Many years ago, in a large city located in this land, there was a popular shoe factory. It boasted a long history of shoemaking. It made beautiful shoes and people from far and wide shopped there. To be a shoemaker at this place was a privilege reserved to a select number of learned craftsmen.
Then something happened. Sales began to plummet.
You see the craftsmen made only one type of shoe, one shoe at a time. To pay their craftsmen, management had to increase the price of shoes year over year. Soon, few customers were able to afford them. Consequently, the factory lost many loyal customers. Then other problems began to emerge.
The factory was run by men and the shoes were made by men. Women were not seen as potential customers, so shoes were not made for them. Women pressed the factory for their own style, but management wouldn't hear of it. Then came complaints that the quality of service and repair were inferior. Management knew best and complaints were ignored.
To compound these problems, scandal hit the factory. Some craftsmen were convicted of sexual harassment and theft. Morale hit a new low, several workers resigned, and fewer men applied for work. Some women who were highly qualified offered to help but to no avail. A few women, who found their way into the factory as support personnel, suggested several ways to up-date the stodgy place. They even suggested that it would help if women became managers. They were blatantly ignored. Instead, management searched the land and foreign countries to see if they could find a steady supply of male workers. Still there was a manpower shortage.
Management couldn't figure out why it was so difficult to recruit candidates to train for work that at one time was so highly prized.
Management called several meetings to solve their growing problems. Consultants were brought in. Many recommendations were made but few were implemented. Several reports sat on the shelf because the managers didn't get the answers they wanted to hear.
Sales continued to decline. The once popular Shoe Factory now lost its luster.
As time passed small start-ups entered the market place. They used new technology, better shoemaking techniques and faster production methods. They combed the internet and found new patterns and styles for both men and women. They used a better quality of leather and experimented with soles that lasted. They opened Boutiques and virtual stores and sold their shoes world-wide.
Back at the Old Shoe Factory management heard about this new way of making shoes and the way to market them. Instead of taking heed, they resorted to competing with the start-ups by launching negative ad campaigns. Behind closed doors they laughed at their automated methods saying, "they will never stand up to the quality of our craftsmen," even though their quality was fast fading away. They suggested, "selling shoes over the internet is just a fad, you watch, people will come back to us," except they didn't.
Today the factory closed its doors. The Old Shoe Factory was just too far behind to catch up.
By now you have probably figured out that this is a fictitious story about the unwillingness of management to change and keep up with new market demands. It may seem dated but not too far removed from today's reality.
Businesses continue to close because they didn't keep up with the advances in technology and the changes in society. I wonder how many businesses are preparing for the next generation of technological advances - that of Artificial Intelligence. Will they be like those in the Old Shoe Factory and treat the new trend as a fad? Or, will they take heed and prepare to adjust their strategies to embrace new and emerging advances.
The Shoe Factory story may be fictitious, but the unwillingness to change, the fear of change or a blindness to learning, often keep managers from doing what is best for the company. They keep doing what they they have always done, and that, as someone once said, "is a recipe for disaster."
So my friends don't get too comfortable wearing old shoes when it's time to try on new ones.
Note: Thank you to my friend Emile Kutarna for permission to modify his unpublished story about the Old Shoe Factory. Emile's original story was presented as a parable regarding the difficulty the Roman Catholic Church faces in its attempt to meet new realities and the evolutionary movement of the Spirit. I have taken the liberty to refashion several parts of the story line and apply it to managers who hold back change when change is necessary.
The Commitments Leaders Make for Themselves as They Move Out of the Middle
This is the last in a four-part series of articles about the difficulties leaders have as they work towards transformational change within their team or organization. It is the last in this series but no means the last word about the muddled middle of a change process. Transformational change doesn’t come easy and leaders must be vigilant about the following five areas of personal commitment if they want to continue moving their team forward out of the middle.
Commit to circular behaviour. “Circular Behavior,” is somewhat akin to “Managing by Walking Around.” The leader commits to being visible throughout the organization. Here the leader is not so much concerned about vertical hierarchy but about helping individuals and teams connect the dots, or the spaces (sometimes chasms) between them. The leader inspires, encourages and energizes through the positive act of influencing (relates to others in a considerate, respectful and attentive manner; takes into consideration individual moods, interests and concerns; and builds rapport by being tactful and diplomatic) rather than the misuse of power (use of authority, control, rules, supremacy, and coercion); and, suggests ways to implement or clarify the “play book” for successful change. “Circular behaviour” is always important but it is crucial during the middle stages of change.
Commit to Re-energizing Self. A change process is hard work. At the end of the day leaders can feel a sense of accomplishment or discouragement. In both instances, and all those in-between where the highs and lows take place, the leader must find ways to re-energize self. Exercises that promote periods of relaxation, meditation, recreation, proper diet and sleep are critical to the leader’s personal wellbeing. The leader is of no use if burnt out; only when h/she is on fire with passion and excitement will he/she pass the fire onto others. To move beyond the middle, leaders must take time to take care of themselves.
Commit to Resilience and Patience. Along with re-energizing self comes resilience and patience. Resilience gives one the capacity to bounce back from difficulties. Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay and difficulties without getting angry. It is synonymous with tolerance, restraint and self-reliance. Resilience and patience are important characteristics when the leader doesn’t see movement or there appears to be a set back from progress. One CEO put it this way, “Two steps forward, one step back. Resilience and patience is the practice of the day.” The leader must re-commit to resilience and patience as he/she moves out of the middle.
Commit to Continued Self-Learning. When leaders move forward from the middle, they need to remind themselves and others that the process requires continuous learning. There is a saying that “nothing stays the same because things are always changing.” The corollary to this is “learning and change are inseparable friends.” If this is the case, then leaders must keep tuned into the learning process and tease out what new things they are learning as the team or organization moves forward. They also, in the process of moving forward, may become stuck once again or mired in a tangled mess of conflicting messages or dynamics that slow down movement. It is during these times leaders could call upon a coach or mentor to help them get back on track and sort through the lessons learned.
Commit to Squelching Unwanted Rumors and Myths. My experience shows that when leaders are about half way through the change process myths and rumors may become more prevalent. All organizations have myths and there will always be rumors. In fact, when people look back on their work career, they often point out the many myths and rumors with a sense of humor. Many of the rumors and myths are harmless, but when they impact the vision, purpose, values, goals and priorities of the organization and effectively slow down the change process, they need to be squelched. Often the rumors start because there is a lack of communication among the key players within the organization. The best way to avoid rumors is to not let them start. Leaders need to keep communications transparent and clarify any misunderstandings through team meetings, coaching or through his/her “circular behaviour”.
Summary: We have learned through this four-part series 1) what happens when teams or organizations become stuck half-way through transformational change; 2) why people are reluctant to change when caught in the middle (or the muddled middle as I like to call it); 3 what leaders can do to help the team or organization move out of the middle; and,4) the commitments leaders must make for themselves as they move forward.
Re-vitalizing the team or organization mid-way through the change process focuses on strengthening a sense of “Esprit de Corps” by:, energizing everyone, bringing people back to the core (vision, purpose and values), encouraging open and transparent communication, nd promoting effective coordination and collaboration. To move forward the leader needs to commit to her/his own circular behaviour, health and wellbeing, resilience, patience, self-learning and squelching unwanted rumors.
Richard Fontanie, MSW. FCMC
Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader
Morgan, Harkins, Goldsmith, The Art and Practice of Leadership Coaching
Kouzes, Posner: The Leadership Challenge
Secretan, What Great Leaders Do –
My previous two articles pointed out the difficulties leaders have when they are half way through a transformational change process. The first article discussed “what happens” when the process gets stuck, and the second one emphasized “why” people are reluctant to move forward half way through the change process. It is not unusual in times of transformational change for the process to bog down as transformation often comes about by disruption and a series of relapses and missteps.
This article outlines four actions leaders can take to help the organization or team move forward; my next article will suggest the personal commitments leaders can make to keep themselves moving ahead.
Re-commit to the Vision and Purpose. When progress falters it’s time for the leader to engage the appropriate people to re-commit to the initial vision and purpose for the change. This isn’t just reminding them about “why” the change is necessary but about engaging everyone in a realignment of both vision and purpose. Here the leader encourages a dialogue with them about their understanding of the vision and purpose and how it applies to improving the organization and the service to customers. By re-committing to the vision and purpose leaders give people “hope” for a better outcome. They are appealing to people’s emotions or to the “heart” of why the organization is engaged in a change process. During this re-commitment exercise leaders need to be prepared to tweak or modify the vision or purpose statements to clarify any misunderstanding.
Re-commit to the Values of the organization or team. Values provide the principles upon which an organization or team culture rests. Values, if they are relevant and meaningful, must be owned by the people within the organization. In most instances they are developed and approved by them at the beginning of the change process.
Sometimes, when teams and organizations are stuck in the middle of change, values become muddled, or people don’t adhere to them which causes angst and frustration. This presents an opportunity for leaders to engage people to re-commit to the values. One way to do this is by conducting a short survey on how well people perceive they and others are living the values; and, sharing the results with them and then entering into a dialogue on what they can do to improve their behaviour so that they better reflect the values. Other times, unfortunately, the values and principles underlying the change process did not occur at the beginning of the change process. If this is the case the middle muddle becomes more desperate and it is incumbant opon the leader to engage the team or organization in a process of value determination and clarification.
One principle that should always be front and centre for all change is that the change must be customer centric; if this isn’t the case then the change will be futile, costly and with limited return on the hard and soft investment given to the process.
Promote the Change Process as Everyone’s Business. Change is not the leader’s challenge alone. Change occurs when everyone in the change process recognizes that they have a role to play. By clarifying “change as everyone’s business” the leader seeks a re- commitment from everyone to join in the process – to take ownership, responsibility and accountability for their part. Just as in point one above, the leader engages the team or organization in a dialogue. This time it is about seeking input regarding the importance of ownership, responsibility and accountability. The discussion about “change is everyone’s business,” often ends with a formal commitment agreement i.e. a signing or re-signing of a document indicating a commitment to take ownership, responsibility and accountability for actions and behaviours.
Re-commit to Collaboration, Coordination and Communication. Collaboration, coordination and communication are three ingredients for a successful change process.
It is important at the beginning of the change process for leaders to engage participants in setting the ground rules for collaboration, coordination and communication. Mid-way through the process they may find that they need to re-engage team members to re-commit to the three ingredients. This usually takes a session to review what is working and what is not and make corrections and a re-commitment to the three ingredients.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC
In a previous post, When Leaders are Caught in the Middle of Change, I pointed out the frustrations leaders have in the middle of bridging the change gap between where they start to where they want to go. There is a lot of wasted energy among all who are involved in the process during this time. Sam Kaner called this time the Groan Zone.
Why do people, who initially appear excited about the prospect of change, baulk and often react negatively half-way through the change process.
In part, it relates to how we shape our reality. We shape our reality with what we perceive our reality to be. Our perceptions of the future are linked to our present thinking; in other words, we agree with only those things we accept and reject those things that don't fit into our world view. We get trapped in the pathways of our mind – through time we wire our brain, so to speak, to think in the comfort zone. Sam Walter Fosse wrote a wonderful poem called the “Calf Path” which I find describes, as a metaphor, how we get trapped in the pathways of our mind. (Find it at: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-calf-path/
We have been so schooled in our thought processes, formed by our experiences, stories, readings, education, and social relationships that we become fixed in our way of thinking. Our existing thought process is our world view. That’s why it is so hard to break out of it and want to remain with “the way things were.
We are reluctant to let go of old ways! We want to hang on to the old paradigm we know. We want to hang on because it gives us a sense of security, a sense of familiarity – it protects our ego. But keeping with the familiar and not letting go also keeps us from committing to the change process.
What happens when this “hanging on” occurs. Fundamentally we find ways to fight or flee change rather than embrace it. Sometimes this takes an overt form and other times a more covert form. We make excuses, point fingers, resist, oppose, attack, resort to mind games, and exhibit other forms of inappropriate behaviour; We avoid getting involved, shirk responsibility and accountability and often give into passive aggressive behaviour. On good days we take two steps forward and then slip backward. We lose the narrative, the vision and fall back to old ways.
A second dynamic relates to what I have come to know as the “arrogance of certitude.” The arrogance of certitude is viewing ourselves as always right. When I think I’m always right I become judgmental, sometimes downright cruel, and do things without thinking of the consequences – or feelings – of the other, resulting in the breakdown in our respect and relationships with each other in the workplace. Again, our arrogance is steeped in the formulation of our world view. Once we get caught up in this thought process we start thinking from a duality perspective, "I'm right, your wrong," "We were better off before. Past is better than future." We stop thinking about the possibilities and revert to what we know and are comfortable with, because, after all, we are right.
A third dynamic in the mix relates to our lack of comfort with "ambiguity." Ambiguity is that sense of unknowing and a feeling of disconnect with what is going on around us. Feelings of ambiguity often lead to anxiety and fear. It becomes the fear of the unknown. We know what we know for sure, we don't know what the change will ultimately bring, so rather then move forward we want to keep with either the present, or the past. We are fearful that we might lose something in the process and we are not sure what we will gain. So let’s not go there.
We come back to the beginning: to change we must first change our thinking – become aware of who we are and how we behave. Opening ourselves to new behaviours means to change the way we think which informs the way we act; and that’s the harder and more difficult challenge. We can't change anyone, only they can change themselves. We can only give them opportunity and it is up to each individual to seize what could be, rather than what is.
For all these reasons, and more, people naturally resist change, they fight it and find ways to undermine it - their mind doesn't want to go in a different direction, because it is schooled in the direction in which it is trained or wired to go.
Many of us hold back, or double down in the change process, or don’t commit to it because it doesn’t fit into what we are use to – it doesn’t fit into our world view; and this is understandable as not to change is a way of keeping ourselves in tact! We protect our way of thinking, our own way of doing things, and so we keep from fully committing to the change process.
This is what happens to some at the beginning of change, but more so when they are in the middle of the change process. People are caught in wanting to go back to their comfort zone or keep their new middle comfort space. They are reluctant to progress further into the unknown.
My next post will begin to unravel what leaders can do to move out of the middle zone and continue to reach to distant end.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW FCMC
Leaders are visionaries. They see the future where others don't. They lead either from the front or from behind. They lead others along with them to their destination. All leaders do this and history is full of examples. In more recent times we have Martin Luther King breaking down black barriers in the United States; Mandela seeing his people freely participating in the South African political discourse; and, Gandhi visioning an India without British rule. All these leaders had difficult challenges and were caught in the cross fire of backlash, push-back, resistance, often with violent consequences. They also experienced frustrations, grumblings, conflicts, and discontent in their own following; often times, because some followers didn't agree with their methodology, or they were not moving fast enough, or because of fear of the consequences. This is when these leaders were caught in the middle, between their vision and those conspiring against their vision.
The vast majority of leaders, however, are not the Martin Luther King's, Gandhi's or the Mandela's of the world. These are the people leading change within their organizations. They have a vision of where the organization ought to be - they see a future different from the present. Take for example, a leader who sees an organization where people are engaged, work inter-dependently within independent teams, take ownership, responsibility and accountability for their actions, and where bureaucratic barriers are removed so that communication is freely exchanged, and work gets done in flow rather than in fits and starts. The difficulty they face are with people who are stuck in the past, who fear the ambiguity of change and drag the process backward rather than forward, or as one CEO told me, "we do the two-step shuffle, one step forward and one step backward, then two steps forward and one back - we don't seem to be going anywhere fast!" He is caught in the middle, always juggling the realities of the present with the vision of the future state.
The cycle of organizational change goes like this: Leaders explain their vision, people are initially excited as they see the possibilities of what could be; a leadership team is formed and becomes passionate and aligned with the vision; part way through the change process they encounter difficulties exhibited by frustrations, grumbling and push-back, both overt and covert, from those who were comfortable in the old paradigm; and, then with leadership determination, engagement, and persistence breakthrough gradually solidifies and a new way of doing things finally takes hold.
It's during the middle part - where back sliding, back biting, and undermining occurs - when leaders and their leadership team begin to become frustrated, discouraged and wonder if its worth the challenge. Sometimes they begin to coast and they too begin to back slide. They are caught in the middle - between the vision and pull-back to the old comfort zone.
It is precisely during these times when leaders and the leadership team need resolve, resilience and the re-commitment to their vision. They need to bridge the gap from where they are to the other side, over the river of negativity that flows beneath them. The bridge cannot stop in middle of construction or else the other side will never be reached, and all the gains made will tumble into the raging waters below. The naysayers will have won.
It is puzzling for some leaders and managers why people, who initially seemed extremely excited about a new prospect, fall back to negative undermining. My next post will explore this reality found within the change process.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC.