In a Van Down by the River

Jun 30, 2013 2 Comments by

matt foleyDon’t let your next big change end up floundering in a van down by the river!

If you recognize that reference, you may be – as I am – a big fan of the old Saturday Night Live skits about a Motivational Speaker named Matt Foley who was anything but motivational.

The late Chris Farley played this recurring role of a horrible success coach back in the 1990’s.

Foley would typically be brought into a client situation to caution young people that their errant behavior might result in a lifetime of failure – and maybe even end up with their “…living in a van down by the river.” 

Of course Matt knew quite a bit about that worst-case scenario – since most of the time that was his current living arrangement.

I think just about every episode of Foley’s foibles is posted on SNL’s Chris Farley web page, which you can visit here.  Just remember to turn the sound down if you’re watching at work. :o)

062913 tbr Matt Foley In a Van Down By the RiverNote: the awesome stylized graphic of Foley was done by Gyula Nemeth.

See more of Gyula’s work on Dribble here.

Not the Norm for “Motivational”: In addition to being a lousy motivational speaker, Matt Foley was a terrible Change Agent too.  In fact, he was everything his audience should strive not to be.

He was loud and rude, badly out of shape, obviously out of a job, and wildly out of the mainstream when it came to motivational speakers. He also wallowed in self-pity and inadvertently focused on the negative aspects of a given situation.

Of course all of this is why the character was so funny.

If anything, Matt represented all the things one could accomplish with an utter lack of self-motivation. This hilarious character prompted this tip for Change Agents:

Change Agent Tip # 65: Practice What You Preach!

ShutYourYapperMind Your Yapper: It’s been said that the best religion is the one you actually practice… So it’s hard to be very effective guiding others toward the future if our demonstrated behaviors clash with our spoken words. Taking one look at Matt Foley, you might assume he cannot hear the words coming out of his own “big yapper”.

They’re Watching You: It’s also hard for an internal Change Agent to be taken seriously if they openly resist the change they’re trying to convince others to adopt. So when I’m being asked to help my peers adapt to something, I try to monitor and maintain a steady pace of adoption myself before asking others to commit to the change.

If you are an internal Change Agent, I’d encourage you to check yourself… Are you leaning into the next big thing or waiting for others to go first? You’ll want to have at least started your own change process before you ask others to get on board.

mattfoley1You’re As Credible As Your Record: Finally, remember that good or bad, the results of our past efforts are available for all to see. This applies at the individual and organizational level.

Don’t blame your stakeholders if they take into account the results you’ve been getting when they weigh their options and consider whether to go along with your change.

It’s pretty simple. Your results either support a message of “Do As I Did” or “Don’t Make the Same Mistakes I Made”.

Pick one. And be careful not to preach a “Do as I Do” message if the results don’t support it.

I’m not sure if anyone kept score of Matt Foley’s work, but the results he was getting in his personal life didn’t sound very encouraging…

To bring these ideas even closer to home, here are two examples of not following this “practice what you preach” rule that come from my own experience. 

One represents my behavior and another comes from a client executive:

pmi_logo1. So… Are You Certified Yourself? I once lead a National Project Office where we had a goal of improving the discipline and practice of project management across the company. One measure of progress was to track how many of our PM’s were certified by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

As an internal Change Agent, I didn’t get much traction trying to convince dozens of Project Managers in my company to godirect_depositinvest hundreds of hours becoming certified as Project Management Professionals (PMP’s) until I myself had gone through the process.

2. What’s Good For the Goose… I once worked with a client Chief Financial Officer who was among the last people in his organization to adopt Direct Deposit for his paycheck. He held out even as the deadline approached for all employees to cut over to the money-saving new process. I recall how it once made for an awkward Q&A in front of a large employee gathering.  Oops!

The Bottom Line: The next time you’re asked to help others adopt a change, be sure to:

a. Look in the Mirror: Listen to verify that your words align with your actions so you don’t send mixed messages.

b. Stay Ahead of the Curve: If you are also subject to the change, maintain your own progress on change adoption even as you help others.

c. Check Your Record: Avoid using a “Do as I Do” message if your past results don’t support it!


Questions for Chatter:

  1. Have you experienced a situation where no one wanted to “go first” and adopt a change – but once a few people got on board, the rest soon followed?
  2. Is there any part of your internal change that you’re asking others to tackle even while you personally drag your feet?

. tbr green bar


Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

2 Responses to “In a Van Down by the River”

  1. Jen says:

    Greetings, are you the creator of the cartoon Matt Foley image?

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