Try as I could I could not do a one-handed handstand. My arm would not budge as I tried to lift it up. A friend suggested that I shift my body weight? HUH? What a seemingly simple idea. How could that possibly be the solution? As engineer I know about balance. If one thing shifts, it changes the balance of everything else. Of course this would be necessary for a one-handed handstand. Following his instruction I just started leaning and my hand pretty much came up by itself.

Back in the mid-90s, it’s hard to believe now, but the unions actually protested the use of computers for employees. This was a group with Masters Degrees and PhDs who were highly resistant to technology. I recall one heated meeting in LA County. The employees in this group related how they were highly skilled for their jobs: “I have a PhD;” “I teach at university, you did not hire me to operate a computer.” The deputy director, finally exhausted said that they didn’t hire them to read or write either but it is done as part of their job. I was the third change consultant sent to this organization. Did I mention they were also wearing black armbands in protest?

Fortunately for me (not for the woman who became my example) the room looked out on to a parking lot and we could see and hear this woman repeatedly trying to start a car for 10 minutes. Remember, I’m analytical; I pay attention to these things. It was my perfect set up.

I launched into my presentation:

Good morning. I’m Sheila Thorne and I’m going to talk to you about change. No, I haven’t written a book, or done extensive case studies of people in change. I have lived it, just as you are right now. Obviously something has changed with that car. What she is trying is not working. She can sit there all day – and let’s hope she doesn’t – and I don’t think that car will start with the present set of conditions.

And wouldn’t you know it; she tried starting that car again. The crowd broke into applause and one of the guys went outside to assist her.

With change, the basic key participants are: sponsors, stakeholders, advocates and the target population. The sponsors are the source of funding. The stakeholders have a direct interest in the results. The advocates come from the target population and support the changes. And then, the target population is the group most impacted by the change on a day to day basis.

The approach to change is recognizing something is different and in that moment, nothing else matters. It is important for the advocate to engage and present the change as relatable to the target population. The woman with car trouble set the stage to introduce the concept of change. For my workshop, I knew I needed to present a common goal, the one thing those advance degreed, highly passionate work force valued. I gave my session participants an example of how a child’s life was saved using the technology. I said, “You want to save children – this will save children.” I watched a couple of the more vocal opponents’ body language. There was a subtle shift. I gave the names of people they could talk to and my insides did a happy dance as I saw them take down the names and numbers. It’s a message that had to be spread and it needed to come from this workforce. The best advocates were the ones who were vehemently against the program to start.

With change it is guaranteed that everything has to shift. It can be a big shift or a small one, but there will need to be a shift. Just as with one-handed handstand, simply picking up my hand was not going to work, I had to tip my legs in the opposite direction. With sports teams, when someone is injured, it shifts who does what. The status quo is not the same. It is not a judgment of good or bad, just an acknowledgement of change. You know that moment when you are off balance and you shift your weight to stay upright or you brace for the fall. Not doing anything leads to the big crash.

The two lessons on change? If change happens to you, you have to shift. There is a new balance point. If you are implementing change, do not underestimate the power of an advocate. The advocate can be the difference between success and failure.

Back to my session. I had a couple of new advocates in the crowd. The woman with the stalled car had advocates who strongly suggested the car was not going to start. As we were ending the session on change, the tow truck came for the woman in the parking lot. As that car physically shifted to wheels up, I felt my audience had shifted also. We were all wheels up and ready to take off.