So exactly how LONG should you wait for Change?

The other day I was in a conversation with a long-time rebel (first-time caller) who has been tirelessly constructing a radical new work practice for an organization. For years. Except that now he’s gotten kind of tired. Perhaps you might even say fed up. His ideas are not really moving beyond the prototype stage and it’s been…years.

“People keep telling me that ‘Change Takes Time’ but my question is: How much time is TOO LONG?”

As a card-carrying member of the “Change Takes Time Fraternity”, I realized I had never asked myself that question. Sure, real change takes time but when does that truth become just empty words for the Status Quo to hide behind?

My friend had worked some of this out for himself.

“Many organizations realized the need to move into a different model at around the same time. A decade ago. Most of them now are well underway into making the transition. Some have completed it. But we’re still futzing around.”

“That’s how I know our change is taking too long.”

Rebels need to have an idea (maybe even a timetable?) for how long it takes to complete certain types of change in comparable organizations. They need to use this information (cleverly) to establish expectations not just for themselves but also for the organization around them. Because in most change initiatives, the Status Quo remains in fact the most important player.

I can imagine it would be quite effective to let the bureaucratic black belts know what the typical transition time is for comparable change initiatives. Status Quo leaders may not always buy the idea for change but they are quite inclined to support the need to keep to a schedule. And talking explicitly about how long you expect something to take and “how long too long is” will also prevent the passive-aggressives in your organization from availing themselves of one of their favorite techniques–using the unmonitored passage of time to wait the rebels out.

Finally, having a clearer framework in your mind to help you determine when change is taking too long will help you avoid rebel burnout. Rebel self-care is essential and yet most rebels are horrible at it. We really do suffer from the sunk costs phenomenon, particularly because our sunk costs usually represent emotional and psychological investments.

Rebels sometimes also need to think about whether they are prepared to stay in their position long enough to see a particular change through. Are you strong enough to hack away at your organization’s undergrowth for let’s say five years to make something happen? ┬áBe honest when you answer that question. Because change takes time.



  1. As a corporate community manager, I’ve been storming the walls of tradition for several years now. Here are some things that keep me going:

    1) I’ve built networks across every level of the organization and have found supporters on the quest to a powerful open and engaging collaboration culture. These allies are essential.
    2) I’m idealistic – I always shoot for far more than what most deem necessary/acceptable. By aiming high, I keep making dents, keep making a difference – lots of little steps happen on the right path.
    3) I’m optimistic – to a fault. Whatever the situation, I always find a nugget, something positive to keep me going, to keep me juiced to shoot for more, to try again.
    4) I’m realistic – I know that things take time, I see the realities, I see the people, the culture, the traditions. I have a simple take – social is here to stay, collaboration is here to stay – those who are not ready to embrace it are on their way out. I’m a digital immigrant – my generation is on the way out – that makes me smile. Yes, change takes time – but so what. IT WILL AND DOES HAPPEN.

    The realist in me keeps me grounded, the optimist keeps me bouncing and the idealist keeps me flying. It’s all good – never as fast as I’d like it – but looking back I can see a wealth of change that’s already happened. All good!

    • Carmen says:

      Daniel: Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful comments. I agree with everything you’ve said. Optimism is the greatest form of rebellion!! Adelante!

    • Lois says:

      Daniel: Well said! Realistic optimists get great work done, and live good lives.

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