Category Archives: Adversity

Responsibility and Execution

As we move up through management it is our expectation that our responsibilities will increase. We have demonstrated that we can not only handle the responsibilities of our current assignments, but that we can actually handle more. There is also a second axis that is applied along with the responsibility axis when it comes time for personal analysis: the execution axis. Being able to handle increased responsibility, but not being able to execute those responsibilities at an equally high level, or being able to execute at a high level, but not being able to handle the increased responsibilities, will provide you the opportunity to remain where you are and address those aspects of your performance that need work. It is only when both Responsibility and Execution are present at high levels that you get to move on.

I talked last time about Adversity and how my son has dealt with and overcame his Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis a year ago. Now I’m going to look at how he has done it, and what I have learned from watching him.

Most of us get to grow into our responsibilities and learn how to properly execute on them. Admittedly, some are faster learners than others. My son didn’t get the benefit of a learning curve. He didn’t get to grow into his Diabetic responsibilities. One day he is a normal eighteen year old, finishing his last year in high school. The next he is a Type 1 Diabetic, with a daily set of responsibilities, the execution of which affect both his quality of life, as well as his life expectancy.

Talk about having to grow into your responsibilities and learning to execute fast.

Prior to his diagnosis, Diabetes was sort of an abstract concept to me. I knew about it. I even knew a few people that lived with it. When it became real in a personal way, I too had to learn about it.

In business, few of us get to start at the top, with all the responsibilities and the requirement for continuous high quality execution. I suppose there are a few, particularly in privately held organizations, but I think even these have a sort of apprenticeship that comes from being “in the family” and growing up with the transition to be expected.

For most of us we start at relatively junior levels, learn, grow and prove ourselves over time. Situations, environments and even a certain amount of luck come into play. You may be highly skilled but in a mature to stagnant organization or industry that provides a relatively limited number of advancement opportunities. On the other hand, you may be in a growing industry where the opportunities are plentiful.

Good performance and learning the desired behaviors and execution can provide the opportunity for increased responsibility. This increased responsibility is usually built on, or an expansion of the previous role’s responsibilities. This means that you at least usually have a pretty good idea of how to execute on a portion of your new responsibilities.

This is the usual progression. In a new role, build on what you know and have already learned, and leverage it for the new responsibilities and execution of them. If you show the desire, willingness and ability to do this within reasonable time frames and expectations, then future expanded responsibility roles can be available.

Jesse Owens, the four-time Olympic Gold Medalist in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin Germany, said:

“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.”

I think it is safe to say that those games were not his first competition. He trained for a long time. There is no question that he worked hard. He learned and worked his way up through many smaller, and then increasing larger competitions, before achieving his most notable success.

I don’t think there are any smaller competitions, or learning opportunities for my son, or other Diabetics for that matter. One day you are fine. The next you have Diabetes and now are responsible for potentially life altering decisions, usually multiple times a day. There is no previous assignment to lean on or utilize as a jumping off point for your new role in life. It truly is a sink or swim moment.

If you provide your body too much insulin, it can result in Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

“Low blood sugar levels can cause a variety of problems within your central nervous system. Early symptoms include weakness, lightheadedness, and dizziness. … Severe low blood sugar is sometimes called insulin shock. Untreated, it can be very dangerous, resulting in seizures, loss of consciousness, or death” https://www.healthline.com/health/low-blood-sugar-effects-on-body

If you don’t provide your body with enough insulin, it can result in Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

“Hyperglycemia is a defining characteristic of diabetes—when the blood glucose level is too high because the body isn’t properly using or doesn’t make the hormone insulin….You get glucose from the foods you eat. Carbohydrates, such as fruit, milk, potatoes, bread, and rice, are the biggest source of glucose in a typical diet….If you have type 1 diabetes, it is important to recognize and treat hyperglycemia because if left untreated it can lead to ketoacidosis. This happens because without glucose, the body’s cells must use ketones (toxic acids) as a source of energy. Ketoacidosis develops when ketones build up in the blood. It can become serious and lead to diabetic coma or even death.”

In business if we do not live up to and execute on our responsibilities, we may end up having some of them taken away from us. If my son provided too much or too little insulin as part of his responsibilities, he could die.

Talk about a negatively reinforced incentive plan.

Normally incentive plans are structured to inspire better performance. To strive. To achieve. We focus on the upside and the opportunity.

His incentive plan has no upside. He will always have Diabetes, regardless of how well he manages it. Or at least he will have it if and until ever a cure is found. On the downside, as I just noted, failure to either execute or accept this responsibility, has a significantly more impactful, and detrimental result.

I have commented on the fact that matrix organizations can have a separation of responsibility, accountability and authority. Accountability and authority reside with the person that is answerable to the task in question. Responsibility resides with the person that must actually accomplish the task. A very simple example of this structure would be when Captain Kirk on Star Trek decides on a course for the Enterprise to take (the accountable authority), and then assigns plotting, navigation and implementation of the course to the navigator (usually Mr. Zulu – the responsible party).

I am not sure of who the appropriate parties would be in this example with Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or any of the other spin-offs. I don’t think I ever really watched them.

In dealing with his Diabetes, my son is responsible, accountable and the authority. He decides what he eats. He tests his blood glucose levels. He decides on and administers the appropriate amount of insulin.

There is no question. He has the responsibility, and must execute at a high level, for the rest of his life. He started in the role, and will remain with it.

Fortunately, he has accepted the responsibility. He doesn’t complain about others with less, or different responsibilities. He knows what he has to do, and isn’t shying away from it. It comes with his new role in life.

He is also executing, continuously at a very high level. His blood tests and doctor’s visits all indicate he has his disease well under control. He is healthy and continues to thrive, much like any other nineteen year old without diabetes. He doesn’t use it as an excuse, or ask for any special treatment (although he is entitled to under the American Disabilities Act).

He just works hard at the tasks he has in front of him and adds the responsibility and execution of his diabetic requirements to his daily agenda.

He has accepted these new responsibilities (even though he definitely did not ask for them), and he is executing on them to the best of his ability. I think his best has far exceeded our hopes and expectations. I am confident that he has learned how to cope with this and any potential future increases in responsibility, and that he will execute on them with the same focus and high levels that he has handled these.

I am immensely proud of the way he has handled it. I don’t know if I could do as well at his age, or any age for that matter.

I continue to watch and learn from him.

Adversity

There are very few among us who get to go through their professional careers without having to deal with some sort of adversity. I think this is pretty much a given. To be trite to the point that it almost pains me to type it, it is how we deal with this adversity that separates the truly top end from the rest of us. Sometimes dealing with this adversity has the added benefit of providing us with something called perspective.

This one is already becoming difficult for me. I think you will understand when I get into why in a little while.

When we think of adversity we normally can think about things such as difficult market conditions. Especially if you are associated with any sort of equipment or infrastructure sales in today’s capital constricted markets. Adversity can take the form of a difficult boss. I like to think about the pointy-haired fellow in the Dilbert comics by Scott Adams. Adversity can take the form of a difficult assignment, or the requirement to find your next assignment or even the next job. Obviously, adversity comes in many forms.

To one extent or another I think we have all been there. All of these examples (and many others) constitute difficult environments and situations to either find yourself in, or experience. They require a certain amount of fortitude and focus to get through. But that is just the point. They are situations to get through. With work, focus, effort and the proper attitude they can be traversed.

I think that deep down we all understand that, even when we find ourselves in those uncomfortable places. We should focus on the resolution, and finding our way to it. It is only when we take our eyes, and minds off of this goal that we run the risk of a longer-term failure as opposed to a shorter-term set-back. Still, I think we have all seen it happen.

I might get into mind-sets and methods of dealing with this type of adversity at another time as well.

I’m going to talk about a different type of adversity.

One year ago, today, my eighteen year old son was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes.

Now we are talking adversity.

Admittedly it is not as much as many face and endure, but it also has added a great deal of perspective for me when it comes to talking about and dealing with things in the professional world.

Most of the time I talk about issues, topics and observations in the first person, and what I have done, either correctly or incorrectly in dealing with them. However, this is one where I can’t. It didn’t happen to me. It happened to him. For whatever reason, his pancreas stopped creating insulin. Mine still does. His doesn’t.

I like to think of myself as a leader. Someone who solves problems. But this was one issue that I couldn’t find a resolution for.

“Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. Usually, the body’s own immune system — which normally fights harmful bacteria and viruses — mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing (islet, or islets of Langerhans) cells in the pancreas.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20353011

Every time we eat our bodies break down the consumed food into components that are used to sustain our bodies. One of the key ones, as noted above, is sugar to produce energy. Diabetes inhibits this process.

A little more than a year ago, we noticed that our son was losing weight, was getting lethargic and was drinking a ton of water. I credit my wife with spotting the symptoms first. At this point he was almost six feet tall, and weighed close to one hundred and twenty-five pounds. We got him into the doctor, and then we got the diagnosis.

After two nights in the emergency room on an insulin drip to get his blood-sugar down to an acceptable number, he was discharged and set out to deal with the adversity of being a diabetic – for the rest of his life.

This was not a temporary set-back. This is forever, for him. I had broken bones, dealt with various sicknesses, had bad bosses, and looked for new jobs, and all other sorts of set-backs. I think as I said, deep down I knew these adversities would pass.

He was dealing with his first real adversity, and it wasn’t going to pass.

As a parent, and the nominal leader in our house (Make no mistakes here. I like to think of myself as the leader, someone who solves issues, however my wife is the “boss”. I refer to her as “The most powerful woman in the universe”. At least in my universe.) this was something that I could not fix or resolve. I had to recalibrate how I dealt with this since it was by no means going to be temporary.

But I am a reasonably experienced individual. I’ve been around. I’ve gone through a lot.

My son was just eighteen. He was finishing his senior year of high school. He was already accepted into a good university. This was supposed to be a great time in someone’s life. The rites of passage. The beginning of the transition to adulthood. The last of the truly carefree times in life.

I don’t quite know what he thought, but I thought it was unfair.

I watched for any telltale signs on how he was taking this. He had gone from being able to eat, drink and do anything, like any other teenager, to having to be totally aware of what he was eating, drinking and doing, in order to maintain a healthy blood-sugar level.

What I watched as time passed, both astounded me, and made me proud.

It astounded me in that I didn’t see any changes in my kid. I was angry at the randomness and injustice of this, but he wasn’t. He was the same laid-back and happy guy that I have always known. He was facing adversity and not letting it change who he was, and is.

I was proud in that when I asked him about it, he was philosophical about it, and it seemed to be way beyond his years to me. He said he decided he wasn’t going to change because he now had diabetes. He would still eat, drink and do what he wanted, but he would now just add monitoring his blood sugar to the process.

I was proud of him in the way he was dealing with it. He said that at first, he was angry, but then he realized that being angry wasn’t going to change his situation. It was something that happened. He realized he couldn’t change it. So, he had quickly come to terms with it. And besides, he really wasn’t the angry type.

I was still angry. I probably still am, to some extent, even a year later.

Here was an eighteen year old who had never faced any adversity to speak of, let alone adversity of this type, basically schooling me on how to handle it. Here I was, someone who had gone through the highs and lows of business, the lay-offs and the promotions, pretty much all of it, and I was learning from him a perspective that in retrospect I probably should have had, to one level or another from the beginning.

He is now nineteen years old, and has finished his first year of college. He is still a diabetic, but he has put the weight back on and is now a healthy, but slender six feet tall and one hundred and sixty pounds. It is still an adversity that he has to face that will never go away, unless a cure is one day found.

We have tried to automate and simplify his regimens with the addition of Constant Glucose Monitors (CGM) and Insulin Pumps that are attached to him so that he no longer has to prick his finger to test his blood, nor use a syringe to inject the required doses of insulin.

Adversity comes in many forms. I don’t want to try and equate the adversity that occurs in business with real adversity. I learned this through watching someone I really cared for come to grips with and deal with the adversity that he faced. I also saw that although I thought what he faced was great, there were those that faced even greater adversities, many of which might not be able to be dealt with, and in many instances despite all efforts might have to be accepted on an even more painful level.

I was going to end this with some nice quote about adversity. None of them felt right, when looking at the adversity that is faced in business when compared to my son. I think this has to do with my perspective that has been gained relative to adversity. I’ll go in a little bit different, but not entirely unrelated direction here. Charles Swindoll said:

“Life is 10% what happens, and 90% how you react to it.”

If that’s the case I think my son is going to do pretty well in business, as well as in life. And I think I have learned a lot about how to deal with adversity from him.

A Soundtrack for Change

I got to thinking about change recently. I was concerned that it might be a little bit of a trite topic to discuss. There has already been an incredible amount written about change and I was concerned about what I might be able to add. Be that as it may, I still kept coming back around to it. I guess if there is already so much written about change then it won’t hurt if I decide to write a little more about it.

I did a quick search (gosh, things like this have become so simple thanks to Google) and found that there have been no less than one hundred and four songs written that have “change” in their title. This is by no means an exhaustive list. I did a quick scan and did not see “The Times They are a Changin’” by Bob Dylan. How could they leave that one out? I did however see “Things Have Changed” by Dylan. I have never actually heard that one. Guess I will have to head to YouTube after this to check that one out.

There were some interesting song titles in this list, as well as some rather unexpected artists, at least to my way of thinking. There were no less than eleven songs with just the word “Change” as a title, and another eight with just the word “Changes” as the title. The late David Bowie’s “Changes” was the only one out of these groups that I really recognized.

I thought about looking up all the songs that had change as part of their lyrics, but I decided that I really didn’t need to go to that level. There are a lot of songs written where change plays a major role. I haven’t even tried to approach all that has been written in the business world with respect to change. When I thought about it I decided it would be better to use music as the allegory instead of referring to all the business management change books. That way we can all have a song run through our collective heads whenever I try to make a point.

Besides, song writers are so much more “lyrical” in how they write.

What I got from looking back at all the changes that I have been through was that change in and of itself was usually neither good nor bad. It was whatever I expected it to be. Think about that. Change is usually what we make of it, not something inherently good or bad. It is probably impossible not to look at a change without some sort of concern. After all by its very definition change means that we will be doing something different than we have been doing.

Change: verb (used with object), changed, changing.
To make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone

I think we have all been in roles where doing something different might have been preferable to continuing to do what we had been doing. There would be two ways to affect this type of change: Change what we had been doing in the role we have, or change the role we have.

About this time I have Sheryl Crow’s “A Change Would Do You Good” running through my head.

The idea here is that when we want to make a change we expect that change to improve things. We see what may be wrong with the current role or process we are in and we act to try and improve it. We expect it to get better and it invariably does, at least to our way of thinking. We either change the role we are in to improve it, or we change roles we have been in to a hopefully improved role.

My idea of expectations of outcomes is very similar to what the economist in me knows as “Expectancy Theory”. Expectancy Theory states that an individual will behave or act in a certain way because they are motivated to select a specific behavior over other behaviors due to what they expect the result of that selected behavior will be. Basically stated this theory explains peoples behaviors based on the rewards they expect to receive.

This is why sales people who are only commissioned on orders (volume) really won’t care much about the margin (profitability) on those orders. If you want to modify that behavior then you will need to add a profitability / margin factor to the sales compensation plan.

What I am saying about expectations of outcomes is that if you expect the outcome of change to be good, your behavior will be such that usually the desired good outcome can and will be realized. My point here is that how we approach things, including change, is a significant determining factor in the outcome of that change.

Brandon Flowers, the lead singer for the band “The Killers” has a solo project song out called “I Can Change” that has suddenly popped into my head.

On the other hand, many times we must go through a change that was not the result of our own action or decision. Someone else has made a decision or taken an action that has caused a change in our environment. Sometimes we don’t get to choose to change. Sometimes we just have to deal with it.

It may not be relevant how well we think we have been doing or the goals that we have achieved. We may or may not have been consulted regarding the change. Regardless of any contributing factors we will occasionally find ourselves reacting to a change stimulus instead of acting on one.

I am going back a little ways here, but I now find myself humming “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. I started hearing “Victim of Change” by Judas Priest, but I never really was a metal head and again that one doesn’t go along with my premise regarding expectations for success in change.

In many instances our normal reaction to an imposed change is to fight it. We want to see a justification or reason for it. It may not have been decided with any input from us. At that point in time it doesn’t matter.

It is at that point in time where I again believe in the expectation of outcomes having a significant contribution to how successfully an imposed change will be dealt with. Resistance and unhappiness will lead to a difficult and unpleasant change. Acceptance and alignment will almost always lead to a much more palatable transition.

That doesn’t mean give up. Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” wrote many times of when it was proper to engage in battle, and when it was not. Many times his objective was that it was just as important to “not lose” as it was to “win”. If he recognized that he could not win, he would not engage in battle, and therefore would not lose. When it comes to battling change, it is almost impossible not to lose.

Now I can’t seem to get REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With the Changes” out of my head. There is a really great keyboard solo in that one. I actually saw them perform it live in concert once, back when I was in college. By the way, this one was not on the “change” song list that I looked up either.

By accepting that sometimes we will have to change, whether we want to or not, we can identify a key to making a successful change. The positive approach that we can choose to take when making that change is one of the determining factors in how successful we will be in making the required change. Leaders need to infuse their teams with the ability to react and adapt to change, instead of resisting it.

Sometimes we get to choose to make a change. Sometimes we are told we have to make a change. Either way, how we decide to make that change is up to us and that will be a significant contributing factor to our success in changing.

Flying Fourth Class

Please take note of the following comment as it is one that I would never have thought that even I would ever say. Starting off like that ought to get your attention. I have been told by those that know me that they are continually surprised by what I say. I have also been told that I have a tendency to go ahead and say what others were thinking but decided not to say. These events seem to occur when the buffer between my brain and mouth is either overloaded, or I have decided to just not engage it. As you might guess on occasion I have gotten in trouble for what I have said.

So, with that kind of a build-up, here goes:

I sure miss the good old days when I could fly coach.

For those of you who are not fully versed in the class warfare that is occurring daily in our skies, let me try to elaborate. I will focus my comments primarily on international flights since it appears that it is on these flights where the new “under-class” has appeared.

At the very top, the acme, the apex of the travel class hierarchy is “First Class”. They usually sit at the very front of the plane. They get on first. They have no baggage limitation rules. Flight attendants throw rose petals in the aisles in front of them as they walk to their seats. They get the good booze, and as much of it as they want, without ever having to ask.

It is a mythical place where they get to sit, as they are a mythical people who can afford the exorbitant prices required to sit there. People who sit in first class normally carry a scepter when they get on the plane. They wear capes and cloaks that are lined with real fur. If one is ever caught wearing faux-fur they are immediately removed. It took a special dispensation to allow the pilot of the plane to be able to walk through first class to get to the flight deck so that he could in fact fly the plane.

The next class of traveler in the pantheon of sky people is “Business Class”. This title is a misnomer. Very few if any “business people” can actually afford to sit in business class. Business class is only slightly less expensive than first class. I believe this slight price reduction is because that in business class you do not get the complimentary manicure and pedicure that is normally associated with first class.

Business class is usually populated by only the captains of industry. The CEOs, the movers, the shakers, the people whose corporate jets are either down for maintenance, or don’t have the flight range capability to actually fly the required ten to twelve hours needed to cross major oceans on international flights. People in business class normally have perfect teeth, expensive clothes and great tans.

The business class seat in principle is very similar to the first class seat in that it has the capability to be fully reclined into a bed where the weary traveler can sleep away the duration of the flight. The primary difference is that it is not in the very front of the plane, and it is separated from first class by a curtain. This curtain is a metaphorical iron curtain as there is normally a guard stationed there (in the guise of a flight attendant) to keep any would be social climbers from trying to use the first class toilet.

I still don’t know what the first class toilet looks like. I have heard rumors that in addition to an actual commode it also has a bidet, and one of those attendants that hands you rags, towels, and mints.

This brings us to the next set of seats; Coach Class. Instead of the four seats across that you have in first class, and the six seats across that you have in business class (all of which recline fully flat into beds) you now have nine seats across in coach class. These are the normal airline seats that we are all familiar with. They have been fully padded and engineered to be as physically uncomfortable as is possible, without actually being charged with some sort of cruelty crime. Coach seats don’t recline so much as they lean back, a little.

Coach class is nominally populated by mere mortals: People who are either trying to get somewhere, or get home after having been somewhere. Occasionally you will see newlyweds in coach. You can readily identify them as the will be the only ones smiling as they take their seats in coach. He will also be the only man that will help a woman put her carry-on bag in the overhead bin.

Nothing is complimentary in coach. You must buy your own booze and snacks and the flight attendants will only grudgingly give you a choice of inedible chicken or unappetizing pasta for your mandated meal. Digestive medications are premium priced and extra in coach. The experienced coach traveler brings their own snacks and drinks with them on board the plane.

This brings us to the new under-class in air travel: “Economy Coach Class”. Yes, it is true. Enterprising airlines have created a new lower class of coach. A while ago I would not have thought that it could be possible, but just as physicist Steven Hawking was able to create a unified theory of black holes and string theory, airline theoreticians were able to conceive of a passenger class that was lower than coach. Once thought of, it was only a matter of time before its practicality was empirically tested.

Instead of the nine seats across that are present in coach class, economy coach class has ten seats across the plane. Yes, it is true, ten seats. How can they do that you may ask? The simple answer is that they made the seats narrower, since it was impossible to make the aisles narrower and still have the drink cart pass through. Now for the average person whose shoulders are narrower than their hips this may not be too much of an issue. However there are some of us whose shoulders are in fact wider than their hips. We are the people who are now learning to sit forward in a chair from the waist down and sideways in it from the waist up.

Think about trying to hold that position, let alone sleep in that position for any number of hours.

Not only did the make the seats narrower, they also did away with all of that excess knee room that members of the coach class basked in. By arranging the rows so that your knees actually touch the seat in front of you, airlines achieved the twin goals of adding more rows (and hence more paying customers per flight) to the plane as well as taking your mind off the fact that unlike coach seats that “lean” back, your economy coach seat is now best described as “tilting” back, just a little bit. It can only tilt back just a little bit because the person sitting behind you also has their knees firmly pressed against the back of your seat. There is not much choice other than to sit straight up in economy coach.

It wasn’t too long ago that business travel, and travel in general might have been considered interesting and borderline enjoyable. As companies continue to work at finding ways to reduce costs, airlines have continued to work at ways to increase the revenues and margins that they are losing as businesses cut their travel related costs. The result is economy coach class: The underworld in the traveler class hierarchy. The class where the only difference between passengers and luggage is that it appears that luggage is handled in a more human and professional manner.

With that being said, I will now wedge myself into my ten across narrowed seat, turn my torso sideways so as to not invade my seat neighbor’s space, tilt my seat back the maximum seven and one half degrees from vertical and attempt to sleep in close proximity to at least two hundred and fifty others for the next ten hours.

Gosh, I love to travel.

Kung Fu and the Laws of Change

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.

When in the Rough…..

I like to
play golf, but I am not a good golfer. I like to watch golf on TV hoping that I
might learn something that might help me. Mostly what I learn is that the guys
who play golf on TV are so much better than me that I would have to be a much
better golfer just to be able to figure out what I could learn from them.

I was
watching the end of the year golf tournament from California and I actually did
pick up something that I think is useful. Usually the only announcer that even
remotely interests me is David Feherty, who is responsible for such great golf witticisms
as “…That ball landed as softly as a butterfly with sore feet.”, but I digress.
The announcer today was talking about one of the great golfers playing who “had
all the shots”, but was trying them in all the wrong places.

That is to
say the golfer had the capability to hit the ball 240 yards on the fly over the
water to the green on a par five in two shots, but probably shouldn’t try to do
that from a downhill lie, in the rough, behind a tree. Sure enough, when he
tried the increased difficulty shot, he didn’t execute it, and compounded his
problem. He went from trying to make an eagle, to struggling (and eventually
failing) to make par.

The comment
that caught my attention was that with the talent that the golfer possessed,
and being so capable of executing a standard shot so spectacularly, was not to
try and execute a spectacular and risky shot from a difficult position (in the
rough, behind a tree) but rather to execute a good shot to put the ball back
into a standard situation (the fairway) and then executing spectacularly from
there.

Even for a
relative hacker like me, this meant working on “course management”.

There will
always be difficulties encountered in golf. There is always a risk – reward associated
with how you deal with them. However, difficult situations are just that,
difficult to deal with. It is always possible to make a bad situation worse.
Sometimes it is better to take your short term medicine, put the ball back in
play where you have a chance of “executing spectacularly” from a easier, more
familiar situation and making par.

So, even with
all of the golf allegories, we can look at “course management” when it comes to
running our businesses. The idea here is that in many cases you may find yourself
or your business in a difficult position, where the best course of action may
not be to immediately “go for the green” and try to immediately recover the
situation. The correct course of action may in fact be to take you and your
business out of the difficulty and to put yourself back into a “normal” or “standard”
situation where it may be much easier, and therefore much more probable to execute
the “spectacular shot” and achieve success.

Recovery
sometimes is best made as a two step process. The first step is to get out of
your difficulties and back into a standard position. The second step is then to
use all the talent available to you to execute that step to success.

On the other
hand, when I am out on the golf course, I find it incredibly hard to remember
these types of lessons. I seem to just want to hit the ball…hard. Maybe that is why I am not such a good golfer.

When the Going Gets Tough – Communicate


There will always be tough times in business. It is the cycle of things. As leaders we should be working to minimize and avoid them, but sometimes they can’t be avoided. When things get tough, our natural tendency is to keep quiet, keep our head down and work harder. That is not the right response for the business leader facing tough times.

 

When times get tough the business leader needs to go on the communications offensive. You must communicate your issues and your plans to improve the situation, and the progress against those plans to the senior leadership team. It is best not to wait for them to ask. If there are issues and you wait for management to ask you, or worse yet tell you what to do, it will compromise your ability to lead your team.

 

On the other side of things, your team will also recognize when there are issues with the business. You will need to communicate openly and often with them to make sure that they are aware of all aspects of the situation and what their respective roles in it will be going forward. If your team is left with a blank page (no information) the story that they will write will not be the one you want.

 

While open and significant communication may not correct the issues that are driving the hard times, it will significantly contribute to making sure that they do not get worse. People can and will understand that tough times occur. Knowing what is happening and what their roles in it going forward are key aspects of creating and implementing the solution to tough times.