How to make changes in your workplace

Apr 26, 2012

Have you encountered mistrust, skepticism or even contempt when trying to bring change to your workplace? What should a leader focus on? Why is it so hard to do what seems to be the right thing?

These are common questions faced by organizations trying to make changes in the workplace. Chris McGoff, author of The Primes: How Any Group Can Solve Any Problem, discussed the key obstacles -- and how to get past them -- Thursday at 1 p.m.

Gallery: Ten obstacles to change in the workplace
More about The Primes

Hi everybody. I am excited to be exploring THE PRIMES with you and am grateful to the Washington Post for making this possible.

The PRIMES are as old as fire, as unavoidable as gravity, and are embedded deeply in the human experience.

Let's chat!



What are ways to effectively communicate with leadership teams if I am a so-called "worker-bee"

Speak 'into' their listening. Leaders, like all of us, have a pre-determined 'listening'. If you talk to them outside of this realm of listening they literally can not hear you.

Before talking to them ask yourself:

1. What is the leadership team trying to do RIGHT NOW?

2. What is making that hard?

3. How can I link what I want to tell them to that?


There is tension in my company between two groups who have to collaborate from time to time. Every interaction turns into a battle, and it's been this way for ~ 3 years. Attempts at collaboration have not worked, letting the mid-level managers know has not worked, and there is burnout happening among us minions. Is it worth going to upper management, or should us minions just look elsewhere for work?

One thing is certain. If the problem has been 'tolerated' for 3 years ... nothing is really at stake. The rule is we fix what matters. Now you are begining to sense 'burnout' creeping in. As these stakes get more apparent the problems will be resolved. Leadership has a chance to pre-empt this burnout by getting involved now. Approach them. I have much more to say on this common occurance. Contact me.

Any general advice for a driven, young professional entering a new group of peers and clients? Something you wish you knew in your entry-level days?

Put your focus squarely on BUSINESS OUTCOMES. Get clear on the critical path to the outcomes. Become important to causing those outcomes. Become close to the people on that path. Don't worry about the others. Keep work and friendship separate.

I work for a very large company, and sometimes it seems impossible to implement any changes or ideas. Everyone says they hire from diverse educational backgrounds, different age groups, etc., because they want fresh perspectives, but when it comes to allowing employees to carry out new ideas or experiment with new processes, bureaucracy gets in the way. Any thoughts on how to combat this?

Implementation is ALL that matters! You and your group need more POWER. POWER is a function of 1) Shared Perspecitve, 2) Shared Intent, and 3) coordinated action. Power is easy to generate. See the following PRIMES: POWER, PERPSECTIVE, CORE, REDPOINT. These PRIMES will reveal how to generate the power required to break the back of the current state.

I have noticed that very few organizations welcome healthy discourse. If you bring up something to a supervisor about an ethical issue, he/she just donesn't want to hear about it. So new employees learn quickly the code of silence. But this can lead to big problems in the long run if the problem is not taken care of in the short run. What do you think?

You have embedded many BELIEFS in your question, and you have asked a vital question. PLEASE look at the PRIME PERIMETER. This PRIME will reveal how to generate clearings for extraordinary conversations. Contact me.

What's the most direct, ruthless piece of feedback or advice you would give to middle managers in the public sector who are resisting changes in the workplace?

Face this all the time. Two strategies. First, the situation is being tolerated by this person's boss. What is up with that? Second, my experience is that this individual has determined that the 'cost' of resisting change is less than the cost/risk of driving change. SEE PRIME LAGGARD

It is stated in your bio that you work with Government agencies and in the private sector. Do you see a difference in how these two entitities welcome and adopt your strategies. It seems to be that Government agencies are more dysfunctional than the private sector because there is no personal financial investment at stake. Also, is one of your clients the GSA or the Secret Service?

Great question. Straight answer: For my 30 years and Michael's 35 years of experience in a variety of sectors throughout the world, we see no difference in how people respond to the PRIMES. The PRIMES are part of the human experience.

Have you ever dealt with leaders who were clearly reluctant to change, despite knowing that they were in the wrong? How did you make good on your promise to deliver results with such barriers?

People's perceptions of themselves are their truth. Begin by not making them wrong. Take on the belief that all (most) people are rational and they make rational decisions WITH THE INFORMATION THEY HAVE. The last part is key. PLEASE look at the FEEDBACK PRIME. It will instruct you in how to get this person some information, offered from a place of caring for them and standing for their greatness, that may in fact bring them to a willingness to make a different set of decisions in their life. RIGHT MESSAGE. RIGHT TIME. RIGHT PERSON, RIGHT WAY. RIGHT TIME ... and most important ... FOR THE RIGHT REASON. Check it out.

Some key words: Human Resources are people and should not be lumped together with other resources such as equipment, building, etc. When that is done it smacks of dysfunctinalism within the workplace. Another word: Human Resources Management: in reality it is controlling employees - so what you get are employees who learn not to say anthing.

It riles them to beleive that we percieve the web they weave ... and keep on thinking free. (Moody Blues - 1969)

HR is HR because HR is HR. And we get to do what we choose. BE PRIME


I've been browsing the Primes slideshow... do you have a "favorite" or are they just different?

I am in the middle of a crisis response for a very large organization today and tomorrow. I am DEEPLY leaning on FACTS-STORIES-BELIEFS. This is a tricky situation and the people are responding very powerfully to this distinction. So right now - it is my favorite.

Yesterday I was working in an organization that has been around for quite some time. We leaned heavily on MUDA. So that was my favorite yesterday. What is yours?

How do you effectively get people to "have the meeting in the meeting" when the norm has been to keep quiet and voice opinions only after leaving the room -- primarily because folks are afraid or reluctant to publicly disagree with leadership?

Great question. Simple answer:

1. Use shared display and document meeting activity in front of everybody.

2. Make it clear - if it ain't on the screen, it never happened and does not matter.

3. Introduce PERIMETER PRIME and make sure the room is safe for those RED DOT moments.

Contact me. This is critical to resolve. And not terribly difficult. But very wasteful and destructive if not resolved.

4. Also - make sure everyone agrees to a rule: SILENCE is OVERWHELMING AGREEMENT.

My boss is an extreme micromanager. He's always over our shoulders, into every project, has to know about every meeting, etc etc. Is there anything we can do to instill more confidence about our abilities in him? Or is this just a personality issue we're going to have to learn to live with?

Micromanagers are everywhere. And they limit their own careers as their 'way of being' cannot scale.

There are 4 reasons people take on this behavior. Each has its own treatment. It is more than I can go into here.

I am happy to discuss further off line.

For now consider this: At the right time (FEEDBACK PRIME) make a request of your manager (REQUEST PRIME). Ask him or her to interact with you in a manner that allows you to be powerful and productive. Don't try to change the person. Simply ask to have your relationship occur to you a certain way. He or she will usually say yes.

You have lots of experience with "Beltway" consulting and defense contracting. What are your thoughts on the Pentagon cutting almost 500 billion dollars over the next decade from defense budgets...from a business development perspective? And how can your methods help?

I am agnostic. I hold the cut as outside my span of influence at this time so I ask the question, 'With the cut as a given ... what possibilites are created for extraordinary outcomes?' The cut is really not a DoD issue as they can handle that with little effect. The difficulty is with Congress when the DoD comes and says here is how we can cut and here is how the cuts land in your backyard. This has always been the source of the waste. My clients in the DoD see this as a great possibility! Will Congress blink?

Hi Chris. It seems that the 'millennial' workforce is rapidly growing in Government, yet not all agencies have kept up with how to accommodate new ways of working with this generation. What would you advise millennials do in order to adapt into these workforces? Have you seen good examples where organizations are changing to adapt to a multi-gen workforce?

Millennials - you are GORGEOUS beyond compare and carry the internet in your holster. You will jockey a spreadsheet at 1 AM IF someone explains the context ... how the job you are doing relates to the greater whole. You seek three things in your work life: 1) Make a meaningful contribution, 2) Work with people who value excellence, 3) Work with people who live in integrity.

DEMAND the context your crave. You deserve it. Leaders - take the time to provide the context to your young work force. Your time will be rewarded.

Are leaders born or made? How can you become the most effective leader you can be?

MADE. It is a skill that can be learned. We are all leaders and we are all followers - as we move through our day in various situations.

ANYONE can lead.

Keep in mind - I do not stress the distinction LEADER (noun). I stress the distinction LEADING (verb).

The PRIME LEADING distiguishes Leading as:


1. Set direction.

2. Align resources.

3. Inspire Action.

4. Be accountable for results.

Anyone can do this. Even me. Definitely you.


When working in an office that has a huge bias toward "consensus" building and "approval" processes for all sorts of activities, how would you suggest challenging that bias for more deliberate action?

The bigger issue is this bias towards collaboration. That will kill you. PLEASE look at the PRIME LEADERSHIP SPECTRUM. The huge myth is that people like collaboration. The second big myth is that co-creation is the only way to cause co-ownership.

Decision processes are totally situational. Emergency response REQUIRES command and control - AND EVERYBODY LOVES AND OWNS THE OUTCOME. Visioning and stratgegy might benefit from a more collaborative approach.

Managers and leaders do not have the right to bring only one preferred style to the organization. They must master the full range of decision processes and get good at selecting the one the situation dictates.

Look at the LEADERSHIP SPECTRUM PRIME and give me a calll if you want to discuss.

Chris, What are some of the best skills managers should work on to get more respect and productivity out of junior staff? Laura

Establish 'creative tension' (CORE).

Provide context.

Speak into their listening.

Care for them enough to give them developmental feedback and be sure to follow the insights revealed in the FEEDBACK PRIME.

My son has great technical skills. He loves to write code and solve computer problems and has training in highly technical scientific programing. He is not, however, interested in day-to-day management or humdrum work. It seems like every manager he's encountered likes the political one-upsmanship better than getting the actual work done. He's considering moving to another company but I'm afraid it has the same drawbacks for him. Any advice?

Make sure your son knows 'MOVING RARELY SOLVES THESE KIND OF PROBLEMS'. Read Herman Hesse's 'Journey to the East'.

I think you have imprinted on your son. Notice how you distinguish what he is not interested in as HUMDRUM. HUMDRUM is a story about how these management activivites are occuring to you and your son. I doubt these activities occur as HUMDRUM to others around your son.

What if your son could MASTER where he was. From that place of power he could go anywhere. It is much better to be DRAWN to something than feeling compelled to LEAVE something. There is no "over there!"

How best to function in an organization where executive leadership does not walk the talk -- to the detriment of the organization because important decisions are made for the wrong reason -- and that executive leadership expects senior leadership to walk the talk?

CRITICAL QUESTION. At the center of this issue is INTEGRITY. There are 2 PRIMES that are absolutely universal - everywhere we see these PRIMES adhered to, we see high sustained performance. When violated we see system decay. The two PRIMES are INTEGRITY and CONGRUENCE. After you internalize what these PRIMES reveal - contact me. Because there is a right and wrong way to bring this matter to the attention of the leaders. Literally one way works and the other does not. I can walk you through this.

A colleague and I are considering launching a technology company that will require substantial R&D investment - funds we do not have at the moment. How do you balance "bending the universe" with practical constraints? When do you know that it's time to quit planning and just jump into it, while being sure that you're prepared enough to weather the inevitable speed bumps?

Planning is a near-death experience. Smart money places very little value in planning as smart money knows that the purpose of a plan is to give you the gumption to get on the court. Once out there the world will start instructing you on WHAT IT WANTS (OR DOES NOT WANT) from you and your product. Smart money invests in people. Answer three questions 1) What market do we intend to serve? 2) What ALREADY felt pain do they experience and want to solve? 3) what unique thing do I bring that solves that pain?



That's all for today's discussion. Thanks for joining in!

In This Chat
Chris McGoff
Chris J. McGoff, founder of Washington-based consulting group The Clearing Inc., has spent the last 30 years developing a comprehensive approach to helping organizations drive to consensus and solve problems of consequence.

McGoff is also the author of the recently published book for leaders, "The Primes - How Any Group Can Solve Any Problem."

His client list includes most of the agencies of the U.S. federal government as well as a wide range of organizations such as IBM, AARP, Consol Energy, DuPont, the United Nations and Boeing. He has facilitated strategy sessions for over 10,000 government and industry professionals.
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