The Difference Imperative in Action

These examples are imaginary, but give an insight into how challenges to making a difference in the workplace can be overcome.

Example One: the High Street Bank

In this example, we imagine you work in a retail branch of a large high street bank.  You enjoy meeting the public in your work, but branch closures and productivity drives have made your work pressurised and process driven, rather than one of enjoyable interaction with the customers. You dislike how the culture is changing, but you are determined to be effective within it to live your own values, and make a difference.

You worry about the service you are giving, particularly to the elderly, who are naturally slower than other customers to sort out their transactions, and often feel embarrassed because they are holding other customers up.

This is brought home to you dramatically one day as a relatively sprightly elderly customer eventually gets to the front of the queue, only to discover she has left her reading glasses at home, and is unable to read and fill in the form correctly to manage her transaction. She has come a long way on the bus, queued standing up for a long time, and has a panic attack at the thought of having to repeat the process the following day.

You manage to calm her down, and help her sort out her problems, but feel that something is wrong for things to reach this situation in the first place. You therefore decide to do something to make a difference.

You appreciate that you need to do something to make that difference in your own branch first, but believe that if you can get that to work, you want to get it rolled out to all branches.

You therefore determine to become a DIFFERENCE DRIVER. You think ruefully to yourself that if the lip service paid to customer service was more than just words, you would be a Difference Deliverer, because you would be just fine tuning an existing positive mindset. As it is, you are going to have to get outside your comfort zone, and make waves, in order to achieve even the small culture change you have in mind.

So you state your Purpose and Impetus thus:


To help make elderly people feel more relaxed and welcome in your bank


      The memory of the elderly lady’s needless panic attack in front of you in your branch


You develop the following concept:

      A Bigger Smile for the Oldies.

Your personally will concentrate on giving each elderly customer a warm and welcoming smile, and will encourage your colleagues to do the same. Part of you conscious attempt to make elderly people feel valued and unhurried is the provision of reading glasses that can be borrowed by the customers.

You purchase two or three pairs of extremely inexpensive reading glasses of the most popular prescriptions at your own expense, and put up a simple, computer-generated sign saying “Forgotten your reading glasses? Borrow these!” Beside the glasses you place a prominent pack of germicidal wipes, to anticipate and avoid any health and safety issues.

The BRAND you develop is:

    The Big Warm Oldie Welcome

 The brand feels right to you, and partially as a result of stating it so clearly, each time you see an elderly person reaching the front of the queue you can’t wait to give them a warm smile and a genuine welcome. You know they feel less pressurised and, in a small way, a more valued member of the community.

Put a Date on It

In most cases in large organisations it is not just a date. Because accomplishing anything can take time – different departments may be involved, and corporate cultures can be slow to accept change – you may need to map out a more detailed timetable of action to achieve the difference you intend to make.

When each date arrives, a review needs to take place to evaluate whether the goal has been successfully achieved, or the project is producing the agreed results.

 So this is the summary of your Difference Imperative:

Mindset: Difference Driver

Your Purpose: to help make elderly people feel more relaxed and welcome

 Your Impetus: the memory of the elderly lady’s needless panic attack in front of you at your till window

 Your Concept: a Bigger Smile for the Oldies (and providing reading glasses for those elderly customers who have forgotten theirs, to make them feel more relaxed and valued)

 Your Brand: the Big Warm Oldie Welcome

 Your dates:  

            3 weeks to convince by your example others in your branch to make the same difference

            6 months to convince HR and Customer Services Departments to adopt the concept and the brand

           Simultaneously to build up pressure to adopt the initiative by collateral activity – discussion forum on bank intranet, if available

–       blogs on bank website/alternative websites

–       coverage in local/national press/TV if possible

–       work with sympathetic colleagues to devise other means to publicise and extend the brand

Example Two: The Street Child NGO

In this example, the culture of the organisation you work for is daunting, but, as leader, you can, with courage and perseverance, change it for the better.

Imagine you have just taken over as leader of a smallish Non Governmental Organisation. It is a charity specialising in helping street children in Brazil. It has been operating for some time, and is very effective in its on the ground operations, based in Rio de Janeiro.

It has two challenges which you feel are your priorities to address. The first is to sort out its sclerotic Head Office, which is staffed by people who are well meaning, but have been poorly managed over a considerable time. They are now poorly motivated, have low energy levels, and are deeply territorial.

The second challenge is to differentiate your charity from the plethora of charities competing in this area for the compassionate pound and dollar.

In going through the basic work of adopting the Make a Difference Mindset, you have decided to become a Difference Deliverer. Analysing your situation, you realise that you are ploughing a pretty mainstream furrow in helping street children in underdeveloped countries, so you are following an established model, rather than inventing new area of aid to underprivileged or vulnerable humanity.

You feel the more important challenge is to address the problems of the streetchildren. Addressing this with passion and enthusiasm will also energise those of your staff who really believe in the charitiy’s cause, and will give you a valuable insight into who you should encourage to stay with the organisation, and who you might have to encourage to leave.

You appreciate that the challenge you face is intimidating. It is estimated that there are between 200,000 and 8 million street children in Brazil, most of whom are deeply resented by many of the police, and business proprietors (and their security firms). The mass shootings of street children seem to have died out, but there is every indication that murder and abuse of them is still frequent.

The vision (purpose) you develop to encapsulate why you and your followers want to come to work each morning is:

 To give more Brazilian street children back their childhood

The impetus is a simple one:

 Your Impetus

 The terror of children with no home or family being hunted down like vermin

On your first field trip for the charity you saw with your own eyes the fear and severe trauma of children chased, and often brutalised by the authorities, pursuing a policy described as “social cleansing”. The experience left a raw wound on your sensibilities, and you are determined to do something significant to help them.

 Difference Imperative: The Concept

You are facing the twin challenges of inheriting a charity that has settled into a comfort zone of bureaucratic inactivity, and a cause that struggles to stand out from all the other worthy causes, especially in the kids’ sector.

Your first step is to review all the people you have inherited, and you identify a group you feel will be able to see the bigger picture, and will have the energy to fight for the realisation of the vision. Interestingly, there is a cross section of age, class and ethnicity in the people you choose.

You give everyone a chance to participate by announcing two or three workshops to examine the future direction of the charity. Those attending are in a sense self selecting as leaders, and tend to correlate closely to those you had identified as people you want to retain in the organisation.

You set out your vision, and are clear that, although you are a Difference Deliverer over the long term, as you are treading a well worn path in child protection, at least initially, you are going to be Difference Driver to establish some differentiation from your charity competitors.


You will ruffle feathers, and get people out of their comfort zones. Your passion will lead the people following you to do things they wouldn’t previously have imagined themselves doing.

After some heated discussion your team commits itself to the following concept:

Your concept:


Kids internationally sleeping rough at staged events to support Brazilian street children

The sleep ins will be staged in school holidays, with parents’ involvement, on city streets, to dramatise the plight of their Brazilian counterparts. Schools will be encouraged to link up with other schools internationally – either on the Internet, or with schools they already have a relationship with.

As much publicity as possible will be generated, both with conventional mass media (press, TV), and with digital networking. There will also be a specially created website, where mobile phone recordings of the sleep ins can be posted, and blogs and other contributions will be encouraged from children around the world.

The city street rough sleep ins will have two aims. The first will be to bring home the plight of Brazilian street kids to the children themselves and their families (and the public in general). The second will be to raise money internationally to fund hostels and schools for those kids, run by your charity on behalf of supportive children and their families around the world.

The third, unstated aim, will be to put your staff on the spot. Do they support this wave-making activity, and will they give up time to sleep rough on the streets to show commitment to their cause? The ones you anticipated would be positive about the idea are extremely enthusiastic.

Happily, several of the old guard who can see they would be more comfortable elsewhere. The few remaining who don’t immediately leave can see the new direction of the charity and are helped, mainly willingly, to move on to pastures more sedate and unchallenging.

Difference Imperative: Branding the Concept

Your Brand:


The world’s children helping their brothers and sisters in Brazil

The exciting global reach of the brand fits in well with your vision of addressing the very large numbers of street children in need of help and support. If the passion of you and your team bears fruit, you will make a significant impact in providing help to disadvantaged children. Perhaps more importantly, in bringing the world’s attention to the problem, it can begin to be addressed by the authorities at source, with better social security and educational programmes.

Difference Imperative: put a Date on It

So the summary of the example of changing an organisations values from within to make a difference would look like this:

Mindset: Difference Deliverer

Your vision (purpose)

 to give more Brazilian street children back their childhood

Your impetus

 the terror of children with no home or family being hunted down like vermin

 Your concept

 kids internationally sleeping rough at staged events to support Brazilian street children

Your brand:

          the world’s children helping their brothers and sisters in Brazil

 Your dates:     

         6 weeks to evolve the vision and impetus

         1 month to develop the concept and communicate it to your          organisation

         1 month to cope with the organisation fall out, and develop a plan to execute the concept.

        3 months to work through the concept and brand with local    groups and schools

          2 months to finalise plan, timings, and put stage 1 into operation

          3 months to start delivering the brand and to begin rolling reviews of activities and results.

  1 year before first annual review of progress/achievements, and recognitions throughout the organisation

Example three: a small Real Estate Agency

In this example you work for a small estate agency mentioned earlier, which has no stated vision, but a trading policy which could be summed up as:

-we aim to be best at selling or finding property for our clients as quickly and efficiently as possible

Unstated within this is the understanding that the efficiency is in the favour of the estate agency, rather than their client.

You find this both morally ambivalent and lacking in motivation for you personally. Trading in property can be somewhat soulless, and sometimes the practices involved can border on the amoral.

To overcome this, you align your purpose with that of your employer by restating the purpose of the company as follows:

-We aim to lead in helping people find or sell homes – not flats or houses – understanding it is a huge financial and emotional investment

Such a vision of the organisation’s purpose may be more stimulating and engaging for you. Helping human beings find or sell homes, which can be central to their happiness and aspirations, is more worthwhile, and has more meaning, than just dealing in property transactions.

Difference Imperative – Impetus

In going through the steps of your Difference Imperative, you will find an Impetus, to reinforce your part in the organisation’s purpose, very helpful. It will help get the juices going, when your energy levels are low, or office politics seem to be getting in the way of the organisation operating effectively.

Your impetus may be close at hand, or you may have to conjure up your own mental picture, to ensure you get a strong emotional buzz every time you return to it.

 The Impetus is what moves your purpose – the meaning you find in you work – from your brain to your heart. Up to 80% of the work you do on Values Mapping, Purpose definition etc will be brain work. The Impetus helps you get it from your head to your heart, so you deliver the concept (the difference) effectively.

The impetus creates passion. It is passion that enables you to make a difference.

For some jobs the stimulus is obvious. If you work for a small charity helping people deal with social exclusion, then the impetus might be the visible growth in happiness and confidence of individuals brought into meaningful involvement in with the community and the people around them. Or the joy of seeing someone gradually master the language of their adopted country.

The important thing about the Impetus is that you imagine it in full colour, with sound effects, to make it as emotionally engaging and exciting as possible.

Say you work for the estate agency described above. Your Purpose and Impetus might look as follows:

Your Purpose:

-to go beyond merely property dealing, and be outstanding in helping people find or sell homes


Your Impetus:

-you imagine the joy on someone’s face whom you have helped find the home they have been searching for. 

 Or, if you’re not one of the front line staff, imagine a picture you create for yourself of your work helping a young couple move into their first home, where they will live happily and start a family.

Difference Imperative: The Concept

You develop the following concept:

 Helping frontline staff who deal with clients looking for houses or flats to elicit some colour as to the tonal values of the home they are looking for

 After asking the usual questions about location, price, finance etc, refine the brief to establish the Dream Home definition: the style (modern, minimalist, traditional), and the potential (fully modernized, lots to do).

 You recognise that in the relatively sceptical – at times cynical – culture of the business in which you operate, this may initially cause some derision. This is where the courage and resilience – part of the Make a Difference Mindset – come in. You must stick with it until your colleagues understand what you are trying to do, and agree to give the concept a fair chance.

The goal of the concept is to gain competitive advantage over the other estate agents in your market. By genuinely trying to understand what the clients are looking for two benefits will accrue. Firstly, you will get a much better idea of what they are looking for in their hearts, as well as their minds – thus probably saving both you and them considerable wasted time in viewings. Secondly, unlike your competitors, you will show them you are trying to understand and help them, not just flog them a property to get the commission.

Difference Imperative: Branding the Concept

You will have seen elsewhere on this website how important each step is in the mastering of the Make a Difference Mindset.  You will also have seen the importance to your Difference Imperative of branding your concept, and the powerful benefits this brings with it.

At first sight branding your concept within a relatively small group of people may seem inappropriate. This is not the case. The benefits of branding are still highly relevant. Branding a concept makes it much more likely the concept will have been well conceived and thought through. Attempting to brand a woolly or weak concept will reveal its wooliness and weakness, better than any other probing and testing.

What branding will give, assuming the concept to be strong, will be a distinctiveness, colour and texture to the concept, and will make it more motivating, and more memorable.

Back to the example.

The estate agency you work for needs a brand to provide a quickly understood focus, and emotional engagement, for the initiative (the Concept) you are undertaking to make a difference. The difference you make will improve your job satisfaction, and their effectiveness.

After much thinking and rethinking, you decide your brand will be:

Colour in your dream home

The brand aims to capture the essence of their brief to you, so you can show them a place within their budget that they can say “Yes. I’d love to live here”

NB It is important to be balance courage and resilience with open mindedness. If you find your colleagues are starting to warm to the idea, and agree to adopt it (see Put a Date on It, later), do allow them input to refine both the concept and brand, if appropriate. If they can improve on your concept and design, welcome the input.

Difference Imperative: put a Date on It

As with carrying out the Difference Imperative for the personal difference you intend to make to serve more effectively either individuals or society, so with the organisational or corporate Difference Imperative.

Putting a date on making it happen will make it happen. It may not happen by the date you put on it, but it will happen. No date – very unlikely to happen.

The date needs to be agreed with everyone in your team, however large or small that team might be.

When the date arrives, a review needs to take place to evaluate whether the goal has been successfully achieved, or the project is producing the agreed results.

Integrity – the heart of character – is as important in the organisational field as it is in the personal one. Integrity means being answerable– for your attitudes, for your behaviours, and for fulfilling your objectives.

Let’s take a final look at the example of the estate agency Difference Imperative in action – with a date on.

The estate agency you work for.


Difference Deliverer

Your Purpose

to go beyond merely property dealing, and be outstanding in helping people find or sell homes.

Your Impetus

to imagine the joy on a client’s face whom you have helped find the home they have been searching for.

Your Concept

to help clients looking for houses or flats to define some colour as to the tonal values of the home they are looking for (after asking the usual questions about location, price, finance etc, you will refine the brief to establish the Dream Home definition: the style (modern, minimalist, traditional), and the potential

Your Brand

Colour in your dream home

Your Date 

Agreement at the next Staff Meeting to proceed in principle, Next step is to get Board agreement at the following monthly Board Meeting, with immediate implementation thereafter.

These, of course, are imaginary situations, and real life is often more complex, and more difficult. The examples do, however, give an insight into the process of the Make a Difference Mindset, and the Make a Difference Imperative to make it happen.

Remember throughout the process that Integrity – the heart of character – is as important in the organisational field as it is in the personal one. Integrity means being answerable – for your attitudes, for your behaviours, and for fulfilling your objectives.

If you don’t succeed first time at making the difference you want to make – don’t give up. The way to success in most fields of human activity is paved with failures. Re-group, and work out how you’ll be successful next time. And put another date on it. Keep going, learning from each setback. Eventually you’ll succeed.

Once you are successful in achieving your objectives – well done. Take a bow – pat yourself on the back, and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment. You deserve it.

And now move on to the next difference you are going to make ….

(Click here to return to the Living Legacy template.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s