Over the Thanksgiving holiday I found myself in a gift shop chock-full of unique and interesting items. One sign (that was for sale) struck an immediate chord with me because it’s right on target with the business issues I often encounter when helping organizations adopt BPM programs. The sign said simply:

Throughout 2011, my colleague Claire Schooley and I have published research that focuses on change management — what methodologies and best practices to use, how to organize for change management, and pitfalls to avoid. But the “you go first” part of the sign grabbed my attention — it’s a great point. And to be honest, I haven’t seen a data-driven body of research about the pros and cons of going first in initiatives involving substantial change. If you know of something, we’d love to hear about it. Just add a comment to this post.

Probably everyone can think of the reasons why you shouldn’t go first:

  • There’s the old saying “Pioneers get an arrow in their backs.”
  • It’s risky (see bullet point 1).
  • Prototypes, pilots, or early adoptions are often half-baked and you waste a lot of time experimenting.
  • Going first may mean that you don’t have time to adequately do your “day job.”
  • If you go last, you get the benefit of all the feedback from those poor guys who went first!

I’m sure there are many more — but I’m a “go first” kind of gal. I like change and I think change is good for organizations to keep the business from going stale. If the change is outside-in, all the better. Here are my personal reasons why you should consider going first:

  • Leadership. You get to participate and learn from the experience before others do, and help lead the charge. If change is inevitable, why hang back and be last? If you go first, you not only get to learn and participate before others, but also to communicate the results and share in the praise.
  • Learning. Change very often involves personal growth — which is a good thing, no matter how difficult the path may be.
  • Clout. If you are the first to participate, you have instant credibility because you’ve learned through experience. If you hang back and critique from the sidelines, your observations are not based on experience and are much less credible than the leaders who went first. (Ever heard of the “peanut gallery”?)
  • Visibility. Management is always interested in learning: Who are the supporters? Who embraces change? If that’s you, it can be a big career boost.
  • Personal brand. Everyone has a personal brand, whether you realize it or not. If you add descriptors like “supportive,” “leader,” and “risk-taker” to what people say about you, you will build your personal leadership brand.

Remember, if you embrace change, you must be willing to:

  • Experiment
  • Fail
  • Pick yourself back up
  • Learn from the experience
  • Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.