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Kevin Costner – Change Agent

By Scott Franklin

Kevin Costner is a well-respected actor – which means that he has starred in a number of major motion pictures and (to date) has not been filmed falling down drunk, leaving obscene rants on voicemail, fathering children with his housekeeper or claiming to be a warlock. He was memorable in “Silverado,” “Waterworld” (yes, “Waterworld!”), and his appearance in “The Big Chill” was tastefully understated.

Mr. Costner, however, is our pioneer member of the “Change Agent Wall of Shame” for his character portrayal of Ray Kinsella in the movie “Field of Dreams.”  The Wall of Shame is dedicated to those change agents who provide memorable, yet dangerously erroneous change advice. To be fair, the bad advice actually came from the voices in his head (which tends to be of questionable value to begin with), but the voices were his and he did follow them, therefore it is his name that goes on the wall.

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, the recurring message is ‘If you build it, they will come.’ The character Ray Kinsella is an Iowa corn farmer who hears voices and interprets them as a command to build a baseball diamond in his fields; he does, and the ghosts of the Chicago ‘Black’ Sox come. (The ‘Black’ Sox were the seven White Sox players permanently banned from baseball for throwing the 1919 World Series.)

It made for a great movie, but the belief in the concept ‘If you build it, they will come’ is the foundation of many failed changes. The failure comes from the unwitting, yet powerful belief that designing the ‘right’ solution is the key to successful change. In fact, many (if not most) organizations have found that reality tends to reflect ‘If you build it, they will admire it from afar.’ Whether it is selecting the right software, designing the right organizational structure, developing the right processes, or selecting the right strategy, successful organizations realize that building the right solution is not sufficient to generate the necessary pull for the organization to adopt and embrace the change.

This is not to imply that finding the right solution is not important. Obviously it is very important, but it is not enough. Successful organizations view the right solutions as the starting point and then focus dedicated efforts in overcoming the natural organizational momentum that resists change. It is often said that people don’t resist change, they resist being changed. Developing the right solution and then launching it on the organization tends to create that ‘being changed’ perception and its subsequent resistance. Successful change is about helping the individuals in the organization manage the transition from the current state to the future state through structured change activities—activities like sponsorship, communications and resistance management. In major changes, these activities can be the majority of the effort.

As expected, Hollywood is more interested in creating feel-good movies than they are in accurately portraying change management principles so let’s not be too harsh with Mr. Costner, lest he be tempted to commit the currently popular Hollywood’s version of Seppuku (known as ‘Sheenuku’ – the ritual suicide of one’s career.)  That ‘other’ wall of shame has plenty of entries already.

 © Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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