Ask the CHO: Making change happen

Ask the CHOOn my post about liking vs. loving your job, Gabe asked an interesting question in the comments:

What do you do if you work at a place where, every time you try to “raise your game???, i.e. creating coding standards, improving functionality of commonly used systems, etc, you are told that “We don’t have time for that.??? or “We should put that on the back burner until we have more staff.??? or anything else that ends up sounding like “No???.

What advice do you have for those who want to improve things and are consistently met with opposition?

To me, there are few things that are more demotivating than coming up with what I believe is a good idea, only to see it shot down by the usual, boiler-plate objections.

And it doesn’t have to be this way. London-based innovation agency ?WhatIf! have implemented a practice they call greenhousing. In the book Sticky Wisdom, they write:

Plants are at their most fragile when they are small and just starting to grow. That’s why gardeners use greenhouses. It’s the same with ideas. They are easiest to destroy when they first appear. Unfortunately, most business cultures tend to stifle ideas before they can take root.


Accordingly, all new ideas get a grace period where they are nurtured, not attacked. During this period, you can ask questions like:

  • What would be the positive outcome of this idea?
  • Why are you excited about it?
  • How will this make us more efficient?

That is how we want our ideas to be met. Greenhouse them first. Then after a while, take a critical look and see if the idea holds water.

If you work in a place where this doesn’t happen, then it might be worth it to point people’s attention to this behavior and to what it does to people. You can point out that this leads to:

  • Less motivation
  • No change and innovation
  • Cynicism and helplessness because “nothing ever changes”

Also, always focusing on the short-term solutions means huge long-term losses. Sometimes you gotta put in X hours of work now to save 2X hours next week.

Would that help? What else can you do to create change at work?

7 thoughts on “Ask the CHO: Making change happen”

  1. I love the expression about asking forgiveness instead of permission. My first suggestion to Gabe would be to find changes you can implement all on your own

  2. Pingback: Make change happen
  3. I’ve ran into this quite often as well on the various develoment teams I’ve been on. One thing that I have done (specifically in a development role), in the vein of what Ann says above, is to implement a continuous integration environment (aka Cruise Control or some other) on my machine. This is a system that automatically builds the code base whenever a change is made, so that potential problems can be seen quickly, instead of days weeks or months down the road.

    No one could stop me, as it was on my local machine, and as I explained the benefits, people quickly came around to the idea. After nine months, they are still talking about how much help this has been. I wasn’t able to affect much more change than that at the code level, but I am very happy and satisfied that I was able to do something.

  4. As a developer myself I have gone the route of ask for forgiveness. However the original question is still valid and it seems pretty rampant in IT departments. Matter of fact I am going through it yet again with a new company and it is very frustrating, even when you do pick out the low hanging fruit, it still doesn’t seem to matter.

    If I remember correctly Alexander, I read on your site here that one of your companies did hot have any managers? Do you elaborate on that anywhere and if not could you? It seems that a lot of the problems seem to come from low to middle management and as someone who is looking to start my own software company I don’t want this to happen in my organization. A no managers approach seems pretty appealing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.