Saturday, June 10, 2006


I knew a director who decided to make some changes in his department.

There will be no problem, he assured me, because no one will be losing any money. There will be just a few changes in job titles and reporting relationships. I warned him against it, but he was determined to proceed. (One aspect of consulting is you can tell clients where the mine fields are located, but you can't keep them from running past the warning fences.)

Of course, all hell broke loose. People felt that their status was being lowered and, in some cases, that they were being set up for failure. The advantages that the director saw were quickly dismissed by his associates. Many of them believed that the change was a sign of displeasure in their current performance. As the feedback rolled in, the director backed away from the proposal and chose to make some incremental changes.

The episode was a reminder of how much an economic benchmark can miss when measuring human relationships. The director would have experienced roughly as much opposition if the changes had been accompanied with pay raises.

The difference between social and technical change was the major lesson of that episode and yet the related subject, status, receives less attention than change. In today's workplace, with its cubicles and egalitarianism, any discussion of status sounds like a desire for drawing rooms and snuff; a return to the bad old days of lavish executive perks. I believe there are some less kooky alternatives and that the issue deserves more analysis. I'm going to be reviewing some approaches to status in the weeks ahead and will be posting them.

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