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Instead of fighting City Hall, you may just want to move to a different City . .

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito holds 2,500 handwritten letters to Mayor Bloomberg, urging him to complete the First and Second Avenue bike lanes. Behind her are Sen. José Serrano and Assm. Brian Kavanagh. Photo: Noah Kazis.

While I was studying engineering at the University of Michigan in the late 80's, I was continually surrounded by the active protests and political movements of students eager to change the world.  The diverse student body of U of M was a hotbed of cultural expressions brought about the intoxicating need to "take on the MAN".  As a young engineer, I would sometimes take on the establishment at work and school with a bull-headed charge which often resulted in bruised relationships and a reputation for being a troublemaker.

Please don't get me wrong, I haven't become a sell-out.  I haven't abandoned the need to be a part of radical change, but I have learned a more subtle, lower-key method of affecting change while not drawing too much attention to myself or my goals.  I am not referring to abrupt political revolution like we have seen recently in the Middle-East, I am discussing cultural changes at work that improve the ability of an organization to manage in the future.  In order to be effective, it is necessary to quantify what needs to be changed, and to coordinate an effort to bring your organization around and aligned with that vision in a given time frame.  The real art of making change has more to do with influencing others to round about your cause, rather than duke it out all on your own.

A practical example would be to structure a skills training program to bring up junior members of the team up to speed in anticipation for an upcoming expansion.  If an ongoing project will need skilled employees in a 12-18 months, the time to start this process is now, not a year and a half from now.  This may sound like simple common sense, but all to often the skills inventory is ignored until the deficiency is causing commissioning problems.  Given the tasks that will be encountered, the needed skills must be identified before anything else is started.  If a half dozen positions are going to be necessary, it is best to identify at least twice the amount of potential candidates.    The skills of these candidates need to be inventoried and a program of training set-up to fill in the gaps.  The development of your team can be evaluated many times along the way to allow for adjustments.  When the time comes to "man-up" for the expansion, you will have a strong pool of candidates to select from.  Those who aren't selected are going to benefit from the development program, and will have opportunities to apply what they have learned in different situations.  Those who are selected will have the skill set needed for success.

Sometimes, the business culture you are in doesn't allow you to shape the future condition in your vision.  This is frustrating and can make life at work miserable. You see a need, but upper management thinks you are off-base.  You may see impending doom 6-12 months off, while your superiors are still looking at the sunny skies of today.  Before you go bull-head strong to change minds, you may want to ask yourself some very reasonable questions (Another managersandwich questions list):

1)  Do you have enough potential supporters in upper management to affect change?
2)  Do you have the energy level to push these points against the grain before it is too late?
3)  Have you been here before?  Were you successful the last time? If not, what are you thinking?
4)  Are you operating an environment where "causing trouble" is going to hinder your abilities to affect change in the future?

Don't take #4 too lightly.  When it comes down to it, you are at work to earn a living.  Don't cut yourself out of the tree unless you have a ladder to stand on.  If you find yourself having to do this more often as you rise in your organization, you may be in the wrong company.  Forget about sunk costs and commitments to the long term.  Slowly and surely you can be taking days and weeks off of your life with internalized frustration and contempt.  When you elevate yourself in your career, but find the ability to express yourself being limited, it is a sure sign to move on.  If you aren't a principal, owner, or founder, you may not have the influence necessary to affect change without support.  Rather than wasting precious energy, time, and your sanity, it may be in your best interest to find an organization more in line with your philosophy, or split off on your own.

Instead of fighting City Hall, find somewhere better to hang your hat. Find a place where there aren't so many oppressive rules.  Do a favor, and leave a fowarding address, so those who believe in you can still find you where you land.


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