Have you ever seen a line of figure skaters perform what is known as the “whip line”?  The women’s arms are linked together as they form a straight line and then try to rotate the line around the skater at one end who acts as a pivot, with the line “whipping” around her.  It is synchronized skating, where everyone on the team depends on everyone else for safety and performance.

The skater acting as the pivot rotates almost in the same location as the other skaters whip around her in an ever growing radius.  The skater on the end is the one who is whipped the most, as she must skate the fastest and furthest to create the effect.  One slip for her is the most dangerous, as she easily could get run over (and sliced) by the blades of other skaters continuing in the rotation.

Creating change in an organization is a lot like creating a whip line.  Those in the center of the change, the ones who start it, oftentimes have the least impact.  They rotate, but are not affected by the tumultuous conditions on the outside.  The further you go down the line, the more impact the skaters feel — as is often the case with those in organizations.  That great policy that the top leaders suggested — it is the one at the end of the line that feels the greatest implications when implementing it.  Those in the center don’t always feel the speed and magnitude of the change like those on the ends do.

When initiating a change in your organization, you may do well to keep the image of the whip line in mind.  Think of the impact of the last one in the row, rather than just feeling the small impact in your own position.

— beth triplett

Thanks to Dan Larson for the idea.

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