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Change Management 101 – People Come Before Things – Chris Laping

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Author – Chris Laping – Co-Founder & CEO, People Before Things – Former CIO of RedRobin

A couple of years ago around New Year’s, our family went to Florida and enjoyed a really wonderful vacation at Disney.  We bought a three-park pass, which gave us the flexibility to hop from one park to another.  While the crowds and lines were really tough to deal with, we had a blast!  Our favorite ride was at Hollywood Studios – perhaps, you’ve been on it – Aerosmith’s Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.  The wait for the attraction was more than two hours so we only got to ride it twice, but we still talk about it like it was yesterday.

Like most roller coasters, there was a weaving line that felt like it was at least three miles long.  As we approached the front, we felt the energy of the ride as we saw happy, excited, and not to mention, really scared people jumping in a roller coaster car that was fashioned to look like a stretch limo.  I remember staring through the chain-linked fence that was positioned at the front of the line and watching the limos line up.  While I like roller coasters a lot, I wasn’t sure how I felt about what I was witnessing.  You see, the “known for” on this attraction is that the beginning of the ride immediately starts by launching you from 0 to 57 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds!  While the full ride wasn’t visible at any point during the waiting process, witnessing that amazing launch alone built a mound of anticipation for all of us.

Two hours of waiting and visualizing the unknowns led to this moment…we were up!  Our family jumped in the limo, and luckily, felt pretty locked in.  No fears about safety.  Check.  I looked over at my then 9-year old daughter and thought, “I’m a terrible dad!”  She looked back at me, grinning ear to ear, and I realized she didn’t agree with me.  “I’m a cool Dad!”  Check.  The ride started with a slight jerk that faked us out but granted us a few more seconds to collect our thoughts.  “This is going to rock!  The wait was worth it!”  Check.  Then, the speakers behind the headrest filled our ears with Steven Tyler, the singer of Aerosmith, counting down.  Boom…just like that, we were fired into a very dark tunnel lit only with strobe lights, Aerosmith blasting over the sound system, and immediate speed consuming our senses!

Here’s what I’ll tell you about that ride: Even though you can see other passengers launch into that dark tunnel before you jump into your limo, it absolutely takes your breath away.  Even though you talk about the ride for hours in line, sometimes with strangers who have the same fear and excitement, it takes your breath away.  And even when you’ve been on the ride before and know exactly what to expect at launch, it takes your breath away!

This experience reminds me why the work of Change Leadership is so important.  Change works just like that Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster ride.  There’s long anticipation and build-up, people have a pretty good sense for what’s going to happen, and in some cases, have already experienced something similar.  Yet, time and time again, when something big changes at work, it takes our breath away.

My motivations for starting this blog are simple.  I’ve worked in the IT space for 24 years and have seen many companies introduce new technology with the hope of building more efficient and effective organizations.  Almost every single one of those projects started with the same promise, “if you invest in this new technology, it will be a game changer.”  If it’s not those exact words from someone in sales, then you usually hear from an interested insider, “when we get this new solution, it will free up our people’s time to add more value.”  Here’s the punchline: Technology will never do such a thing on its own.  In fact, if we want to launch a transformation in our organizations, we can only do that by first honoring the human experience and how it can dramatically change the outcomes of any implementation.

This, and future blog posts, aren’t intended to provide a human resource guide to team member engagement and workplace happiness.  It certainly isn’t a ’10-step guide to succeed with technology.’  God knows, if these truths were evident, I would be writing a different blog.  Rather, this is a journal of experiences and lessons that remind us that if we are going to change our organizations, truly change them, we have to put people before things.  Some experts call this change management, some believe it’s part of the project management discipline and I personally have labeled it Business Transformation, at times.  The truth is, I don’t care how you brand it – what’s important is that you should always think about the people before you think about the things.  Always.  More to come!

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Chris Laping

About Chris Laping

Chris Laping shares more than 24 years of information technology, business transformation and change leadership experience through his recently released book, "People Before Things," and a boutique consultancy, People Before Things, LLC. Prior to this work, Mr. Laping enjoyed 14 years as a CIO across three brands including GMAC and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. He has been recognized by the Economist, InformationWeek, and ComputerWorld for various leadership accomplishments and the work of his teams has been highlighted in four published books. Mr. Laping frequently does speaking engagements across the country. He lives in Denver with his wife, three kids and golden retriever.


  • archie

    True words – people b 4 things…I think that’s a slogan for a good life all around

  • Chris – Couldn’t agree more here. People are infinitely more complex and complicated than “things” or technology in my experience. Regardless of how well you prepare them change is always an individual choice. Technology can be fixed, reprogrammed, adjusted and even scrapped when it doesn’t work… People not so much. That being said, it isn’t impossible to win the hearts and minds of those undergoing the change but it requires communication and finesse. There’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to do it – I look forward to hearing more about your approach! BW