Championing Unfortunate Policies

When wrapping up her presentation to the management council, Marjorie, the Director of a continuing care facility, knew that the event had not gone well. Her facility was required to participate in the restructuring of the continuing care system across the region. She was expected to lead her facility`s transition into the new structure. Marjorie knew that her skepticism about the new structure came through. She could feel that the managers in the room were not looking forward to opportunities for innovation but to a less engaging future.

Leading change sounds like an attractive role. It conveys a sense of initiative, innovation, and discovery. Wouldn’t any leader want to lead change?

Your attitude towards that change makes a difference. When you believe that an organizational initiative is going to improve things for clients, employees, and the organization, it’s easy to be enthusiastic. What’s not to like? You can present your ideas with enthusiasm, inspiring your colleagues to devote their talent and energy to the project. You develop an organization that is more productive and fulfilling while building the resilience of your team.

But too often, managers have the less engaging task of implementing an unfortunate change. Much of the public sector in most countries over recent years has been implementing austerity. There’s less money now than previously and the future does not look any brighter. Often such shifts are described as doing more with less, but actually they turn out to be doing less with less. Change management often turns into implementing policies that are distressing to employees as well as for service quality. The leader’s task is more to minimize the damage than to make progress.

A few points to keep in mind when implementing unfortunate change:

  • Evaluate the policy. Take time to understand the thinking behind the policy. Identify rationale for the policy change. Ask questions and assure that you have accurate information. Be prepared to respond to challenges and skepticism that others may express as the process unfolds.
  • Make up your mind. Before taking any action with your team, make a decision. You may decide to support the change. You may feel it’s your responsibility to implement executive policy regardless of your opinion. You may believe that regardless of the unfortunate implications of the policy, it’s better than any available alternative. The important point is to know your position before you act.
  • Consider the alternative. It may be that you cannot support or help to implement a policy. If that is your decision, it may be time to consider a career change.


  1. I’m reading this in the context of Wendell Potter’s poignant article today in the Huffington Post. It may not be a new business policy or change which needs to be implemented; it may just be more of business as usual that leads–as in Potter’s case–to such consideration of a career change.

  2. Thanks for pointing towards this article. It is an example of a value conflict with the organization that is so great that it prompts a decision to stop working for that company. In this case, the individual found a value conflict that only came to light in a life-or-death situation. Sometimes these value conflicts emerge during a change process in which the company pursues a new direction. But in either case, it requires individuals to make critical decisions.

    Furthering your values through your work is a joy, but it’s often a struggle to do so.

    All the best,

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