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Change Is Not What You Find Under The Sofa Cushion

Does this have your mind wondering what am I talking about? Any Business, Company, Office, Production Line or Team that has tried to implement the “C” word, only to find that after they conducted all the expensive trainings, location surveys, “team” and “executive” meetings, and long over spoken rhetoric by motivational lecturers as to who, what, how, and why they can and want to do something different within their organization. Only to come to the harsh reality that after months of excessive spinning of tires in the mud they are back to square one or worse, two steps back, maybe it’s time for a change to the change.

Change is not what you find under the sofa cushion
Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

How can you do something different if you cannot change? It is as simple as cutting a piece of pie for some and as difficult as baking one for others. I am not talking the kind of pie you just pop in the oven, I am talking about the way our Grand Mothers baked. Very specifically and from scratch, every ingredient added the same way, every time and it came out perfect with a smell that made roses envy. But if she did it the same way every time, how does this tie into an article about change? Because Grandma held herself accountable for making sure her pies were always the best. If she made a mistake, it was the only time you ever heard her swear, then she started over and did it right, instead of just saying “it’s good enough.”

Change, or as it should be called “behavioral modification” is not easy, especially if it’s not understood. You can look at it from a personal perspective or observe it as a large group. Why do you want to change within either paradigm?

Within the normal person, it’s usually a reaction to a need or desire, but don’t kid yourself, we never want to change. We may say we do, but wanting to do something different is only a thought. Think about when you decided you NEEDED to change something. It was usually because you realized that it was to your personal benefit to do so.

Example: You say you want to stop smoking, but continue to spend more and more money on cigarettes. Cost does not deter your need, so money is not the motivator (same as in the work place, money will not bribe people to change).

You want to change because you know it’s bad for your health, but even though your mornings are filled with unpleasant coughing and wheezing as you climb the stairs, you still continue to long for those 10 minute smoke breaks, (its not personal inconvenience, same as your work environment, just because something is harder to do, is not a motivator to change).

You finally decide to quit smoking when the proof is put right in front of your eyes. When it’s explained to you in ways that personally affect your life by someone you respect and give creditability to. Normally it’s the doctor who just saved your life, (the same holds true in your workplace, change can happen when a creditable boss explains the change and benefits from it to you). Key word is creditable.

Now the last one may have you wondering what am I talking about? Have you ever been in a staff meeting with your supervisor or manager and they start off their under enthusiastic meeting with the statement “this is coming down from the big wigs, the big bosses, those people up stairs.” And everyone in the meeting also hears in the supervisors under breath “those people who don’t have a clue or have no idea as to what is REALLY going on.”

The statement comes out about how we’re going to change, do something different, a more productive approach…blah blah blah…just like last year and the year before and before and before. This is followed up by the same break room rhetoric “guess the big bosses had another one of those think tank getaways to Bermuda” and “You think they came up with this plan on the eighth or ninth hole or back at the club house?”

Now if you’re one of the executives or big bosses, you won’t hear this because you’re doing what all businesses should do, and that is disseminating information down to your subordinates via the chain of command. This can be an excellent leadership training tool and does give your junior managers and supervisors an opportunity to exhibit their abilities to communicate effectively to their subordinates. Problem surfaces when your communication is distorted because that less than senior Manager or Supervisor adds their derogatory personal commentary along with it.

Weeks and months go by and you’re wondering why the change is not happening? Productivity is not increasing, in fact its slowing down. You put up the new signs that had the latest motivation mantra on it. “Go Get Them,” “We Can Do It,” “Take No Prisoner,” and of course for those 80’s fans “We Are The Champions.” Because that is what you read in that book, or was told in that seminar, or what was recommended by that very successful and expensive consulting firm.

What you need to realize is, you can have the best of the best of the best motivators on your end of the corporate spectrum, whispering in the Board of Directors ears plans and professionals expressions that could motivate the Mariners to win the World Series, but if on the other end, you have a self sabotaging, non-motivated detractor. Who believes nothing good ever comes down from “up stairs” and this is just another waste of our time and money. Money that should just be given to the employees because that will make them work harder (remember what I said earlier). Your just wasting time, money, and effort, because now you understand what it means to have a monkey wrench thrown in the system.

The saboteur: the manager or supervisor who stands in front of his group of employees and recites with a total lack of enthusiasm, “this is the new plan to get you guys to work harder for less money so the big bosses can spend more time on the golf course.” This is the person who you need to change and that change may be to a new department, but more than likely to a new employer.

In today’s economy and 9% unemployment, no one should be apathetic at work. Unfortunately, there are many reasons for it. Some can blame unions, tenure, longevity, and even seniority. In the Marines, we called it R.O.A.D. (Retired On Active Duty). That was that senior enlisted person who just re-enlisted for their final enlistment and they planned on coasting by for the next four years. Which calculates to 208 weeks or 1409 days of demotivating leadership to any projects assigned to that person or anyone who works for them. This also happens way too often in the private sector, but it’s not just the person who is waiting to retire. It’s the Manager who got the position based on education and not skills. It’s the Supervisor who got promoted because of the good old boy network or “quotas” that needed to be filled. It’s the person who is angry because they are not an executive (but have done nothing to earn it). It can also be that person who realized that if they work harder, they might get promoted to a position that will require them to actually have to work. So what do you do? Whose responsibility is it to fix this situation? Guess what, it’s not the hourly workers position to do anything. It’s that manager’s superior’s job to do something about it. Remember, that is why you get paid the big bucks. If you’re not up for the responsibility, step aside, because my money says there are many others out there who are.

OK, Mister, how can we track and manage this, that’s not the Board of Director’s or the CEO’s job? Or is it? Actually, it depends on how many levels in your management chain there are. But it is at a minimum their job to hire, manage, and hold accountable the person directly under them and then that person does the same and that person does the same. Should the CEO of a large corporation be overseeing the swing shift supervisor when there are six management levels between them? No and Yes. No, because they have bigger and more strategic plans to worry about. Yes, because if they are noticing a lack of productivity in specific areas, it’s a key indicator, something is wrong and that is their responsibility to fix it. Does that mean they go offer that person a change? No, but they should motivate the managers that a CHANGE of command is coming if they don’t.

I have used the “C” word in this article, now I am going to use the “A” word, Accountability. If you want to CHANGE the way you’re conducting business, you need to start by holding everyone accountable. Not some people and ignore the others, but everyone from the top executives then down to the newest employee. If you want effective CHANGE, you must have total ACCOUNTABILITY. Jack Welch would not have had success with his Six Sigma change process at General Electric, if they did not have total up and down accountability. If you have a large staff of subordinate manager’s who are less than enthusiastic about the latest change theory being sent down from the corporate gods. Maybe it is time to go to the executive washroom and take a long look in the mirror. Just because you tell your managers and their people to get on board, but you remain sitting on the dock while they are expected to sail across the ocean and conquer uncharted lands. This does not make you make you captain of the voyage. Accountability for one and for all.

A sports team cannot succeed unless everyone buys into the ideology. Mission Statements are a novel idea, but just like the Employee of the Month objective, they are both so cliché and in my opinion borderline counter-productive today.

If your company’s mission statement declares that you care about your employees, but everything you as a senior executive do are a direct statement that you don’t. The hypocrisy destroys your accountability of what you’re setting out to do. Now if you’re falling back on “I am the boss and they have to do what I say,” which is very true? Then do not expect these people to change. Do not expect them to sweat blood for you, the product or the company. Because YOU as the boss have just personalized the change versus changing the way everything is done. Leadership Credibility is essential in making successful change programs work. Another example of lack of creditable programs is the Employee of the Month award:

I once worked for a company that gave the award to staff member because he was getting married that month. Also another company that gave it to an elderly employee because she got her job done correctly, I did not say, well or outstanding, but they did what was basically required of them. So when it was handed out to someone who was commendable for their outstanding achievements, they are not congratulated by their co-workers but instead are called …..come on you know what I am going to say and it’s your automatic reaction when you hear the term “Employee of the Month.” The same holds true to Mission Statements.

Accountability is required if you want to re-direct your company, staff, department, or team in a new direction. Everyone must buy in and if you have just one person in the chain of command that is not up to the new challenge. Someone who feels they have heard it before and just does it have it in them to try. I guess the first change needs to be with yourself and check to see is this just another example of “do as I say, not as I do?” or is it that person who is the company saboteur.

Professional Accountability starting at the top and all the way down is the only way to effectively implement change within any organization. When it’s ready, open, honest, and effective communication must be disseminated by creditable Executives, Manager, and Supervisors to the employees or it will not work.

Guess the best way to sum this up is if the water is not flowing the way it was or needs to be, you need to travel up stream to find out where the choke point is and remove it. Sometimes it may just be debris from previous seasons, storms, it could be one large obstacle, or it could be manmade, either way remove it.

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