Posted: 02 Apr. 2021 5 min. read

To amplify impact, make change

(This is the 10th post in the Breakthrough Manifesto series, an exploration of Business Chemistry and how to tackle solving really tough problems. If you missed the introduction, read it here.)

“These things will change.” —Taylor Swift

The 10th principle of the Deloitte Greenhouse Breakthrough Manifesto is make change, by which we mean: be a champion for change, embrace flexibility, and always keep evolving.

Speaking of change, the potatoes in my pantry have started sprouting green and purple shoots. I know better than to store potatoes in the refrigerator—their starches turn to sugars that can produce potentially harmful chemicals when cooked—so I store them in the pantry, which is cool and dry, to make them last longer. But I made a mistake; I put onions in the pantry too. And it turns out that onions give off gases that encourage potatoes to sprout. 😐 It's not like I wanted to keep the potatoes forever. Indeed, I fully intended to make them disappear completely—I had plans for a pot of soup. But it seems the potatoes, and their onion friends, had plans of their own. So I've decided on a new agenda as well. Temperatures are rising in New Jersey (finally), and I'm going to put those sprouted potatoes right into my garden with the hope that soup will be on the menu again when fall approaches.

"What am I going on about?" you might be wondering. I'm talking about change, and about how we experience it, and about how some potatoes left too long in the pantry actually provide quite a bit of insight into the role of change at work and in life, and how we can make the best of it, even if it's not what we'd hoped for. For example:

I took precautions because I didn't want my potatoes to change, or at least not as soon as they did. Similarly, at work and in life, there are often things we hope will not change, and we may try to prevent it.

Influenced by an external factor, my potatoes changed anyway, and not in the way I'd hoped. At work and in life, too, things often change when external factors are introduced, and we may not like those changes.

If I had moved more quickly to actively change the potatoes as I intended, I would have had more control over the situation, and it may have turned out the way I wanted it to. Given my (lack of) actions, it would be fair to wonder whether I was hoping my potatoes would transform themselves into soup on their own, or with the help of the onions. But since I was passive, the change got away from me and took on a life of its own (literally). When we don't actively engage with the changes happening at work and in life, they, too, are likely to take on a life of their own and leave us with little control.

Despite feeling a bit vexed when faced with the reality that the transformation of my potatoes would thwart my soup agenda, I pivoted and embraced a new direction. We often must do the same at work and in life, even if the change we're experiencing wasn't on the regularly scheduled program we'd been counting on.

Now that I've accepted the inevitability of my potatoes changing, I am eager for them to continue doing so, and I'll do what I can to help them along the way. I hope I'll be rewarded. At work and in life, we sometimes get on board with changes later rather than sooner, but then we can be part of the solution, nurturing, rather than resisting the change. And sometimes we're rewarded for doing so.

Change is inevitable, as we all know, but it's still sometimes unexpected. It can also be unwelcome, scary, and exhausting. And yet, it's critical to progress, to innovation, and even to survival. In the Deloitte Greenhouse, we conduct business not as usual, and our goal is to help leaders and teams reach breakthrough, which, by definition, requires change. And so this 10th principle of our Breakthrough Manifesto advocates making change, but not just for sake of change; we're talking about change that makes a difference, change that matters. But what does that mean?

Meaningful changes may be dramatic, like a tsunami, but they can also be subtle. Consider the butterfly effect: the idea that a minute change in initial conditions can have drastic effects on an outcome. Meaningful changes can be rapid, like the chemical reaction that causes an explosion, but they can also be gradual. Look at evolution: The pace is glacial, but the stakes couldn't be higher. Meaningful changes can result from direct action, like the ripples on a lake's surface that result from a stone being thrown in, or they may result from a catalyst being introduced. Maybe you've heard about the cascade of indirect ecological changes that have occurred since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park; among those changes, the wolves keep elks on the move, which prevents them from overgrazing on willow stands, which allows beavers to thrive.

Meaningful changes can make things better, or they can make things worse; which experience you have may depend on your perspective. For example, climate change is likely to spell disaster for penguins, who depend on sea ice for breeding, but may be a boon for jellyfish, who will benefit from an expanding habitat as waters warm. Meaningful changes can affect multitudes, like the development of a life-saving vaccine, or they can affect just one being. Recall the starfish who was thrown back into the sea in Loren Eiseley's The Star Thrower: "'You can't save them all, so why bother trying? Why does it matter, anyway?' called the old man. The boy thought about this for a while, a starfish in his hand; he answered, 'Well, it matters to this one.' And then he flung the starfish into the welcoming sea."

There's no one-size-fits-all for meaningful change, nor do we all engage with change in the same way. I've written before about how and why Business Chemistry matters when change is afoot, and I won't repeat the details of that post here, but I hope you'll read it to learn about how the strengths and challenges of each Business Chemistry type can influence what they're likely to contribute in times of change, how they may each need help adjusting, and what strategies you can use to get them on board with a change. Here, I'll offer some thoughts about how the types are likely to relate to different kinds of change.

Pioneers are most likely to embrace big, bold change and to make quick decisions based on gut feel, with only a cursory consideration of the risks. More gradual evolution may not feel fast enough for them. Indeed, Pioneers may not be willing or able to stick with a more slow-and-steady change; they're easily bored and prone to switching direction as a result of shiny object syndrome and squirrels. Their flexibility, adaptability, and ability to pivot can be highly valuable, especially in times of rapid change. But other types may sometimes feel Pioneers are making changes just for the sake of change and may view them as reckless. Others may also feel Pioneers have little understanding or empathy for those who are more reluctant to embrace change.

Guardians, on the other hand, likely have an extra dose of status quo bias and may be more comfortable with change by degrees. They tend to deliberate about decisions—it's important for them to conduct due diligence—but once a Guardian decides to start down a path, they'll typically stick with it because chances are that decision was based on extensive analysis. Moreover, Guardians can often foresee the possible domino effects of changes that others may not be aware of. Therefore, they may be reluctant to shift direction if they know it will cause a lot of rework or have other undesirable implications. While Guardians are often recognized for keeping teams and organizations safe in times of change, other types may also see Guardians as too careful and too conservative, resistant to progress, and frustratingly unwilling to accept any exposure to risk at all.

It seems there may be a sweet spot between chasing every squirrel that skitters past and staring down a long string of dominoes. Maybe what's ideal is a balance between the Guardian's tendency to get stuck in a rut and the Pioneer's constant turning on a dime. Imagine a Pioneer–Guardian partnership. It may initially sound like a recipe for frustration, but there is great potential in this combination, especially when it comes to bold changes that present significant risks and also require sustained follow-through. The Pioneer will likely encourage going big while elucidating the considerable rewards that can come from embracing considerable risk. The Guardian will balance the Pioneer's bold approach, outlining potential implications and advising prudent choices.

If a Pioneer is able to get a Guardian on board with a big change, they can be more confident that they are well-positioned to make the best of it, having cleared the higher bar presented by the Guardian's caution. They can also rest assured that, once convinced, the Guardian will stay the course to bring the change effort over the finish line. Indeed, in his book Originals, Adam Grant highlights research that suggests "...our best allies aren't the people who have supported us all along. They're the ones who started out against us and then came around to our side." And "...it is our former adversaries who are the most effective at persuading others to join our movements. They can marshal better arguments on our behalf, because they understand the doubts and misgivings of resisters and fence-sitters."

When you pair Pioneers and Guardians, you get the power of opposites working together. And just like Pioneers and Guardians can make effective partnerships in times of change, so can Drivers and Integrators.

Drivers don't usually shy away from change or risk and may enthusiastically embrace both once they've analyzed the key data points. They'll likely support big, fast changes—Drivers are known for generating momentum—but a more gradual evolution can work for them, too, as long as things are moving forward and continuously improving. Drivers are particularly good at making tough choices and don't mind pushing for an unpopular change if they feel it will bring results. Since Drivers aren't prone to either introspection or second-guessing, they'll likely make a decision and move on—their eye is on the prize. This ability to focus can be a strength, but to others, it sometimes looks like tunnel vision. Once a Driver is locked in on a target, it can be difficult to shift their perspective, and other types may experience them as inflexible and unyielding. Moreover, Drivers may roll their eyes at the idea they should build consensus, gain buy-in, or practice diplomacy, and as a result, they may end up driving a bus with no one on it.

Integrators, generally speaking, aren’t averse to change, but fast changes may not go down well. For them, consensus isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a priority, and it takes time to gather input and get people on the same page. As empathic question-askers and listeners, Integrators are great at sensing other people's reactions and emotions, and they can be a fantastic resource for understanding what people need in the face of change. Chances are they're also good at communicating in ways that build trust and rally the troops to get behind the change. And they're likely to stay flexible, adjusting their perspective and approach as they consider new information, additional input, or shifting context. But other types may see Integrators as being overly inclusive and taking too long to make decisions because they’re trying to make sure everyone is on board. And once they’ve taken absolutely forever to make a decision that includes everyone’s input, the Integrator is still prone to changing their mind. That can feel to others like never getting anywhere.

A partnership between a Driver and an Integrator may be just the ticket for finding the middle ground between an empty bus with faulty brakes hurtling toward its destination and one that meanders aimlessly, picking up one passenger after another until it's overcrowded and overheated. This type combination may be especially powerful in the face of a change that's sensitive or initially unpopular, but requires a groundswell of support to succeed. The Driver can be counted on to jump-start the change, make the tough decisions, and push for progress. Meanwhile, the Integrator can be relied on to keep a close eye on how the change affects people, sensing their reactions and needs. A Driver who is very committed to making a change happen will likely benefit from getting an Integrator's help with communicating with sensitivity about the benefits and the challenges it may bring and adjusting the change strategy as required by people's responses. If people follow those they trust (and they often do), Drivers and Integrators together likely have the best chance of getting others on board.

Actions in summary for encouraging your team to make change:

  • Engage actively with change to avoid losing all control
  • Stay flexible and embrace new directions when change is inevitable
  • Pair Pioneers with Guardians to make bold changes that present significant risks and also require sustained follow-through
  • Pair Drivers with Integrators to make changes that are sensitive or initially unpopular, but require a groundswell of support to succeed

As the Business Chemistry blog series on problem solving wraps up, explore the final post which takes one last look at the Breakthrough Manifesto through a new lens: Questions.

And if you simply can't wait to learn more about our Breakthrough Manifesto or how the Deloitte Greenhouse Experience might help your team attain breakthrough results, explore and get in touch here.

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Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Suzanne Vickberg (aka Dr. Suz)

Research Lead | Deloitte LLP

Dr. Suz is a social-personality psychologist and a leading practitioner of Deloitte’s Business Chemistry, which she uses to guide clients as they explore how their work is shaped by the mix of individuals who make up a team. Previously serving in Deloitte’s Talent organization, since 2014 she’s been coaching leaders and teams in creating cultures that enable each member to thrive and make their best contribution. Along with her Deloitte Greenhouse colleague Kim Christfort, Suzanne co-authored the book Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships as well as a Harvard Business Review cover feature on the same topic. She also leads the Deloitte Greenhouse research program focused on Business Chemistry and is the primary author of the Business Chemistry blog. An “unapologetic introvert” and Business Chemistry Guardian-Dreamer, you will never-the-less often find her in front of a room, a camera, or a podcast microphone speaking about Business Chemistry. Suzanne is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a doctorate in Social-Personality Psychology from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. She has lectured at Rutgers Business School and several colleges in the CUNY system, and before joining Deloitte in 2009, she gained experience in the health care and consulting fields. A mom of two teenagers, she maintains her native Minnesota roots and currently resides in New Jersey, where she volunteers for several local organizations with a focus on hunger relief.