The link between organisational change management and building sandcastles?

A sandcastle on the beach, with a wave approaching to wash it away

Here comes the corporate tide…

On being a Change Agent…

A while back, I was having trouble explaining what it is that I do to my peers and even more troubling – to my family.

I know now how to do it between levels 5-8 of the lift, or walking from coffee to the office, or going up an escalator:

‘Change management is the role where someone makes something, and I help people use it’;

or, in the ICT world,

‘You do the bit from the keyboard forward, and I do the bit between the chair and the keyboard’.

There is, of course, a lot more complexity to it – but earlier on, when I was struggling to put a name to the thing that I do, knowing intimately what is was, this is what I came up with – hope you enjoy the narrative, reproduced from the original, spelling, grammar and all.



My new job. Well, it is like building the most magnificent sand-castle on the beach… You never quite finish it, but it is still a beauty, and has lots of input from everyone else on the beach.

Everyone puts all their heart into it, knowing that it is something that they all contribute to, and will be great when it is done, and will represent the combined desire and needs of everyone in their sand-castle.

Alas, some didn’t make it down to the beach, or they went to another beach, or they were invited to an exclusive beach somewhere else, or even had their own private pool, or worse still, couldn’t make it to the beach, because they were working.

Some sent their friends to let you know what they wanted their part of the sand castle to look like, some sent friends with shovels and spades to help, some even sent hair-spray and glue, to make sure that the sands didn’t blow away.

There are those who are sand-castle experts, having made them before, who guide us. There are those who like digging, so they dig. There are those who don’t like digging, but can’t do anything else, so they dig anyway. Some just like fancy finishes, so they do them, some like to make sure that the moat is full, some like to make sure that the courtyard is full, some like to make sure that the rooms are big enough for what we want to do in them, and some just want to watch and provide ‘expert’ advice.

It is quite a big sand-castle, almost a chateau, so by the time we get to doing some of the work on bits towards the end, some parts need to be fixed from when we were working on it in the beginning., Some of the earlier bits, well, we didn’t really know what we wanted at the time. So we have to take some of the sand away from that bit. Some of those bits were glued harder than others, but we revel in the challenge of taking down some of the bits without upsetting the sand in the rest of the castle (or any of the sandcastle team). Some of the rest of the castle fell away when we took out the old bits we didn’t want, even though we put things in place to try and stop it from happening.

All the while, the corporate tide comes in and out, sometimes closer to the castle – and we wish we had moved further up the beach, where the sand is softer, alas it is harder to work with and to get it to stay put, and where the water is further away, making it hard to stick everything and make it stay together. Although, Sometimes we end up with the same issue anyway, as if we had of built further up the beach anyway.

There is weed and kelp, and seagulls, and shells, and corporate rock pools.  Sometimes we take a break from our sand-castle, and in the spirit of the beach, and the ‘Australian way’ of beach life, we help other people with their sand castles, or we go surfing on the corporate waves (being mindful of sharks, box jellies and other such menaces, but where there is also clown fish, and some amazingly pretty and very useful things mixed in). Always going back to our sand-castle, because it is not quite finished – either the new stuff, or the repair work, or the remodelling of the bits that we didn’t want or changed our minds. It is a labour of love and community.

I spend my time, telling people about our sand-castle, and looking at other ones. Seeing things which would be great for ours, and offering others ideas that we have tried for ours. I make sure that the people who couldn’t turn up themselves to help with ours will be glad when they see ours, and I take them pictures, and show them parts of it, and tell them our ideas about what we are going to do to it tomorrow, and I ask them what other things they would like to see – more shell-designs, different shapes, little flags and battlements, and big welcoming porticoes and drawbridges over the moats and things.

Then I go back to our team and tell them what everyone wants, and we work out a way if we can do that tomorrow, while doing all the other things. I also make sure that the people making other sand-castles know what ours looks like, and what it is going to look like, so when we join them up to make a bigger and better sand-castle, we wont have to do too much remodelling, so that we know where we will meet neatly.

I also make sure that everyone who is going to use the sand-castle later, knows what features it will have, and how to use them the best, so that things don’t break, or we have a sand-slide, or little grains erode away, faster than we can stick them back on.

Sometimes, there are issues with the weather. We have some people helping with the sandcastles who watch the weather for us. – the sound of rumbling Crackberrys in the distance and executive storms. We like the storms, because there isn’t enough rain, further up the beach for the dune restoration, and to stop the sand from blowing away, so that we can keep making our castles. Though sometimes the storms do blow up more weed and flotsam and jetsam on the beach, and we have to deal with that, taking time from making our sandcastles, which we love.

But, mostly, the storms that bring more sand are good. At the end of the day, we look at what we have built, and we are happy. We know we have lots more work to do tomorrow, making new stuff, and doing some repair work, and some renovations, but we retire for the evening, with plans and dreams of the work we are going to do on our sand-castle tomorrow. Sometimes, the executive climate is calm and the Crackberrys are silent, while we sleep, snuggled up with our friends who help us to make the sand-castles.

Sometimes, during the night, the storms lash the coast, the Crackberrys strike from the clouds above – sometimes between clouds and sometimes bridging the heavens and the sand. Creatures from the deep are angered, and some are tossed up on shore, beached and stranded. Some gather together, and herd the little fishes close to the shore, ready to devour them in a frenzy, but sometimes, when the governing moon is just right, and the conditions turn sour, a king tide hits, and all but wipes away our sand-castle. There is a maelstrom of sand and corporate sea and executive wind.

We are sad.

Some don’t have the energy to come back the next day and start digging again. Some are frantic, and try to protect the sand-castle, but most stand on the (dry part of the) shore, and watch their work wash away, to be returned back to the sea. And then, when the sun comes up, we start again.

AND I assure everyone change is good