I was hired as a change agent — and now my company is backtracking

A reader writes:

I was recently hired as a change agent designed to bring a new skill set into a well-established department. My manager identified several areas for performance improvements during the interview process. I’ve made an effort to learn about those areas and be delicate when making suggestions or asking questions.

However, it seems that my manager has changed her mind because the team doesn’t want to change anything or learn anything new. She’s no longer open to these things that were said to be necessary. Most of the team has been here for 20 or 30 years and usually rejects my expertise. The response is always “We’ve always done it this way.”

This responsibility is half of my new job and I’m not sure how to proceed without any buy-in.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • The title I was offered isn’t the job I applied for
  • How should I handle a couples dinner with someone who has offered my husband a job?
  • Do I have to disclose to interviewers that I’m thinking about grad school?
  • What’s the etiquette of asking to extend interview travel?

{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. What's in a name*

    Unfortunately, it seems that the change agent never gets any love. I know a women who was hired at the VP level with the assignment to make changes. She was let go a year later when nothing really changed because that’s easier than forcing everyone else to actually change.

    1. Lora*

      There’s a few ways to force it down people’s throats.

      1) the Kaizen way, where you put everyone who cares deeply in a conference room with pizza and don’t let them out until the change is made. (This is oversimplifying quite a bit, but basically you make it happen so fast that people don’t have time to get upset about it.)

      2) start from scratch, which can mean “fire everyone and start over” or “create a new department to take over the function of an old department, and then have the old department do something else”

      3) very intense training of individuals over several days

      4) automate it and the computer / robots will do it however you tell them to

      And you have to physically take away the way they used to do it. If you can’t, it’ll be a looooong slog. And there’ll still be people who you have to tell, “do it the new way or you’re fired”. If you can’t…then it ain’t gonna happen.

      1. Amadeo*

        Yes to the “taking away the thing that allowed ‘the way we used to do it'”. My first design job after obtaining that degree was at a newspaper still using Quark 6. I learned how to navigate it, hated it, but used it without much complaint. There was another fellow there, who had been with the paper for a couple of decades, give or take (and is still there, though I’m long gone) in the creative department with me and two others.

        At one point during my tenure we made the switch over to Indesign. I and the other younger designer were delighted. OldTimer not so much. There was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and we just about had to remove Quark from his computer to make him use Indesign. He only converted fully after he was gone on vacation and all of the weekly ads he did were converted in his absence (and the old files moved to a DVD disc where getting to them was a pain in the butt).

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          We used to have a designer who refused to use anything except Corel. Corel! For magazine and newspaper design. Finally printing companies had to start telling us they wouldn’t accept Corel files any more, and so she was going to be forced to change…so she quit and went to work for a total Corel guru. I don’t know if she ever did convert to Quark and then InDesign (she died unexpectedly several years ago), but I would guess not.

          It was *nuts*.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            I’ve finally gotten almost everything changed away from Publisher- except one random flyer I had to open last week. But only because the new boss was “Why are we still producing all these things with Publisher?” It’s not exactly the same as at least it still exists and is supported, but why do people insist on holding tight to software that makes every blasted thing so hard to do?

            1. Whats In A Name*

              Because they worry if they don’t “get” the new software they will be out of a job. And people hate change. That being said I agree with you 100%

              1. Kathleen Adams*

                I sort of get that, but what seems more likely to me is that avoiding the new software is actually a much surer way to be out of a job. Sooner or later, you are not going to be able to use Quark – or Publisher – or Corel, for God’s sake – any more. And then what happens?

                1. Whats In A Name*

                  Intellectually I agree 100% but I don’t think people think that way when they are that adverse to change. They just think plugging away the way they have has been – safe, so stay safe.

                  Kinda like the squirrel running back to where he came from when he feels the cars vibrations on the road and getting squished – when if he’d kept running forward he’d be safe. But since he’s never been there he never knows that.

          2. many bells down*

            In the mid-90’s I worked for a dinnerware importer who was still doing all their invoices on an Apple IIe. It had gotten to the point that, if you worked on it for more than 30 minutes or so, the text on the monitor would start to gently undulate before your eyes, before shrinking down to a tiny dot in the center of the screen. They finally replaced it a year after I started there.

        2. Al Lo*

          When I’ve managed big changes, one of the major things I’ve done is work hard to change the language around it. Instead of “the way we usually do it” — implying that the change is temporary — I say, and encourage everyone else to say “the way we previously did it” or something similar.

          I’m also a huge proponent of “good gossip.” I work in a non-profit that serves kids, so we deal with a lot of parents, who are invested as members and volunteers, and who have their own ideas of how things should run, which don’t always mesh with the actual needs of the organization. It’s way too cumbersome to sit everyone down and explain everything, but I make a point of talking about things (policies, changes to programming, benefits of doing things certain ways, why or how we make certain decisions) in public, in areas where I can be overheard. I want our constituents to absorb the information and overhear it multiple times, and when they talk to other parents, they have a little bit more accurate information to pass along.

          It’s obviously not appropriate for everything, but there are many spaces where transparency is a good thing, and the parents and staff appreciate it wherever we can follow that model.

    2. Tin Cormorant*

      A company I used to work for had a lot of systemic issues, and we had a revolving door of HR people. Each one excited to tell us all about all the changes and improvements they were going to implement, each one quitting in a year because there was zero progress. After the first few times, the later ones had it worse because nobody believed anything they said when they started.

      1. Zarathustra*

        Systemic problems? Sounds like you had a leadership problem. In order to be successful people need: Something meaningful to work on
        Expectation to deliver
        Permission to do it
        Sounds like they had the first two, but after that many failures, it seems like they didn’t have the last.

    3. Karen D*

      My GrandBoss handled this in a fairly deft way, I thought.

      The Change Agent (let’s call him “Cal”) knew he was brought in to make specific and pretty big changes, but nobody else knew it at first; he mostly functioned as another member of the team. Then after a few weeks it was announced, “We’re going to be making some changes, Cal was hired because of his skillset in those areas, he’ll be talking each of you more as we go forward and we get the plan together.”

      Cal was respectful, friendly and low-key; he observed, asked good questions and listened to the answers. As the changes were rolled in, he was generous with the credit for particular ideas and /or tweaks. But at no point was it suggested that any change was optional. And people who tried the “we have always done it this way” path of resistance were quickly told “well, that’s changed.” Finally, Cal and management made sure people had the resources (mostly, the training) to implement the changes with minimal disruption.

      Boy, I miss that way of doing things. Since then we’ve been bought by MegaTeapotCo and now changes happen like this” “OK starting Thursday everything is different and there’s a Google Doc at (link doesn’t work ) that tells you how to do stuff now and if you have any questions call (number that goes straight to a voice mailbox that’s full) or try email@alsoneverranswered”

      1. not a paralegal*

        Nothing like telling people at the outset that There Will Be Changes to get a Hell NO! response. Your GrandBoss did it right, too bad MegaTeapot didn’t follow his example.

    4. Mazzy*

      In my experience in a similar role, I had to let a few people go. The key though was that the change was to make more money and cut a few losses. I would have been happy to keep the staff because I needed those positions filled and I spent a lot of time recruiting to fill them. But the people did not want to change the way they were doing things that lost money.

      I’ve also seen a few people brought in at too high a level to make changes. Sometimes VP level is too high to even understand the details of the change needed, let alone to get those people to change

  2. Lora*

    OP1: Was in your situation at ExJob exactly. The boss who hired me left two months after I started and the guy they replaced him with folded like an origami crane in the face of the slightest hint of displeasure (not MY displeasure, everyone else’s).

    Find out what’s going on, and if they’ve changed their mind or for whatever reason no longer want to change, then you have a decision to make whether or not to stay and what your new role would look like since you wouldn’t be changing things.

    Current job hired me to make changes but not only do the managers have my back, half the company does too. There are a few holdouts, but it was made clear to them that this is my circus to run, not theirs, and they backed down. It’s a WORLD of difference.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I was idly wondering if there are ever people who are hired to make changes that actually get to make them! At least without the fire everyone method. I’m glad to hear the unicorn exists! :)

      1. Lora*

        Well, a big part of it was regulatory: they HAD to change or they wouldn’t be approved for the next step in making drugs. They knew it wasn’t optional. And the holdouts are only like, three guys. I got two holdovers on my team from the previous method, who actually hated the old way and were very resentful about it themselves, and were happy to do something easier. The rest of my team, I hired myself. They’d had a lot of turnover in the department specifically because the old way sucked so bad people left, but the three guys were knowledge hoarders and the company feels they can’t lose them. So the three dudes got promoted into more um…cerebral…roles.

      2. Mazzy*

        I almost could say yes but I had to fire someone who made aggregious changes pertaining to the changes. Ex. We had always lost money on a type of service and didn’t event know it. It was a software glitch. All I wanted to do was have someone enter a few codes differently so it would make money – yes a simple paperwork thing made the difference between losing and making money – and the person just wouldn’t listen.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      When Exjob hired me, my boss assigned me to change the report format first thing. BOY did I get some resistance. But she had my back and eventually my team lead came around when she saw I knew what I was doing (even though I’d never done it before, and I held my ground, which helped).

      I did end up making a concession to the other team in the form of a slightly different template, but at least only the page orientation was different for them. Everything else was the same. Backup really does help.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        You would be amazed how people get so attached with format!

        I changed the format of our church bulletin almost exactly a year ago- mainly a change of page orientation, but also cutting out a lot of repetition (like the office hours in multiple places) and graphics that served no purpose. 95% of the people loved it and said so, but I still get complaints from a couple people, a year later, who insist there are fewer announcements, and one who brought in old examples to prove it- and screamed at me that I was a liar when I took the old one and new one and physically counted out loud in front of him, to show it was the exact!same!number!

        1. General Ginger*

          Screaming (at a volunteer? I’m sorry, I don’t recall if this is paid work for you) over the number of announcements in a church bulletin? Wow. Yikes. I am not even sure if this is ironic, but it sure is…something!

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            Volunteer board member, so egregious, but not as bad as if I were just some normal volunteer. I’m part of the body in charge, so a focus for complaints.

            Still, it was over change in the page orientation and format, and since there weren’t tons of annoying inserts falling out any more, he insists it’s smaller and he’s missing out on vital information.

        2. Zoe Karvounopsina*

          I am having sudden, awful flashbacks to the person who told me my updated powerpoints were ’embarrassing’.

          I will grant that some of them needed a few tweaks, but at least they a) were now IN OUR BRANDING and b) NO LONGER USED PIRATED IMAGES.

          I actually ended up crying tears of sheer fury, this being the culmination of months of people resisting change, and deliberately not understanding IPR, file size, why we…maybe…didn’t want a picture of orgiastic rabbits even if they did match the acronym?

  3. Amber Rose*

    I hope it’s OK to ask this here, but how important are titles? Officer VS Manager, for example, if the duties are the same, what affect would that have?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s always better to have the title that comes closest to describing what you really do. But if you’re a manager with an officer title, you’d just make very sure that the bullet points on your resume for that job make the management part clear — like having the first bullet point say that you managed six people or whatever it was.

    2. MillersSpring*

      It seems like this situation is an example of where the actual job title is not a common one. As in, the employer calls it HR Officer but it likely would be called HR Manager at most other companies.

      I also wondered if the employer is a stickler about only putting Manager in anyone’s job title if they supervise people, not just have “manager-level duties” (meaning above Specialist but below Director).

      1. Anony Mouse*

        It’s funny how the term Manager gets used (or not). I work at a university and my official title is Coordinator, even though my primary responsibility is supervising 50 PT employees. Yet people sometimes assume that my coworker, whose title is Office Manager, is senior to me, even though she doesn’t have any direct reports.

      2. Clumsy Clara*

        This is what I suspect as well. I’d advise OP to be gentle in their asking about it.

    3. Blossom*

      It could affect how seriously other people take you. It could also affect how seriously people take your department, as a result.

    4. J*

      I work at a University and we have a payroll title, which shows how you fit in the university payroll hierarchy, and a working title, which typically matches the type of work that you do. Sometimes the two match, but often they do not. For example, my payroll title is Analyst, but my working title that I use in correspondence and on the website is Grants & Contracts Manager. If I were applying for another job at the U, I’d list my position on my resume as Grants & Contracts Manager (Analyst). If I were to apply for an external job, I’d just use Grants & Contract Manager.

  4. Brian*

    #4 – you might want to ask prospective employers if they offer educational assistance, and look at it as a potential perk of a new job. My employer has a very generous program, and they paid for 100% of my tuition and books when I got my Master’s degree. It did take longer – I worked full time, took one course a semester, and needed five years to finish the program – but I emerged debt free, and am still at the company today.

    That said, I had to get my degree in a field that directly applied to my job to be eligible for their program, so it may not be an option if you’re trying to switch fields.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      My husband got his Master’s in 3 years- they paid 100% tuition and registration, we just had to pay for books and fees. We rented a house within walking distance to save the parking fees, and I think it cost us a total of $5k out of pocket over the 3 years. His university’s masters programs were set up for people working FT- classes and labs all in the early mornings, evenings, or Saturdays.

      You’re right that this is exactly the kind of thing the OP should be looking for.

    2. SometimesALurker*

      If that’s not possible, and your job is entry-level or lower-mid-level in your field, your employer may still be fine with, ore even excited about, your starting graduate school. A bit over two years ago I was a in a similar position — took a new job while applying to schools, and my first choice was in my city but the others were not. I ended up getting into the local program, and when I told my boss “I’m starting grad school but it will only affect my schedule in X small way” (this was a part-time position) her response was basically “congratulations, we thought you might be going to grad school soon based on your resume.”
      Best of luck!
      (Also, depending on your field, if you’re not on there already, thegradcafe.com can be a useful forum — just don’t get sucked into the vicious cycles of application panic that sometimes happen there!)

  5. Sharon*

    Re #1: My current job is in a company full of people with 15, 20, 30+ year seniority and it’s awful. Originally I thought that was a good thing that indicated stability and a good place to work. In reality it means that there is no innovation and the place will be bogged down in inefficient processes that evolved. Those people who work in one company for their entire career have never been exposed to “new” business concepts or best practices like project management, software methodologies or automated collaboration tools. Sure, they can be forced to use things like Sharepoint but you won’t like the result. I’ve tried diplomatically for four years to fix some of the smaller bad processes, and poked around at some of the larger problems to no avail. I’m hitting the job market when I get back from vacation at the end of June. Very sad!

    1. paul*

      I’ve found you really need a mix of longer term employees and new blood coming in for something to do well. Constant churn and burn is *horrible* but if you never have any turn over stuff gets very…I guess cloistered? we do it this way and damn new ideas type of thing.

    2. DecorativeCacti*

      I came up against similar issues in my job. As part of a promotion I was training to do some of the inefficient processes we had, and I would ask why we did it that way. At one point, my manager literally screamed at me, “You haven’t been here long enough to understand why we do what we do! There’s a reason for everything!” She has since left the company, and when I asked our director the same questions, she gave me the go ahead to put in place more efficient processes. Nothing has come crumbling down yet.

      1. paul*

        asking why a process is the way it is before offering changes is good. Shouting at someone for doing that and refusing to share reasons, makes no frigging sense, sorry you had to deal with that.

    3. Sylvia*

      I’ve worked in a place like that. The vast majority of coworkers with that much seniority were fantastic, but there was a small handful of people who couldn’t deal with change.

      I remember a grown man raising his voice and stamping his feet because Windows XP wasn’t going to be supported anymore.

      He worked in IT.

      1. paul*

        We migrated off XP in like 2010 or 11 (way way past time).

        The wailing and gnashing of teeth and anger was amazing to me. I literally kind of grew up on that OS and didn’t take it as badly as several folks.

        1. Sylvia*

          People got all bent out of shape about it. When the end of support came in 2014.

          I learned a lot about how to handle a change at work from that.

      2. Kyrielle*

        When I left OldJob two years ago, we were still supporting one client who was continuing to use Oracle 8 as their database for some stuff related to our software.

        I have no words.

        Well, none that wouldn’t lead to this comment going to moderation…..

    4. ScormHacker*

      OldJob was exactly this! I joined the company b/c of the long tenure of most of the employees. I’d come from a company where if you’d lasted more than a year you were the senior member of the team, so I, too, thought it indicated a stable, pleasant workplace. I was wrong. It was exhausting, and just a daily exercise in futility. I have worked at several companies in my career, and I cannot advise strongly enough to avoid those companies where the majority of employees have been there forever. It’s great for them, but it is a near impossible job for you as newer employee to make much headway (esp. if you were brought it to provide expertise on more current methodologies). I’m still amazed at how much that company loved Lotus Notes (which wasn’t that great when it was current. You wouldn’t believe the freakout when we moved to Outlook in 2011!)

    5. Mockingjay*

      Yes, New Job has turned out to be the same. I was attracted to the company’s stability in a volatile contracting environment. Turns out

      “Stability = Inertia”

      “Longevity = Favoritism”

      Every process change has been blocked or rejected. The long-term employees are threatened, no matter how much I explain and demonstrate that automation will free them up to do more interesting work and eliminate error.

      I am sticking it out; only a few more years until retirement. But I’ve stopped caring.

  6. Statler von Waldorf*

    Polish up your resume and start job hunting would be my advice. Nothing but pain will come from this situation in my experience, I’m sorry.

    To give a bit of context to this, I occasionally do side work consulting with businesses on how to modernize their office. Lots of small businesses don’t use technology well, and I usually can save them a bunch of work by slowly and gently guiding them into the 21st century. My one condition is that whoever runs the business has to publicly be 100% on-board with the change. Without that person’s backing, all the work I would do is completely useless. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. There is nothing more dis-heartening than coming up with a plan that would reduce the administrative workload drastically only to find out that none of it got used.

  7. OP1*

    Wow, it is crazy to see my letter show up in my RSS feed again after all this time.

    I stayed for a year and then took a position that is a much better fit. After I left, retirement announcements began rolling in. An increase in new staff in the department has led to much needed changes. A former coworker said my boss is still very much the same (I don’t want to delve into details), but the tone of the workplace has shifted in a positive direction.

    That being said, I’m glad that I moved on for the sake of my sanity and did not stick around to see the transformation.

  8. MommyMD*

    What’s a Change Agent?

    Someone who brings change to the department? Is this a title or another job title that incorporates changes?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not a job title. It’s an informal way of referring to a dynamic — that you’re hired to significantly change something up.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        Sometimes it seems to be a Sisyphean endeavor: changing the culture without affecting the way higher ups do things, or making any waves.

  9. Mike C.*

    It’s really easy to blame people for being stagnant and unwilling to change, but at the other end of the spectrum we have “change agents” come in all the time. Usually they want to completely flip the tables over without regard to understanding why things are currently the way they are, the people who work the jobs day in and day out, and to our responsibilities to our regulators and customers. They can take the form of consultants or new middle-level managers.

    The number one goal is never to improve things, but rather to change things long enough for it to count as “leaving a mark”. Then like the pharaohs of old, the new “change agent” comes in, tears down and erases everything the last person did, and tries something new.

    Once you’ve been through several of these cycles, it’s easy to understand why the experienced folks get sick and tired of having to clean up the mess and stick to “what works”. Address this problem before concluding that it’s just people who are fossilized and insubordinate.

      1. Mike C.*

        Sure, I can appreciate that. I just think it’s too easy to pin it all on long term employees when there can be much more complicated issues in play.

    1. paul*

      Those are very absolute statements that aren’t nearly universally true. I’ve been through a CEO ( who isstill here but isn’t changing stuff as rapidly now) who was basically hired as a change agent after our last one left/was fired/vanished (the rank and file never found WTF happened) and it’s been pretty positive. We have an actual HR department now, people are correctly classified, community partners have fewer complaints about working with us, our finances are more transparent, etc.

      Yes, there were a *lot* of people that were upset at policies changing at first and yes some of them did quit over it or get fired for failing to confirm to new policies, but this has been a good change and the organization is healthier now.

      I mean, I’ve definitely seen change for the sake of change and damn the reasoning style stuff too, and I get how frustrating that is. But it isn’t accurate at all to think that’s always the case or that the only or predominate goal is to leave a mark regardless of if its good or bad.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Exactly. Goodness knows I’ve seen it too, but I think in most cases, the people really are trying to bring about improvements. Sometimes they just don’t have the experience or knowledge to that make that happen, or to explain to the CEO who heard about some new trend, why that won’t work in her industry/specific company. (Like why the programmer in charge of patches can’t give an accurate prediction of his work load a month ahead, because if he knew what was going to break, when and how, he would make sure the code didn’t break at all…)

        I’ve seen the cycles come every 2-3 years myself, but I don’t think the failures are normally because the change agent just wants change for the sake of change. If it’s because someone wants that, it’s normally someone with an executive title, not the poor worker bee charged with the changes!

        1. Mike C.*

          Ok, rereading that, yeah I put too much emphasis on the false motives of the change agent. I certainly don’t want folks to think I believe the OP had that in mind, nor that it’s the case with every person trying to improve things. I’ve just been bitten by it one too many times.

          The messed up thing is that each time, the improved process would have worked great if it had only been allowed to mature but then management shifted and time to go back to the drawing board.

      2. Mike C.*

        Those are very absolute statements that aren’t nearly universally true.

        No, they aren’t absolute statements. In my first sentence I mention “the other end of the spectrum”, I’m only talking about a portion or subset of conditions. I know what I’m writing about isn’t only the case, I’m simply speaking to the other side of the coin.

        And I’m certainly not against changes or otherwise believe that changes can’t be positive. I’m trying to counter a discussion that tends to come up in these sorts of situations where people just go on and on complaining about long time employees who are too old to change and how trivial a few new changes would be when the reality is that things can be complicated, and simple narratives don’t explain the whole picture.

    2. A Non E. Mouse*

      Once you’ve been through several of these cycles, it’s easy to understand why the experienced folks get sick and tired of having to clean up the mess and stick to “what works”. Address this problem before concluding that it’s just people who are fossilized and insubordinate.

      We are actually dealing with a variation of this problem here.

      Over the years, if the masses complained long and loud enough, whatever change we (IT) were trying to get implemented would be rolled back.

      We are talking industry-standard advances, no “bleeding technology edges” here, supposedly supported by the highest levels in the company. Until the complaining started, then it was “roll it back”.

      In the last year there’s been a management change AND a push for catching up with technology – and oh, the howling! The gnashing of teeth! The new management was absolutely dumbfounded by the resistance, until we explained that, in the past this complaining worked – whatever change, no matter how large or small, would be reversed.

      It’s been uncomfortable for both sides – us, because we still cringe before and during each change, waiting for the blowback; and for the other employees, because they are having to go through the process *and upper management is actually telling them that too*.

      I think sometimes management wants change, but the moment it gets uncomfortable, AT ALL, it’s stop the presses, throw it in reverse, get that new kid out of here.

    3. Optimistic Prime*

      Meh, I don’t know. In cases where I’ve seen a change being proposed – big or small – I’d say this has only been the case a small percentage of the time. Most of the time it’s been experienced people simply unwilling to try something new because they’ve gotten so tunneled down in their ways that they refuse to change. (And it’s not always senior folks – I’ve seen some really flexible folks who have been around 10-20 years and I’ve seen some folks who have been around less than 5 years rant because a process is changing.)

    4. Grapey*

      I agree that it goes both ways. I’ve worn a minor change agent hat within my own organization and it actually worked because I’ve been here 8+ years and knew all the odd stakeholders hiding in the woodwork I’d have to convert.

      Most of the time when I see management bring in external “change agents”, they only focus on one tiny bit of the process and aren’t in the know enough to know who else needs to be alerted. There’s lots of “So we need department X to start formatting their output files this way?” without ever inviting a representative from department X there or “lets get our internal software devs to build XYZ for us” not aware that we have a 4 month backlog from all the other !@&@^# requests previous ‘change agents’ recommended for a different process.

  10. Cautionary tail*

    I was hired as a change agent too. I learned that the company wanted a figurehead of a change agent but didn’t actually want to change and there was no executive support for change. Four difficult years later I parted ways with the company and the changes that I managed to implement were reverted almost immediately after my departure.

    1. ChangeManager*

      Many transformation projects turn out like that. Think about it as an invaluable experience. And no, you can’t make a change without executive support. You can try to get that support from the management though.

  11. Mr Natural Raoul*

    It apparently time for you to move on–CPR to a cadaver is never successful. Your attributes are neither appreciated or properly used, and never may be. I wish I had learned this fifty years ago, before spending way too much time in organizations, not reading the tea leaves. Shalom

    1. Anon Accountant*

      I love this quote ” CPR on a cadaver is never successful”. That’s perfect in so many situations.

  12. ChangeManager*


    Dear OP, as a change manager you should know how to deal with resistance (I mean: what strategies there are, how to use them and what to do if they don’t work). It’s probably because of these skills that you were hired in the first place.

  13. Anon 12*

    I think that 99% of the time when a person or org hires a “change agent”, it’s a lie. Perhaps a well intentioned one, but a lie all the same. It would be entirely different if the hiring manager said “I want to be a change agent but I need your technical expertise” or “I need you as a first lieutenant”. To ask somebody new to roll in and create the receptivity to the agent, make the actual changes and hold the old guard accountable is absurd.

  14. PM Jesper Berg*

    Anyone taking a role as a “change agent” needs to (1) have ability to hire and dismiss, (2) have some budgetary authority, and (3) the firm backing of senior management.

    1. mugsy523*

      I just came here to say, “Yep” to all three of these!

      I was hired to be “change agent” but unfortunately, six weeks after I was brought on board, the hiring manager left. I was left great amounts of responsibility with no ability to hire or dismiss, was given $0 budget and no face time with senior management. Even worse, the job has morphed into a mess of multiple positions with a divergent range of projects and tasks. I have spent all of my time treading water and putting out fires, banging my head off a wall and being frustrated with myself because I care too much over whether or not I’m doing a “good” job.

      It’s been nearly two years and just this week I’ve realized it’s going to be time to move on. I hate job searching, but my current reality is just draining my will to get out of bed in the morning.

  15. MailroomWars*

    OP 1 – Sounds like you are in a better place now. Thought you might enjoy an amusing anecdote from an old job of mine with a particularly seasoned and stubborn receptionist:

    Upper management was really into the idea of everyone reading certain industry publications. Which was not a bad idea at all, but instead of creating a “library”, recommending specific articles via email, or any number of more efficient methods…

    … The receptionist would staple a sheet to the front of the publication with each staff member’s name on it. And the publication would travel, in alphabetical order, down the mail slots in the mail room. Most would cross their names off, whether they had read it or not, and immediately pass it on. But there were a few that hated the concept of being “required” to read anything, so they would hoard the publications and release them sporadically, often muddying the alphabetical order intentionally. This created something of a silent war in the office, with the receptionist lingering in the mail room at odd times to try to catch the perpetrators.

    Unsurprisingly, it would take an unreasonably long time for publications to circulate this way. I made an effort to read them when I could, but one morning, shortly before I left the company, I picked a publication out of my mail slot that was over FIVE YEARS OLD with my name dutifully penciled in since it had been circulating prior to my arrival (and the name of predecessor poorly blacked out). This was a company with less than 20 employees.

    I left five years ago, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that this is still going on, even as some of the publications are going out of print. Amusingly, the receptionist has apparently also never figured out who messes with the system. Taught me a valuable lesson of getting stuck in hamster wheels of my own making, if nothing else!

    1. tiny temping teapot*

      Oh, wow. I feel for the poor receptionist lurking in the mailing room!

  16. Anon Accountant*

    Several times I’ve seen a “change agent” become a scapegoat or quit in total frustration. I’ve never seen it work out well but your experience may be different. In each case management was hesitant to make waves or even say “we hired Sandy to make improvements and please be considerate of her suggestions and be open minded”.

    In one case when changes weren’t successful, only because of such resistance, the poor person hired to make changes was blamed “she didn’t do her job or this would’ve been better”. So management better have you 100% and step in if you encounter a lot of resistance and need their help.

  17. LQ*

    #1 is so timely for me. I’m slowly moving into a role that I think will be change agentey. No one has used that phrase, but the conversations have been about me being someone who makes stuff happens and gets other people to go along with me rather than just charging way way way out ahead. I’ll have some backing but I know there will be a lot of work of convincing people, getting them to think it is their idea, all of that. But I am definitely worried about the position depending on who I end up reporting to. One person? Full on support, full on YES! Change! Motion! The other? Yeah, sure change (but whisper whisper whisper it’s not that much change whisper). There may be lots of the sit down and see where they are at to make them say they are on board with change conversations. Very helpful.

  18. SusanIvanova*

    “Assuming they pay for the travel, would it be acceptable to ask them to schedule flights so that I’m in the city for a few days extra, say for a weekend?”

    It’s been a while since I’ve tried to make sense of flight prices, but it used to be that round trip flights spanning weekends were cheaper than weekday-only, so businesses were more than willing to do that.

  19. Cookie*

    We had a change agent come to our agency last fall (another one of those where employees tend to stay 30! Years and get stuck in their ways). Anyway, she only lasted for about four months and I don’t know what other changes she made except for one requiring us to have a daily meeting to talk about updates. The meeting started at 9 and I got in at 8, which pretty much meant I was just getting coffee and killing time until the meeting started. We kept the daily meeting going a couple months after she mysteriously vanished, but management finally decided once a week is enough.

  20. Coco*

    #1 — If you tried to get your manager’s support to no avail and it ended up looking like you would not be able to fulfill that half of your job, how would you approach a conversation with your manager about your prospects there? How do you frame this sentiment with manager-friendly wording? “You hired me to change things, no one wants to change, and you aren’t supporting me. This is supposedly my job. What am I supposed to do instead? Should I even continue working here?”

  21. Amethyst Anne*

    “We’ve always done it like that.” is said by people who hate change. Without change, things become boring and stagnant.

    That phrase was said alot in the school kitchens I worked in since 1992, until our current food service director started her job 5(?) years ago. We didn’t know it at the time, but she was our change agent. She improved our recipes and school meal menus, jazzed up the atmosphere of the kitchens, and is a proper stopgap between the school kitchen personnel and the administrative staff members of the school system.

  22. Jennifer*

    Unfortunately I heard of an issue like this where the person was hired as a change agent, and when she actually gave suggestions as to what to improve, instead got bullied and written up for what I presume was some sort of charge of insubordination. Little did she know the supervisor can’t stand any ideas that aren’t her own there.

  23. Watermelon*

    #1 was me a year ago, and I think some leadership expected policies, procedures, and office culture would change with the simple act of hiring me. I faced a lot of resistance – mostly because I was viewed as an outsider who challenged everything that had been done previously. “Who do they think they are? Does this person think they are better than us?” I found some success by finding small changes that I could impact and gaining ‘political’ alliances within the organization. However, mostly I accepted that the majority of things were not going to change. Its not that the job is a nightmare – just not what I had been hired for. Once I accepted that premise, my attitude and moral improved, and realized that small successes will help prepare me for my next job in the not so distant future.

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