Every Big Change Starts Small


“I kept complaining ‘Somebody should do something about that,’ and then I realized I am Somebody.” – Anonymous

I don’t know where I first heard that statement about taking personal responsibility for making the future happen, but it was on my mind frequently last week while I was attending World Workplace 2014 in New Orleans.

I enjoyed seeing and working with many long-term friends and colleagues, and experiencing the many wonderful sights and sounds of Bourbon Street and other less-well-known spots in New Orleans.

But while I lapped up the culinary treats, it was the food for thought that made the week worthwhile.

I was stimulated by many experiences, but two particular education sessions stood out for me. First, David Karpook, Nancy Johnson Sanquist, and Joe Harris, all of Manhattan Software (now a Trimble company), led a conversation about “The Workplace as Experience.” They drew heavily on the second edition of Welcome to the Experience Economy by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore (link is to book description on Amazon.com. I have no financial interest in your following that link).

Pine and Gilmore’s basic idea is simple but profound: the economy has developed from extracting commodities (minerals, agricultural products) to manufacturing goods to offering services to staging experiences. Each step on that pathway creates more economic value than the one before.

ExperienceValueAddedThink of it this way; freshly-grown grapes are a commodity: a bottle of aged wine is a product; a glass of wine selected and poured for you by a restaurant sommelier is a service; and a vertical wine tasting led by the winemaker and accompanied by fine music at a benefit dinner is an experience.

At World Workplace, David, Nancy, and Joe translated Pine and Gilmore’s economic model into the workplace environment; and they called for rewriting the job description of facilities managers. They recommended going well beyond basic workplace services to enable – indeed, to stage – experiences that attract, retain, and leverage talent.

In their view of the future (which I fully endorse), workplace managers will become responsible for building communities within the workplace – communities that provide professional development opportunities, encourage innovation, and in other ways enhance the performance, productivity, and engagement of the workforce. The workplace is nothing less than the stage on which work experience takes place.

That view of the facilities management role clearly requires a whole new mindset, let alone new skills, for facilities professionals. In fact, the most interesting suggestion was that we turn to hospitality professionals (hoteliers, restaurateurs, cruise directors) for lessons on how to create compelling workplace experiences.

But for me the most important insight was that no one has to wait for a new set of IFMA competencies or a new credential program. For this, as for other new ideas and calls to action, anyone who sees merit in this perspective can – and should – simply start right now to act as if the workplace user experience matters (because it does, whether you design it or not).

Every Big Change starts as a small one. If each of us who embraces the idea that the workplace experience is important begins acting as if that were true, we would see dramatic differences in the actual workplace experience far more quickly than if someone mandated a new set of policies and procedures from on high.

Taking personal responsibility and starting where you are was also central to a session that I organized and led myself. The topic was “Blowing Up Bureaucracy,” which I conducted in partnership with Benay Dara-Abrams (Lead Link for the Great Work Cultures initiative) and Susan Bingham, co-founder and principal at HPWP Consulting, a firm that focuses on culture change and building high-performance work cultures.

We began that session by citing the dismally low levels of employee engagement in most organizations today (see The State of the American Workplace, by Gallup, for the data – the report is free).

We deplored the way most organizations are managed today, suggesting that we can’t expect to get good results by managing 21st century work and workers with 19th century management practices (see my recent article in the Huffington Post, “Don’t Fix Management; Replace It” for more about that basic idea).

Sue then led the group in an animated discussion of the many HR policies that attempt to mandate morality and “good” behavior by articulating a whole litany of “Thou shalt not” commandments in the rather futile attempt to control the 5% of employees who are “rotten apples” rather than focusing on the 95% of them who are ethical, moral, and self-directed.

BigChangeStartsSmallSeveral of our audience members (who clearly wanted to do something constructive) pointed out that as mid-tier managers and directors, they were not in a position to change corporate-wide HR policies. We sympathized with them, of course, but we also reminded them, once again, that Every Big Change Starts Small.

All we asked is that they begin right away to treat their own subordinates as adults, in the way that they themselves would want to be managed (or, more appropriately, led).

Remember, Every Big Change Starts Small. Be Somebody, and do something to change things you don’t like. Don’t think for a moment that you are powerless. Change the corner of the world that matters to you, and before you know it the whole world will be a different (and better) place.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. — Margaret Mead

2 replies
  1. Bill ONeill
    Bill ONeill says:

    I am always interested in how others take great ideas , such as this one, and move them towards modeling and demonstrating success in implementing a change like this.

    I would like to hear thoughts and ideas of people and what they would do with this idea and the evidence that it has emerged from


  2. Rudd van Deventer
    Rudd van Deventer says:

    Nice one Jim.
    All the bits make absolute sense and the guys that get it right will knock everyone socks off.
    In response to Bill, I think that the group who have the most to gain is the in-house FM practitioners and their employees. Take a good look at Interpolis, one if the places where activity based working got its start. You need to visit to understand the dutch way of doing things.

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