Benefits and Compensation

Change Management—What Would Don Draper Do?

Who is Don Draper?

Don Draper is the Creative Director for Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce on the Emmy-winning television series Mad Men. He is a confident, stylish, hard-drinking, chain-smoking 1960s advertising executive.

Nunez, owner of Nunez Leadership Consulting (, offered his Draper-based tips at the SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition held recently in Orlando.

Here are 10 Draperisms and Nunez’s take on how they guide HR managers in managing organizational change.

1. Something “new” creates an itch

“This old pro, a copywriter, a Greek named Teddy, told me the most important thing in advertising is ‘new.’ It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion.” –Don Draper

How to apply this lesson at work
Understand the scope of HR’s role in managing the itch of change:

  • Make sure YOU understand the vision. If you don’t, start asking some tough questions.
  • What is the goal of this change?
  • What is the business case that supports this change?
  • What will be the return on our investment in this change?

2. Totally immerse yourself in popular culture

“I was in California. Everything is new, and it’s clean. The people are filled with hope. New York City is in decay. But Madison Square Garden is the beginning of a new city on a hill.”—Don Draper

How to apply this lesson at work
Who’s on the floor more? You or your leaders? It needs to be YOU!!

  • Explore the culture using your unique frame of reference.
  • Use your cultural awareness to honestly assess the organization’s readiness for change:
    • Employee survey data
    • Your cultural “sixth sense”
  • Use your OD professionals.
  • Tell your leaders what they NEED to hear, not what they want to hear.


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3. Don’t try to ramrod the creative process

“You came here because we do this better than you. Part of that is letting our creatives be unproductive until they are.”—Don Draper

How to apply this lesson at work
What does creativity have to do with organizational change? Everything, says Nunez.
Remember that 80 percent of your employees won’t be able to create the higher order mental models necessary to understand, let alone accept, the change. Help them make sense of the change. Talk to the employees you are responsible for and ask them:

  • How are you looking forward to this change?
  • What do you remember about the last change initiative we had?
  • If you could imagine this change working out well, what would that look like?

LISTEN to their answers! Your job, in HR, is to remember what Steve Jobs said and help them connect those dots and help them get out of their own way, Nunez says.

4. He who is least attached to the outcome keeps his power

“The day you book a client is the day you start losing him.”—Don Draper

How to apply this lesson at work
Find a small step that leads to a bigger one. One interesting example—People were asked to wear Cancer Awareness buttons. Once they were wearing the buttons, they acted consistently with that awareness.
Celebrate small victories. Get your employees to initially commit to something small about the change and they will be likely to commit to greater, more complex change later on.

5. Work from a perspective of authority and dominance

“There comes a point when seduction is over and force is actually being requested.”—Don Draper

How to apply this lesson at work
People actively seek authority to follow (“3 out of 5 doctors recommend…”).
Help identify the informal leaders and the early adopters. You know who they are! They’re the ones you lean on to get things done when the “formal” leader is part of the problem. Help your leaders find the courage to apply the right amount of force.


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6. Customers need to project their faces on your product

“There’s a rare occasion where a public can be engaged beyond flash … [my mentor talked] about a deeper bond with a product: nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent.”—Don Draper

How to apply this lesson at work
When change comes, the need to feel safe becomes stronger, and when significant change occurs, the need becomes paramount. Your employees need to project themselves into your change and your vision of a better future for the organization and for them.
Remember: This affects everyone (including you). Help employees find that personal connection to the change:

  • Talk to them.
  • Listen to them.
  • Give them a forum for expressing and working out their feelings.

One of the most important resources is emotional support. They long for this in ways you cannot imagine nor can they express.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, more of Nunez’s Draperisms, plus we announce a new interactive webinar—assembling all the pieces of the compensation puzzle.