Making a difference even if you’re not in charge

make a differenceHave you ever seen or heard of an employer, particularly tech employers, doing some cool things or having great employee engagement policies and then though “But I don’t work there”?

You’re not alone; some of us look at other leaders, who are really innovative trailblazers and say, “Shame, that’s not my boss.”

You may not be able to impact the whole of your organisation, but you can make a difference to your colleagues, your processes, and your organisation’s customers. You just need to think about it differently. So here is a three-step process you can use to make a difference even when you’re not in charge, according to Daniel Pink, author of the book ‘Drive’:


1. You have to ask the right question

Most of us do not have the ability to change an entire organisation, or perhaps even a department, but asking how we can change the entire organisation or department is the wrong question. The question you should be asking yourself is, “Is there one small thing I can do better tomorrow, or this week, to make things a little bit better?” And in almost every circumstance, there is.

If you look at some of the big changes in workplace policies and at some of the cutting-edge HR practices that companies have implemented, they often started that way: with one person saying -I’m going to do something in my job a little bit different.


2. Be strategically subversive

This is an important second step. The key is to think about breaking the rules just a little bit. Try and experiment a bit within your own remit and do it strategically. The genesis for a lot of these great practices is the one person who says, “You know what, I can’t take it anymore. We’ve got to do things a little bit differently. I’m not going to ask for permission to do it differently, I’m just going to do something.”

If it doesn’t work out then nothing more needs to be done, however, if it does, then maybe you can start talking about it to your colleagues and managers a little bit more. It’s that strategically subversive move that has lead to a lot of innovations in organisations.


3. Lead with results

PeoplePower_BetterResultsIf you go to your boss and say we need to do things a little bit differently, we need a bit more autonomy here, we need to start doing Do-It-Yourself performance reviews, or we need a FedEx Day, then the likelihood is that you will be met with a negative response. So don’t lead with Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Instead, always frame the pitch to your manager in terms of results and discuss what specifically will happen to your company if your change is adopted.

What would be the difference in response if you said;

“I would certainly self-actualise faster if I had a little more sovereignty over my time,”


“I’ve got a better way for us to come up with some ideas and it’s simple to implement,”


“I’ve got a way for us to get employees more engaged which could lead to an improvement in customer service scores.”

You’d get a more positive response with the later phrases, so always lead with results.

Remember to follow these three steps and you’ll have a fighting chance of making the changes you want, even if you’re not in charge.


John Sylvester

John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.
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