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Green Eggs and Ham – a Study in Change Management

“I am Sam. Sam I am.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the quote, it comes from the book Green Eggs and Ham, written by Dr. Seuss. According to Publisher’s Weekly in 2001, it was the fourth-most popular children’s book of all time. That would lead me to believe that most of us have either had this book read to us in our childhood or have learned to read from this book (some, like me, still read it today). We have been indoctrinated at such early ages to accept change, so why do so many of us react badly towards change? After all, Sam has a mission, and that’s to get the unnamed character to change his behavior. Perhaps, though, if Sam went about it a little differently, we would never have had the book after all.

As BAs, we are often in the middle of changes – application changes, process changes, organizational changes. Let’s see how Sam handles a case of change management, and see if we can learn from his mistakes.

1. Failure to plan the change

Human beings are complicated people (even those asexual creatures in the Dr. Seuss books). Sam barges in and starts announcing something new and expects that our friend will embrace it as much as Sam does. It’s clear that Sam wants our friend to eat the green eggs and ham, and probably thinks that eating them is great, but Sam’s expectation is that our friend will partake of the new treat. It seems that Sam’s strategy is to offer so many ways to eat green eggs and ham that our friend should just change and do it. Consider that it’s not until 7/8 of the way into the book that he finally asks if our friend would just try them. If that strategy to “just try them” was planned at the beginning, the change implementation might have gone better.

2. Failure to communicate the reasons and expectations behind the change

It’s no wonder that our friend who is having green eggs and ham is put off by Sam. He barges in with, “I am Sam. Sam I am.” but with no explanation to our friend about the change. It’s no wonder that our friend is turned off and immediately puts up a defensive wall – he clearly has no idea of what is happening. Perhaps Sam could explain the reason why he is offering the green eggs and ham. “Times are tough, the economy is strange, and the cafeteria selections have got to change. Here’s something new, a nutritious meal, it will give you low blood pressure and abs of steel.” If perhaps Sam explained it that way, our friend would have understood the reason behind the change.

3. Sam should have gotten buy-in from our friend

One of the most effective ways to change is to make the person want to change. If they want to change, they embrace the change. If they feel that they are part of the change, and had a stake in it, they will do everything that they can to see it succeed. Why? No one wants to be on the losing side, and if our friend thought that it was partly his project, he will do what it takes to make the change work. Once he feels that it’s his idea, he’ll want to push forward with the change. If Sam had played his cards right, our friend might have stated, “When we serve everyone this food, who will whine? When after all, this idea was MINE!”

4. Roll it out to the influencers

There is always a group that is highly influential in any group, and they set the trend. If you can get them on-board with the change, then the change is far more likely to happen. The fox, the mouse, and the goat didn’t really do much to help Sam and his cause. But perhaps if Sam had brought in others that our friend trusted (the influencers), they would have “sold” the idea of change as beneficial. Influencers can be at any level, and even at the same level of the people that are going to change – sometimes it helps having that peer allied with the change so it doesn’t give the impression that “big, bad, management” is forcing something upon the masses. Why are so many in the United States driving 4WD SUVs to pick up groceries and take their kids to soccer practice? GM and Ford didn’t push that change on them, influencers in society did.

5. There was nothing in it for our friend

How well did Sam communicate to our friend what the benefit was for eating the green eggs and ham? None, as I recall. Sam just prattled on and on about places to eat them and animals to eat them with, but no clear reward or benefit for our friend. When explaining change, explain how it is going to benefit those that have to make the change. How much more effective would it be if Sam had provided an incentive to eat them. Then perhaps the response would have been, “Hand over the plate, and give me a fork. I’ll proclaim their greatness to ALL of New York!” And remember, not everyone perceives the same benefit the same way – you have to figure out what motivates each team member and what each one will consider a benefit.

6. Not involving the people who were going to have to change

It was clear that Sam knew all about green eggs and ham, but how well did he involve the others in the story? Not much. He basically swept in and announced that green eggs and ham were now going to be eaten. And what is our friend’s immediate reaction? “I do not like that Sam I am” Why do you think that is his first reaction? Well, he may have heard rumors about a horrible new food being introduced, and because those involved in the change management (in this case, Sam) have not involved those who had to change, our friend had no clue what the real story was. Think of your organizational – how quickly do rumors spread when there is uncertainty? By the time that the change is announced, the rumor could be far worse than the actual change. By involving the people that are going to change, they can dispel the rumors and help with the transition.

7. Sam should have led the change, not simply ordered it

Sam was not in a position of leadership; he was more in a position of ordering, or “bossing around.” He was so busy telling our friend how many ways to eat the meal, but did not mention that he ate them himself and liked them. If he could give testimony to their quality, our friend may not be as hesitant. Sam may have said, “I had them last night, they’re quite a good meal; my wife and I loved them, and it made my kids squeal.” Or better yet, he could invite our friend to the meal, and they could all eat them together. If our friend sees Sam eating the green eggs and ham himself (thereby leading), our friend may see that the change is good, and find it easier to go along and make the change.

Obviously, Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) had no intention of writing a book about change management, and the message really is to try something new because you might like it. But look how often we reject changes and have trouble with change, especially since many of us grew up reading this book (born after 1960, anyway). It’s not that change is bad; it’s just that it fails because of a poorly executed plan or poor communication. So, to sum up:

  1. Plan the change, and how you are going to roll it out to those that will change
  2. Clearly communicate the reasons behind the change and what the expectations are from those that are going to change
  3. Get buy-in from the people that are going to change – when they want it to succeed, they will do everything in their power to make it succeed
  4. Make sure that the influencers are on board
  5. Explain the benefits to those that are about to change
  6. Involve the people that are going to change, and make sure that they know what is happening and when so as to controls rumors and mistruths
  7. Lead the change – be the first person to change when it happens – don’t lead from behind the front lines

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

“I am Paul. Paul I am.” Paul Mulvey is a Contract Business Analyst currently on assignment at Cushman & Wakefield. His current assignment has him commuting 4 hours daily on a bus from Eastern PA to NYC, and all he does is just sit, sit, sit, sit, and he does not like it, not one little bit. He can be reached at [email protected]