Perseverance Pays Off

I have been following news reports about the Citi Bike program in New York City for the past year. I think Janette Sadik-Khan, New York’s transportation commissioner, is a fantastic example of a change agent who perseveres despite seemingly insurmountable odds. From the Wall Street Journal article, Bike Share Blossoms in NYC:

The Citi Bikes were introduced to New York in late May. By now there <have> been more than 3 million trips, more than 6 million miles ridden.

Sadik-Khan leaned forward on a small table in the intersection. “Six million miles! We didn’t anticipate that.”

In fact, in her 6 years as transportation commissioner, Ms. Sadik-Khan experienced all of the resistance to change responses that Karen Pryor, the behavioral biologist we blogged about 2 years ago, predicted:

  1. Ignore you
  2. Pretend to agree, but actually do nothing
  3. Resist, delay, obstruct
  4. Openly attack you (the dangerous phase, but also a sign that change is starting)
  5. Absorb
  6. Utilize
  7. Take credit
  8. Proselytize

… anyone who knew what it was like to ride a bike in the city before this—”the Wild West,” she called it—knew it was a tiny miracle. And it wasn’t just about bikes. Under Sadik-Khan’s six-year run as commissioner, there had been a full reconsideration about how an entire city moved—the way people got to their jobs and their families and their dinners… surveys now showed vehicular traffic was moving at a better rate since the bike lanes and bike share had arrived…

This is making it sound easy. It was not easy. At all. A lot of these propositions were not popular, at least at first. The bike lanes and pedestrian plazas were routinely ridiculed. There were concerns about lost road space, lost parking, too many bikes on the street….

Sadik-Khan expected resistance, but the tenor of anger surprised her, especially at its peak a couple of winters ago. She was grateful to the mayor for having her back. She was now philosophical about it. “I think most of the animosity was about fighting change,” she said. “Challenge the status quo, and it will push right back.”

Now that Citi Bike is a reality, I think Sadik-Khan has experienced an additional response to be added to Karen Pryor’s list:

9. Criticize you for not doing more

Polls now showed strong public support for bike lanes and bike share—in Citi Bike’s case, a 73% approval rating after four months of operation. Politicians who had once howled about bike lanes were now using the blue bikes as campaign vehicles. A city was evolving. People now came up to Sadik-Khan and complained that she hadn’t moved aggressively enough. “‘Why didn’t you do more!'”

Sadik-Khan responds to this criticism in the best way a change agent can:

<In response to the complaints that she hadn’t moved aggressively enough> This made her laugh.

About Michelle Smeby

Michelle Smeby is CEO of wHolistic Change, Inc. with more than 10 years of experience implementing enterprise solutions at Fortune 100 companies. Michelle specializes in helping corporations deliver transformational change.
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