Educate, Agitate, Organise

Motivating change

[This first appeared as a Guest Blog for Sayers Solutions, May 2013]

I was going through the family heirlooms and found my dad’s old Trade Union badge blazoned with the motto, “Educate, Agitate, Organise”. It’s a phrase that I haven’t thought about for a long time. It’s good though, when you look at it. If you want to get something changed, this is how to do it, summed in three words.

Educate – “Did you know that…?”

Agitate – “Don’t you think we should…?

Organise – “Then let’s go do…”

There you have it, how to lead change in three words (and an awful lot of work in the background, glib phrases on their own aren’t enough).


Do you have a message you want to get across? Is it something short, meaningful and bound to make an impact on the people you tell? If it isn’t, can you re-phrase it so it is? Consider the things you don’t know. Your customers and colleagues have their own messages they want to tell you if you give them the right opportunity.

You can’t change everything at once so look to the benefits. See which change has the biggest impact and who gets the most out of it. Check that it’s feasible and the benefits easily outweigh the costs. That means measuring them and knowing your present baseline. Like I said, an awful lot of work in the background, but it’s best to put the effort in at the start and do something worthwhile. 


Having chosen to make a change, you’ve got to motivate people to go along with you. You need a compelling story that appeals to your audience. Where you have more than one audience you may need more than one story. But you have to maintain your integrity here. You can’t go about telling everyone what you think they want to hear. Apart from the fact that it’s just wrong, they will catch you out eventually. 


Now comes the dull, hard part. You’ve chosen your Big Idea, everyone’s raring to go, now you’ve got to sort out the practical stuff of who does what, when. There are libraries of books on planning so I’ll not try to cover it here. I will say though that you need to invest more in the change than you do in the hardware. Projects often fail because they spend a lot on the new kit and then try to do business change on the cheap, squeezing it into people’s day-jobs instead of investing in it properly.

One final thing, don’t treat these three as a sequence of events. Look on them more as a loop. As you learn lessons, re-educate. Agitate constantly, keep up constant communication. Organise flexibly as circumstances change around you.

So far I’ve failed to find out who invented the phrase. It’s got roots in Victorian socialism but I haven’t traced its author. Could someone please tell me? I think they deserve a bit of acknowledgement.

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