively, but unfortunately often also literally.

The sad reality seems to be that most rebellions fail because they were either ill-prepared, under-resourced or (most frequently) ended up replacing one bad leader with an even worse one. Well, now that we know that, we can choose to not make that mistake. You know, learning from the past and all that…

The whole ‘die-for-the-cause!’ thing, was initially what has been holding me back. I don’t mind doing the hard work, but I’d at least appreciate being around to see how it all works out. Not that I think I’ll actually be killed for my beliefs, but there’s many ways to meet an untimely end, literally or figuratively. Added to that, I think of myself as a (very) reluctant leader, often feeling that it’s not my place to take charge or lead, but somehow always ending up in that role. Apparently, I am willing to put my reputation, credibility and livelihood on the line for the cause of better change management, but not my life (yet).

Some people have called me a misguided, uncommitted armchair revolutionary for that. They might be right, time will tell. But then again, they’re not exactly throwing up barricades in front of Big Business, megaphoning their ideas for a better way. Perhaps I should try to explain to them that I rebel for Change, not against rules, but that might not fit their definition of what a rebel is supposed to do.

I think I’ll take my chances with the change community and trust that we have all we need already to start a leaderless change rebellion.

We’ve been talking for so long. Now is the time to act and put in practice what we preach. We’ve got heaps of brilliant material to work with from exceptional thinkers on all the change topics that matter. What we need to do is stop waiting for permission, for someone else to start, waiting to be heard or to be given a stage. No one is coming to save us, we need to do it ourselves and own that responsibility. Only we can do it. That is a big ask and seriously scary, I know, I feel the same way.

I discussed my complete lack of enthusiasm for becoming the face of the change rebellion with the people from Corporate Rebels at an event yesterday and while they were sympathetic and agreed that self-directed change is more sustainable, their view is that I ‘have to give them something’ to get started.

Okay, fair enough.

Here’s what I see as better change management practices that you can start today. All of these practices are acts of rebellion, rejecting the status quo, showing your environment you believe there’s a different and better way to make change happen.

And yes, I would love to talk to you about it, help you, be your change friend and share my experiences. But no, I will not come and do it for you, however profitable. You don’t need my help. You never did. You can do it yourself. Own it and lead by example.

Here's some better change management practices you can start straight away:

  1. Reject the default. You have one job as a Rebel and this is it. Question everything but be smart about it. Don’t go feral and run amok upsetting things for the sake of being #disruptive. Instead, question current practices while providing a better alternative. Run your co-designed experiments, evaluate if they worked and make incremental change happen. It’s really that simple.

  2. Start building change capability in your clients and teams, work yourself out of a job, assignment or project. You can only rebel so long, then it becomes the new way of working. It’s the natural order of things. Be upfront about what you will help them achieve and then it’s up to them to keep doing it. True change ownership and instant value add await.

  3. Build, support and promote self-directed teams, your own rebel alliance. You and the people around you were hired as skilled professionals. Nobody comes to work to be micro-managed by insecure managers trying to appear relevant, oppose them with everything you’ve got. The best thing that can happen is that you get fired. Organisations that allow micro-management to persist are no place for a rebel anyway.

  4. Embrace the complexity of the modern workplace and employ practices that simplify processes to tackle complexity. This is the exact opposite of pushing the false simplicity and safety of templates and models in people’s faces. Keep painting the big picture for process activities to stay connected to the overall purpose, the why. Your job as the Change Rebel is to question the logic and assumptions, to reconnect dots in different ways. Those skilled professionals you see walking around will help you find ways to make things work if you allow them, it’s what they were hired to do.

  5. Walk away when offered a dodgy deal that degrades what good change management is. Live your values and don’t get bought. You don’t have to justify any of your choices or priorities, least of all to me. And of course, an $800+/day, 12-month contract makes a nice pay day. But is that really the best you can do? What are they really buying with that big fat salary? Your compliance to play by their rules perhaps…? Some people are so poor, all they have is money. Don’t be that person.

  6. Always do what is in the best interest of the profession. As a rebel, you probably know what good change leadership looks like, craft your own profile and live those values, lead by example. Always do what is in the best interest of the profession, because you are the profession. Change leadership does not stop or start at the executive level, it’s you and me and that new hire with all her bright and smart ideas. People know a good example when they see it, give them something to look up to and before you know it, you’ve started your own movement and office rebellion.


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