Turn Left!

Turn Left!

Turn Left!
Drawn by my colleague Chandu Tennety


Change is hard and often scary. Change in the enterprise is even scarier because it involves changing the way people work, how they’re compensated and incentivized, how they manage (and are managed) and what determines success. Whenever I work with organizations undertaking a significant change — like becoming more agile or building in lean startup principles — I often liken it to a sharp left turn.

The thinking (at least in my head) goes something like this:

– The organization is going along, full speed, in the direction it has always gone, doing things the way they’ve always been done.

– At the helm, someone has made the decision to change the way things get done.

– This person announces this change to their subordinates and the rest of the company and in doing so, metaphorically, turns the steering wheel sharply to the left.

– Many of the employees are hearing about this change for the first time during this announcement and are caught off guard.

– Some brace themselves. Others adapt to the turn. Some go with the flow. And still others are not prepared, don’t want to accept the change and are slammed up against the car window (see the sketch above).

It’s these folks, the ones with their faces smooshed up against the window, that are going to resist change the most. Many of them will not go quietly or willingly and some will not go at all. As an organization, you should be prepared for this churn and the inevitable parting of ways that will come with some of your current staff. These may be people you like, who are deemed valuable or even indispensable* and that’s when, as an organization, you must double down on the transformation you’ve undertaken. In fact, if you’re not losing a few people, the change you’re seeking is likely not significant enough.


*Regardless of how “indispensable” someone may seem in your organization (and I’ve certainly felt that way about former colleagues), remember this quote from Charles de Gaulle: 

“The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” 

P.S. – The killer sketch in this post was done by my Neo Columbus colleague Chandu Tennety.

About Jeff Gothelf

Jeff Gothelf is a lean thinking and design evangelist, spreading the gospel of great team collaboration, product innovation and evidence-based decision making. Jeff is an author, speaker and thought leader on the future of product development and design, often teaching workshops or giving talks on building cultures that support teamwork and innovation. Jeff co-founded Neo Innovation, a lean/agile product firm in NYC. Prior to that, he led the UX design teams at TheLadders and Web Trends. Earlier he worked with and led small teams of software designers at AOL. He is the co-author (with Josh Seiden) of Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience and the upcoming (Harvard, 2016) Sense and Respond (sensingbook.com).
This entry was posted in agile, enterprise, lean startup, Lean UX, Productivity, work ethic. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Rick Cusick

    Nice metaphor on the challenge of taking everyone with you when you bring the intentional change. It would be great to have the time and insights to understand the resistance patterns of everyone involved…it’s hard to find great people, and keeping the team together would seem to have benefits in the long run. But I agree it’s not always possible, certainly in larger organizations.

    Great read for a Monday AM!

  • Aaron Sanders

    How could orgs measure the “face shmooshing”?

  • http://www.jeffgothelf.com Jeff Gothelf

    1. Happiness level of employees
    2. Turn-over / voluntary attrition
    3. Morale
    4. Productivity
    5. Pace of change adoption

    Just a few quick thoughts…

  • http://RamliJohn.com/about-me Ramli John

    This NEEDS to be heard – “if you’re not losing a few people, the change you’re seeking is likely not significant enough.” At the last place I volunteered at, they had a major shift in vision BUT didn’t have the guts to lose a few people.Now they’re stuck in limbo.

    Thanks for sharing Jeff. I’m tweeting this out :)

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