It seems that I do have a tendency to talk about change in business, a lot. I think one of the main reasons for this is that some of my initial leadership roles involved being charged with either changing and transforming some underperforming organizations, or shutting them down. No one likes or wants to shut an organization down. It doesn’t matter that it was not your leadership that caused the performance issue. Shutting down an organization is an event that will stay with you for a while.
This is what has led me to coin what I humbly position as “Gobeli’s First Law of Change Management”. It goes something like this:
No matter how many businesses you grow, expand and improve in your career, shut down just one business because you could not get it to change in order for it to survive and you will always and forever be known as a “hatchet man”.
A hatchet man is a person who is recognized in the organization as someone who causes people either voluntarily or involuntarily to leave the company. They lay off. They fire. They close. When they walk into a room or meeting, all conversation momentarily stops. Other people keep track of them and never turn their backs on them. Once given the label, it is almost impossible to shake it.
This fact has led me to coin what I humbly position as “Gobeli’s Second Law of Change Management”. It goes something like this:
A “Change Agent” is someone who when faced with the option, will almost always do whatever it takes so as to not be labeled a hatchet man.
When faced with the down side prospect of being labeled a hatchet man as opposed to the upside opportunity of changing a poorly performing business into a more profitable one, I think it is easy to see why I usually chose to be a change agent. It really isn’t so bad once you understand some if the realities associated with being a change agent. You need to understand that even though you are avoiding the down side of shutting down a business there are still many obstacles that will need to be overcome.
This is what has led me to coin what I humbly position as “Gobeli’s Third Law of Change Management”. It goes something like this:
No matter how necessary the change is that you are leading, no matter how much it will improve profitability, efficiency or customer satisfaction, there will be people who will feel that they have something to lose as a result of the change, and they will resist the change at every opportunity.
Everybody understands in some esoteric way that change must occur. They just don’t want it to happen to them. They want someone else to have to change. They may already have plans and strategies that conflict with your change. They may have organizations that are dependent on the change not happening. (I am sure that there were buggy whip product or service or maintenance groups that were not happy with the change in corporate direction when the automobile came about). They in short have a vested interest in the status quo.
The point is that they will take the short sighted approach and fight change. The fact that the alternative would eventually be the emergence of a hatchet man on the situation does not seem to matter. That will be then and this is now.
In my rather arcane way this change resistant conflict has reminded me of an episode of the old television show Kung Fu that I saw as a kid. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it had David Carradine as a Kung Fu master monk wandering around the old west looking for his brother. That was the extent of the show’s entire plot. There would be a requisite martial arts action sequence and there would also be a requisite eastern philosophy lesson in each episode. As a kid I loved it.
I am sure that it must have had some influence on me and my resulting studies of martial arts and readings of eastern philosophies. Although I have been talking about conflict and resistance to change, I am going to use one of the show’s eastern philosophy lessons here.
The lesson that I am going to refer to dealt with attackers and defenders. The following is a paraphrase of the lesson. Please read it with something of an Asian accent in your mind to get the full value and effect since that is the way the Kung Fu master sounded when he intoned it to the then monk – student David Carradine:
Attackers must win to be considered a success. Defenders need only survive to be considered a success.
The question that must first be answered when making sense of this quote is to understand if you are the attacker or the defender. The answer is that as a change agent you are a little of both. You are attacking the current status quo that you are wanting to change, and defending your proposed change plan. However when you look at the bigger picture, change agents are attacking and those that are resisting the change are defending.
With this in mind, and knowing that you must “win” the change related contention points in order to implement change, I will now coin what I humbly position as “Gobeli’s Fourth Law of Change Management”. It goes something like this:
Before engaging in a change management battle, get the data. Get all the data. The data will be your friend. It is much more difficult for people to argue with and resist numbers than it is to argue with and resist opinion.
Now a certain amount of attribution for this law needs to be given to Robert McNamara. He was one of the first automotive industry “whiz kids” and a member of President John F. Kennedy’s cabinet in the 1960’s. He was a great proponent of data acquisition and analysis. He was called a “whiz kid” because he seemed to be right quite often. This is probably because he had acquired the data and analyzed it better than everyone else at the time. Go figure.
Now if you have acquired the data and properly analyzed it, this will force those that are resisting your change to rely on something other than data for their resistance. They will call in other topics and non sequiturs as reasons for their resistance and defenses for their positions. These reasons and defenses can be quite vociferous and colorful, but data usually wins. They will resist the change with an appeal to the “greater good” argument for the company. They will counter with their own incremental improvement. They will talk about the non-monetary effects of the change.
In general there will be great keening, rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth.
As an aside, I once had a group try to argue that there were more hours in a man year in one country as opposed to another as one of the reasons to resist the pending change. Desperation when it comes to resisting change knows no limits.
In the final analysis, if you have followed these simple laws for effecting change you should be successful. The one note of caution to post here is to understand when you are dealing with a business that does not want to change. Sometimes despite what may be some of your best work, the decision to change will just not get made.
We all need to understand that we may not be acting with all the data that those who must make the final change decisions have. There can be other plans. There can be other strategies that you may not be party to. On the other hand, they may just like the way things are done now.
You need to takes these pieces of information into account when trying to be a change agent as opposed to a hatchet man. It is also a good idea to remember that doing nothing can eventually be an invitation for a visit by those that swing not a hatchet but an ax.