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I'll Change: Tell Me Exactly What You Want

Posted Nov 27 2010 8:22pm 1 Comment

I watched as my client, the new President of his company's largest business, orchestrated a full day of presentations with the top 100 managers in the business unit. It was textbook-perfect:

a. He laid out the evidence supporting the need for a change in the corporate culture

b. His direct reports took turns offering their support for each of the proposed elements of change and were clearly genuine in their efforts

c. He invited spontaneous discussion and got it all along the way.

d. And he closed with a clear visual summary of how the culture was supposed to change.

Change confusion Do Any Of These Sound  Familiar?

Here are the first few:

Risks: Take more.

Communicate more: When you have information, err on the side of sharing more with more people across all the businesses.

Decision Making: Think strategically.

These were the first three of eight items. Each was discussed in ways that highlighted how, for example, risk-taking had helped Company X or Strategic Decision Making had helped Company Y. The fact of the matter is, who can argue with the importance of what's listed above? 

Which is why at the end of the session the really important question was asked from the audience of man agers. This is an exact qu ote.

Manager: "I really think all of these things we discussed today are important. I just need to know one thing: "What, exactly, do you want me to do?"

President: " ____________"      (yes, that was the response).

As the President's consultant, I learned a lesson that I haven't forgotten: Visionary changes can be captured with images and big picture ideals; Behavioral changes need to be grounded in the specific.

Make your changes specific so that people know what to do and can tell whether or not they got it right.

Things like Risk, Communications, and Strategic Decision-Making are great topics for philosophical conversation and painting the big picture. If you want people to change what they are doing, then you need to tell them what to do in a way that they can act on and know that they are doing it right. 

Here's What That Looks Like 

Take more risks. 

Example: "When you are deciding to open up a new sales territory, go ahead once you've determined that there is at least a 60% chance of success. Don't wait until 90%."

If I'm the individual, now I know what the rules are and how I can determine whether or not I did it properly.                        

Communicate more.

Example: "When you have new information regarding one of our customers in Sweden, send it out the same day to all of our business unit Sales Managers in Europe."

If I'm the individual, now I know what the rules are and how I can determine whether or not I did it properly.  


Example: "When you and your team make decisions, measure the options against the two-year plan and choose the one that moves us closer within the budget allocated."

Change Management continues to captivate organizational leaders seeking to introduce "change" with as much acceptance and as little disruption as possible That's a good thing. There's always something new going on no matter where you work. Which makes it even more important to be able to do it and not just become captivated by the theories.

What's your experience with change initiatives?

One more time: Make your changes specific so that people know what to do and can tell whether or not they got it right.


Comments (1)
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My experience is with the new "performance based workplace" initiatives and it seems the "goals" in that are equally as vague.  "Be the best ..." and "Be rewarded for performance ..." are difficult goals to achieve when performance metrics are not shared across an organization and no standard other than, 'You know you are doing well when I (the manager) tell you that you are.' is the primary method of communication.  I felt nobody in my last organization wanted to blindly compete against other workgroups performing the same tasks elsewhere across the country, and although we had access to forums where such issues could be discussed they were NOT discussed for two reasons.  Reason one was that there was never any "spare" time for employees to take the time to communicate with their peers and find out how people were doing, and reason two was that the forums were not private and managers could easily criticize employees for spending "to much time" on them (even before or after their scheduled shifts).

So I believe the culture that fosters open communication, continuous improvement and innovation does not exist in at least one major U.S. defense contractor I have first-hand knowledge of.  At least not in so far as managers being instructed to allow employees to engage in open dialogs and also being told that direct employee-to-employee communications ARE to be allowed as a specific percentage of the employees "on the clock" duties.

Personally I look forward to working outside the major corporate environment with the ninety-seven percent of businesses doing all the hiring and supporting real grass roots level economic recovery.


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