Praying Wine but Drinking Water: The Difficulty of Change!

“We do need to change the way we’re doing the things in order to achieve more, to win new business, to acquire new customers and to establish a new perception of us in the market!” Those kind of statements have been heard very often. And not only in business. In similar wording this is being expressed by people in so many different, I tend to say all aspects of life. This is quite normal, by the way, as our environment is permanently changing: engineers invent new technologies, marketeers create new trends and products, younger generations of human’s adapt new behavior and new way’s of living and thinking. If we want to remain part of the community we belonged to or if we want to become part of a new community we must be able to change our minds in order to adapt a new or changed behavior. However, changing behaviors is probably one of toughest processes a human being can go through. And as we human beings are the ones who require change, who execute change and finally who are responsible for change in general, it’s our responsibility to start changing ourselves when it becomes necessary. This is fundamental and independent from whether we speak about business or private life!

The main reason for the required change is essentially the fact that we human beings permanently aim to get more and to become better. In our private life’s we want to have a better lifestyle, a bigger car, we want to be better than our family and friends (however better is defined) or just having a better job. Business usually have set commercial objectives for themselves that are broken down into the different departments, that are communicated in the one or the other way. But those are made for achieving the main and overlaying objective that all companies do have in common: Profitable Growth!

In a properly set planning process a company first builds a strategy: What are we doing? What do we want to achieve? How are we doing it? Where do we want to go with the company in terms of Markets, Market Share, Revenue, Profits, Cash Flow, Number of Employees etc. The dependency of all those aspects is critical as e.g. the number of employees a company can afford definitely depends on the profit and the cash flow that is being generated but without having a critical mass of employees we might not be able to achieve those numbers. However, the main challenge comes in to play when the environment (the market conditions) starting to change. In that moment companies must adapt their planning or even worse doing a completely new planning. This then is influencing the whole organization: Processes will be adapted, Structures might be changed and often Employees will be laid off or replaced.

At the latest at this point usually the quality of a companies ability to ‚realize Change‘ becomes obvious. First of all, there is a huge difference in recognizing the need for a change and to articulate it properly and the execution of the Change. Very often Managers do know what to change or even how to change. In theory! But very often the behavior we see then is completely different from and against their knowledge. “If we want to increase our sales we do need more sales people and the people we need must have experience in what we’re doing.” The further down in the organization you go i.e. in large organizations, the more often you will make that observation. Why? Because to change means a tough piece of work that not everybody wants to burden oneself with this work and also: Nobody wants to fail! Hence, instead of taking that additional work or taking the risk of failing, many Managers follow the pass they walked in the past. But it is a prerequisite to try something new and to break new ground to successfully change things. And even though we know that we prefer to stick with this kind of ‚Protective Behavior’ in order to avoid serious problems in case of failure. We are focusing the avoidance of problems instead of the opportunity and the potential of a Change. Everybody in the IT industry remembers the saying in the 1980’s: „Whatever happens, an IT Manager won’t get fired as long as he buys IBM.“

This behavior also expresses significant sins of omission of the Management of a company. The first thing that can be concluded here is that the Management of a company missed to create a culture that is healthy for the ongoing development of the company. In an organization where employees fear to make mistakes while pro-actively intending to improve things for the company, then something very substantial is wrong here. Carrying a Management responsibility means being responsible for what is going on in the company. The fact that there are other and more Managers doesn’t mean that only the others will be responsible. As I Manager I can only expect my team to change the way the do things if I give them permission to fail. Always within a given, communicated and well understood degree, of course. But that requires as well that the Management acts with the exact same behavior. This goes back to the most important learnings human beings can have: Self-responsibility! I’m 100% responsible for what I’m doing and the more I live that, the more my surrounding will recognize it and logically start adapting that behavior themselves. Sooner or later! Oppositely it isn’t fair and even worse, it is counter productive to expect my team to behave in a way that I’m not doing myself.

Another conclusion out of that behavior is helplessness. Once an environment has changed it is impossible to overcome the new challenges by „adding more of the same“. When Sales doesn’t go well because the Sales Team is not capable to deal appropriately with e.g. the changed customer expectation then it doesn’t help to put more Sales People with the same profile on the street looking after the same type of customers. Either one can train the existing sales team to change their behavior by broadening its skills or, if this doesn’t work, they need to be replaced. If the Marketing department runs campaigns that do not fit the current Market then they need to get trained in order to learn new techniques and approaches rather then leaving them using their established activities with more budget. Doubling efforts in activities and resources that don’t work anymore because they don’t fit the environment any longer, will increase the damage instead resolving the problem.

FInally, Change takes time! Once you have started a ‚Change Process‘ it takes time to see results, to see the outcomes. Expecting an immediate effect after having initiated a Change Process can lead into deep disappointment and depression. The behavior we are trying to change has been established over decades. The way we are doing things today and how we are looking at things today is the result of our dogmas that have been created and manifested over a very long time. They are not only the result out of our own thoughts but also from those of our parents, grandparents etc. as they have been growing us adapting their own convictions. Hence, it is a big job to change those dogmas into new ones, the ones which are required in our current situation. „Never change a running system“ is one of those dogmas which very often avoid change i.e. In business. To „break“ those dogmas is a huge challenge and it has to be given time.

However, the challenges of and efforts to establish and execute successfully ‚Change Processes’ is not the problem. It is the missing honesty, integrity and flaunted Pseudo-Commitment. Zig Ziglar once said: „It’s your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude.“ Attitude means Commitment and Commitment means everything. The level of Commitment given to anything decides about the quality. This is true for the quality of a friendship as well as it is for the ‚real’ results one is delivering in his or her job. Hence, if the discussion is being started about ‚Change’ then one should make sure the ‚Change Process’ is going to be rolled out seriously. As a Manager please spare your employees or your teams the platitudes of the importance of a ‚Change’ when your commitment to change yourself doesn’t exist. As a team member please spare your Manager your willingness to change when your commitment to doing that doesn’t exist.

For sure, the level of commitment is not at the same level everyday. We all know those up- and downturns in our daily mood. That’s normal and that’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean is the fundamental commitment and fundamental attitude of a person that makes the difference. The best way to express a healthy level of commitment and attitude is to simply ‚Do What You Are Saying‘. Show the difference by simply delivering. This is a phenomenon in the todays world that could be perceived as funny: You impress people not anymore with clever and bold speeches, promises and announcements as we do have too many Politicians and and other people in the public who did misuse it too often. If you want to impress people around you and if you want to build your reputation then simply do what you’re saying!

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