You can be forgiven if you don’t recognize Arnold Vosloo’s name. In fact, you have to be a bit of a movie buff to have a chance at this one – and by movie buff, I mean you don’t leave the theater until the credits display key grip or you know what C.S.A. stands for. For the non-buffs, Vosloo is the actor who played the character “Imhotep” in the 1999 movie “The Mummy” (i.e., he played the mummy). In the category of “Best Portrayal of a Resurrected Supporting Actor or Actress” (not yet a category, but under consideration), Vosloo is an Oscar shoe-in. He is also a brilliant change agent.

During the filming of “The Mummy,” director Stephen Sommers was providing Vosloo with a deeper understanding of his character. Mummified almost 5,000 years ago, Imhotep has been resurrected by accident, and a number of steps are required to allow him to fully rematerialize. During the re-materialization steps, Imhotep gains increasing control of his body. This control is achieved in discrete steps, based upon his acquiring the necessary elements for full resurrection – elements such as organs, a human sacrifice, skin, etc. As he acquires these elements, he becomes less zombie-like and more human.

Director Sommers was offering this information as constructive coaching to Vosloo in how these elements would affect his character’s motor skills and therefore Vosloo’s on-screen portrayal of the character. As a director, Sommers understood what he meant and what he wanted. Vosloo, however, was stumped. Finally, he went for the change management jugular and simply stated:

“Just show me what you want me to do.”

In change, we often focus on the high-level, organizational aspects of the change such as the background, business drivers, financials, benefits or results – i.e., reduced cost, employee engagement, increased sales, etc. These results or benefits, however, are the end result of individuals doing things differently. What is surprising is how often a change is introduced to the organization without defining the specifics of the new behaviors. This is not to imply that change can be mandated. Knowing what we want people to do and getting them to do it are not the same thing. It is important, however, to know what we want them to do.

This may seem like common sense, yet the majority of the change efforts I have been involved in tend to be surprisingly vague on specifics. I picture myself as the affected employee and ask the question, “What do you want me to do?” Guidance such as “be more efficient” or “reduce costs” are not as helpful as you would think. Direction to “perform root-cause analysis on 100 percent of failures” or “record 100 percent of customer calls in the CRM system” or “talk weekly with five operators about machine-specific issues” is pretty direct and gets to the root of the change.

Vosloo was lucky. Sommers adapted his style to Vosloo’s needs and demonstrated what he was describing, and “The Mummy” was born. So in your change efforts, be prepared for the Vosloos of the world. Know what you expect and be prepared to explain the specifics. As an additional perk, you will also be able to remain calm when a 5,000-year-old skinless zombie asks for help.

About the Author

With more than 20 years of experience in organizational design, change management and delivering sustainable improvements, Scott Franklin is a well-respected authority on organizational change, specializing in the leadership responsibilities of change management. A Prosci-certified change management professional and a certified trainer for Prosci’s change management programs, he brings specific expertise in the areas of creating a combined learning organization in parallel with a strengths-based organization while simultaneously creating a culture of execution. You can reach Scott at changemgmt@LCE.com.