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What we can learn from Barbie about change management

Change isn’t easy in business or in life, but we all have to face some time or another – what can Barbie teach us about change management?

Barbie, dressed in a pink gingham dress, overlooks Barbieland, a vibrantly pink town with various buildings, a treehouse, and more. Change management remains a core of the film.

(Discussion of spoilers and film details ahead!)

What Barbie means socially has been debated for decades. Greta Gerwig’s film about the iconic doll has once again brought Barbie to the forefront of our national discussion about femininity and what femininity means socially, politically, in relationships, and in relation to power. These are all important and relevant conversations when broken down; however, what I found as I had conversations after watching the film was how many lessons about change and change management could be gleaned from the movie. 

Change is front and center in Barbie. First, the main character observes changes within herself which prompt a choice to ignore what is happening to her and maintain the status quo or to step out of her comfort zone and confront what is happening, essentially embracing the need to change something. 

Barbie’s initial reaction is not only to resist change, and she emphatically states that she doesn’t want to change. This reaction is similar to what many employees experience when presented with a change in the workplace. Kate McKinnon’s Weird Barbie astutely points out that change is already happening, and what the character does so well is uses what she knows about Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) to create understanding and buy-in for the necessity of the change. 

Weird Barbie expertly manages change throughout the movie by recognizing that resistance to change exists, addressing the needs of those who will ultimately enact the change (the Barbies), and making decisions that meet the needs of the Barbies to advance the change. She recognizes that change is hard, and that having the Barbies individually participate in the change will ensure that change occurs. 

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Weird Barbie communicates a vision of what happens with and without the change. When the change is successfully executed with one Barbie, she celebrates and explains that the change is possible and that everyone can positively affect the implementation of the change. These strategies can and should be used in the workplace too. 

Often, those most directly responsible for implementing change, front-line employees, are left out the process. They may be considered as part of the process but are only invited to participate in that process once they are directed to carry out the change. Weird Barbie does what so many in business fail to do; she fully shares the process with those who will have to enact it. 

I know the power structure in Barbieland does not align with most business models. However, the power of inclusion as part of the change management process does not change based on the structure. Weird Barbie cannot dictate. She has no structural authority, but she does have expert and informational power. She also has the power of connection. These types of power can be more important and effective when implementing change.

People may adhere to the power that comes from position, but they are far less likely to fully engage and fully buy-in. Take the time to gain perspectives and include those who will enact the change to give change the best chance at full implementation. 

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Kaelin Peterson has a B.A. in Political Science, an MBA, and is currently pursuing an EdD in Performance Improvement Leadership. She currently works as faculty for a non-traditional university focusing on traditionally underserved student populations while also volunteering with a focus on leadership development, values-based leadership, and change management. When not working or doing school work, Kaelin enjoys discovering new foods, quiet spaces, and spending time with her husband and dog.


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