You Drive a Car, not Change


There is a long list of words that do not help for languaging change.

The use of those words is heavily influenced by “gurus” from the past, from the project focus stranglehold and from the comical (if it weren’t so detrimental) use of business speak.

Words signal perspective. Perspective signals approach. Approach effects change. You can choose to have that effect be positive or not so. Choose wisely. The negative effects are barely visible, but add up over time to weak change efforts.

I found one that should be easy to explain.

“Driving Change”

You “drive” cars and maybe trucks and motorcycles and things with engines. Drive change and I guarantee you will have  a lot of people sitting out the trip. I cringe when I see documents for the orchestration of change (there’s a big fancy synonym for “drive”) use the actual term “drive change”.

Back to my warning: this signals those involved (or worse those “driving” the design of change) think change is about pushing, so they will likely push very hard with everything they do, people do not like to be pushed (pulled yes). A negative pattern will follow. The pushing doesn’t work so the pusher increases their effort. The increase in effort changes unwillingness to rebellion (or something less revolutionary). Revolution is one kind of change…

What You Can “Drive”

If you absolutely need to be driving something look to task. You can drive a to do list. You can drive a process within a phase (don’t drive the change process). You can drive an individual (likely related to task and development) if they acknowledge that is OK and helpful.

You can drive perspective around something (not change). You can push an agenda or a tool or the implementation of parts of IT change.

What you can’t drive is behavioral change.

Who is the Driver of Change?

Not the practitioner! Not the change leader! Not a falsely empowered mid level “champion”!

The “driver” (I keep using quotes because that means so called- so-called words are easy to sweep away) of behavioral change at least is… the individual.

If they choose to “drive” their own change that might be good. In the case of specifics like individual task they may be willing to delegate the driving to someone else. Think about that though. The real driver delegates and then becomes a passenger. Ha. Same thing happens when one person insists on driving…

What Word Do We Use Then?

For the practitioner: you guide, you mentor, you direct (if you must have something that makes you look like you are in charge), you assist, you explain, you reveal. Practitioners must be semi-silent leaders. As soon as they take charge stakeholders tend to move to the back seat and watch the scenery.

For the change leader: you model, you too mentor, you demonstrate, you explain, you describe, you interact, you lead (lead begs following unlike driving which indicates control).

For the external consultant creating a change structure: you stop. Stop following the outdated change approaches from the past. CM is maturing, has matured. That stuff doesn’t work any more- stakeholders are too wise. When I see this approach in documents it signals to me the consultants really do not know what they are doing (and are part of the 95% out there who curate rather than produce new content).

If the hidden effect of words intrigues you (and you can handle my wonderful disillusionment) here are some more posts:

Change Management Don’t Use Words

Hidden Word Meanings

Impact is a Business Word

Where the Word Impact Might Make Sense

Change is not driven. It is guided. It is developed. It is shared. It is individual. It is behavioral. It happens because the place to arrive at makes sense and includes you and your expertise. You can continue to “drive” your car though…

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