WE NEED TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY

“Breakthrough is the creation of good change, control the prevention of bad change…all managerial activity is directed at either breakthrough or control- J.M. Juran

In a competitive economy, above all, the quality and performance of the managers determine the success of a business; indeed, they determine its survival — Peter Drucker

The calls for change within business organizations over the extent of my career (30+ yrs) are too numerous to cite. Generally warnings about ceasing to exist are part of those calls. Some see Fortune 500 turnover through acquisition, spinoff’s and bankruptcy as evidence of “destructive digital disruption”¹, others consider “destructive digital disruption” a myth².

All executives want their company to not only survive but to be more profitable and have higher revenue during their watch. They attempt to do this through a variety of actions, one being a transformation of how the company operates.

Let’s step away for a moment from the executive world and business transformation to a completely different environment: a visit to the doctor.

Suppose you’re sitting in the exam room for an annual physical exam. You have to make this visit because you are on a prescription medication, and your MD requires you to see them yearly in order to continue your prescription.

Suppose you’ve been frustrated with your lack of energy, and in recent months you find a herbal supplement that really helps. As the MD reviews the form you filled out, he/she notices you take this supplement. The following conversation ensues:

MD: “I see you’re taking xxx supplement”.

You: “Yes, it’s helping with my energy”.

MD: “You realize xxx has not been through an FDA approved double blind clinical trial to prove efficacy”.

You: “Ok….”

MD: “One of the reasons for those trials is to verify there is no placebo effect from the medication”.

You: “Uhhh…”

MD: “People can convince themselves a pill is helping them when it’s not…”

You: (Silent , irritated with this conversation, knowing you can’t say anything because it’ll piss off the MD and prolong their lecture and thinking “I really don’t care about that. In fact if this is just a placebo effect, awesome! I’d much rather have my mind help my body improve through taking a meaningless pill than actually ingest a powerful pharmacological agent that disrupts my internal body functions)³.

Why does your MD not want to listen to your hippy dippy ideas about non pharmacological agents bringing about improved health? Because he/she went through some 8–12 years of medical school/intern/residency hell to learn how to fix bad health/broken body parts in humans. And here you come, reading about a supplement on the Internet or listening to your “way out” friend tout its virtues, and now you’re claiming it’s helping your health improve. It’s an unintended backhand swipe at your MD telling them that, for you, their years of hell provide the wrong answers.

Now, back to the executives who want to improve profits and increase revenue. Typically they went through at least 4 years of college plus 2 years of MBA hell, followed by years of long workday hell to get into their executive position. Like the doctor, that effort is going to inform their thought process and decision making. It is going to contribute significantly to setting their cognitive bias.

Into the executive orbit comes the current “thought leader” consultant advocating their model for organizational change. Or an internal team presenting change recommendations based on analysis from surveys of supervisors and workers. None of them have gone through the hell the execs have gone through to obtain their position. None of them sees what the execs see currently within the organization and what they’ve seen in the past. It’s a breeding ground for skepticism.

Even when the exec team has decided on the changes that are needed (the thought leader has a gift for marketing), they know that making the decision is a cakewalk compared to implementing change. They have to overcome the resistance to change of a much larger group than themselves. That larger group has to actually do it.

How to overcome the resistance and get a change implemented (I mean, really implemented, where a critical mass of employees are giving this change the benefit of the doubt and are sincerely operating in a new way)? Many, many books have been written on the topic. I have nothing to contribute except a belief that it takes humility, patience, authenticity and a willingness to persevere in spite of the odds of success being low. I’ve worked for many years at manufacturing facilities among rural Americans (a group with an above-average resistance to change). Based on my experience I think there are a few things needed before trying a change effort in any business, in any environment:

  • Authentic MBWA. Hewlett Packard was credited in the 1970’s with MBWA (“Management By Wandering Around”). MBWA not only allows executives to know what is really going on in the organization (as opposed to the filtering that is inevitable with any reporting hierarchy), but it starts to create some trust between workers and executives. Workers will fear a change coming from an executive who makes far more money than they do, who they don’t know and with whom they never interact. The executive visiting their work area for a yearly Q&A isn’t interacting, and it certainly isn’t an authentic effort to create a relationship with the workers.

For me, the highlights of my career have been when I was able to 1) significantly increase production output with no capital investment, 2) eliminate non value added process steps, 3) reduce the time required for value added steps, 4) build a mathematical model to reduce the number of experimental runs needed to validate a process, and 5) remove an unnecessary piece of equipment to free up space and allow an improved workflow. The difficulty of implementing these changes was worth it in the end. I look back with satisfaction that I made a difference. And in the end, isn’t that what most of us are striving for, that our work mattered?

…….

[1]https://hbr.org/sponsored/2017/07/digital-transformation-is-racing-ahead-and-no-industry-is-immune-2

[2] https://medium.com/@brianandersen/the-myth-of-destructive-digital-disruption-7af2c3eb3f6

[3] You guessed it. I was the patient having this interaction during a doctor visit.

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