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Don’t be the Guy in the Red Shirt when Change is Afoot….

I loved Star Trek as a kid (and as an adult but I only wear my Cling-on mask at the weekends or for the occasional alcohol induced fancy dress party) but I was always amazed at the fact anyone heading down to the planet on what seemed like a bit of an exotic exploratory caper with James Tiberius Kirk and the legend that is Spock always got eaten or lasered by something that looked like a cross between Kim Kardasians buttocks and a melted down Boris Johnson. In short if you were wearing a red shirt:

  • You were there for the ride. Well for as long as the ride lasted.
  • You were going to get pasted in the near future.
  • Be prepared to deal with the title ‘Red Shirt Man 2’ at the closing credits.


This ‘Red Shirt’ phenomenon quickly became the accepted process within films to demonstrate just how much peril the hero characters were in and to show just what could go wrong.

Every business goes through change on a regular process – more regularly if the business is struggling or is proceeding into previously unploughed markets. The impact on staff can be exceptional or terrible depending on how the process is managed. However by taking some personal responsibility and taking control over the things you can control (ie your own behaviour) you can make the process work to your advantage.

However in my ‘change rich’ experience the most common reaction I see among the willing or unwilling participants in the process is one of ‘sure it’ll be grand, lets just play along and hope that someone else sorts us out’… ie lets get that red shirt on and hand over my destiny to the script writers. Time and time again this profound helplessness is tangible, a snow blindness which blinkers and inhibits otherwise creative and independent professionals. So in order to survive the ‘Red Shirt’ Phenomena the following is offered as the non-definitive list:

  • Have a thorough understanding of why the change is happening and what the potential outcomes might be out the other side – this includes developing an empathy beyond your site, department or vertical.
  • Understand the motives and the touch points you can access and potentially influence in the process. Try and stay in the ‘neutral zone’ for as long as you can before you make your move.
  • Be positive, be supportive to both management and colleagues. Smile. It’s a change management process not a mass genocide at Hogwarts. How bad can it be.
  • Have a life boat. The amount of good people that thought they were indispensable to an organisation and who were then dealt the fatal body blow during an ‘efficiency focused’ change management process are many and varied. During any change process take some time to understand what else might be out there – even if the change is likely to be positive for yours truly.
  • Don’t fight the process. Change is inevitable whether you believe it’s required, wanted or designed in the right way. Put your energy into yourself, your colleagues and your personal brand.
  • Learn. Learn at every stage of the process. They are skills and experience you simply can’t take from an academic course or a book and there is every chance you will need them again in the near future.


Of course who you really want to be in a change management process is Spock. Logic aside, you know he’s never getting killed off and with those ears he has clearly listened better than everyone else. Plus he really is needed in all future series. For the bullish and charismatic among you perhaps James T Kirk is an option.. not for me.. he had to wrestle with some rough stuff, fake interest in a green envious female and shoulder the responsibility for the entire Enterprise.. a heavy load indeed.

Finally for the ‘Trekkies’ out there I am aware that statistical research indicates that actually per head red shirts were less likely to die than gold ones. Unfortunately that doesn’t work for the analogy and would make an otherwise terrible blog much much worse…. 🙂

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