To Change or Not to Change?

Any time that a new manager is hired, organizations expect them to shake things up. Unfortunately, most managers tasked with shaking things up make the mistake of enacting change for change’s sake without taking time to learn about the organization first. Maybe some changes need to be made, but most of the time old processes and policies get thrown out just because ‘that’s the way they used to do things and we’re doing things differently now.’ Anyone challenging these changes gets labeled as someone who doesn’t ‘get it.’ While change is vital and necessary in any organization, blind change made just to show the higher ups that things are being shaken up is often counterproductive.

Why would this be counterproductive? The biggest reason is that the employees who are least likely to leave after a shakeup are the ones who are most likely causing the problems to begin with. Chances are, you’ll never make things uncomfortable enough for them that they will leave. Meanwhile, the employees who could have provided a stable base for the organization while new hires are brought in are the ones who will most likely become uncomfortable and leave.

Plus, while many organizations might be bogged down because of tradition and habit, there may be valid reasons why some things are still done the same way. As inefficient or unwieldy an old process might be, if the organization’s customers don’t want it to change, it most likely won’t be a good idea to change it. Greenhorn managers won’t know this and by shaking things up without a plan, they just might cause more damage than their changes are worth.

A Rule and/or Policy For Everything?!?

We’re only human. Even in the most efficient, well run organizations there are bound to be things that go wrong or fall through the cracks. The only sure way to recover from such a problem is to be flexible and empower staff to do what it takes to recover from these issues. While this should be good enough, sometimes human nature takes hold and the organization spirals into sure insanity- trying to insure that the situation, no matter how rare, never happens again!

In a situation that only a robot would love, the organization then goes into crisis mode, spending precious time figuring out what might have gone wrong and scheduling endless meetings to come up with new rules and policies to prevent the situation from rearing its head again. This might be a good use of time- if the situation isn’t a rarity, a quick, initial analysis shows a breakdown in an existing procedure or the consequences of the issue were huge. However, many organizations treat each and every problem as if it was the end of the world and requires some sort of new rule or policy to avoid it.

While nobody wants to purposely experience a customer service breakdown, it is important to note that not every breakdown is a major issue and most of them are freak occurrences. Treating them all like major issues creates a paranoid organization that spends way too much time planning for unlikely calamities. While it might be useful to spend a few minutes evaluating every incident for severity and frequency of recurrence, most organizations will find that 99% of these issues are not worth pursuing further. If future events force a re-evaluation, that’s great, but most of the time a functional organization can just move on.

A flexible organization with empowered staff can recover quickly from these types of calamities. Don’t bog down your organization with burdensome policies and rules that will most likely never need to be used or will affect customer service to “fix” a problem that might not actually exist. Your staff and customers will thank you.

Be a Trailblazer!

Customer focus groups are often maligned, yet most large corporations still rely on them to dictate future plans and provide feedback on their products. While this information might be of some use, it is often typically misused by those who wish to provide cover for their decisions. After all, if the focus group liked it, how could we have guessed it would fail?

True visionaries, however, find great success by anticipating what their customers will want. When Walt Disney first came up with the idea for DISNEYLAND, he wasn’t building something that people had asked for; he was building something he knew people would love once they saw it for the first time. Opening day cast members recall confusion among guests as to how they should proceed through the park. Did they have to visit the attractions in the order in which they were listed in the guidebook? How should they act within the park? If one had asked these people in 1950 if they wanted a theme park, they probably would have said no. Once they entered Mr. Disney’s Magic Kingdom, however, they couldn’t imagine a world without it.

“Walt Disney’s secret was to do things you don’t need, and do them well. And then you realize you needed them all along.”

-Ray Bradbury

Walt Disney isn’t the only person who has understood this concept; Steve Jobs did as well. Jobs didn’t use focus groups or feedback to gauge what his customers wanted. He looked to the future to visualize what people would eventually want, then gave them exactly that. By applying this sort of vision, he would reap huge rewards when the world flocked to snap up the devices they didn’t even realize they wanted until they first saw them.

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

-Steve Jobs

So how can this idea be applied to everyday life? Great success can be yours by anticipating what your customers and clients will want versus what they tell you they want. Staying ahead of the curve will reap you and your organization huge rewards.


Many organizations like to talk about how laidback and open they are. Why the head of the organization has an open door policy! Feel free to pop in anytime!

Except- hardly any of these organizations ever actually work this way. Going into the boss’ office is a good way to find yourself at HR collecting your final check. Management says they want openness, but try providing feedback that isn’t positive and you’ll quickly find yourself labeled a problem.

How can you tell if the organization isn’t practicing what it preaches without getting into trouble? Take a look at your e-mail inbox. Did a request from upper management get forwarded to multiple places before getting sent to you? Do you only see the organization’s leader at big, important meetings? You can safely assume that the open door is really just a trap.

Is the lack of an open door workplace a problem? Not really. That sort of structure might not be a good fit for every organization. The big problem with saying there’s an open door policy but not really having one is that employees can see that management is not being genuine. Often the first thing employees hear on day one is how open and collegial things are within the company. If the first thing they hear is easily proven to be untrue, distrust of the organization starts early on. Most of the time it probably won’t matter, but it’s just as easy to be honest, so why start things off on the wrong foot?

Resource Burglars

Every organization has them; when annual meetings occur to prioritize projects and plan out the next year, they agree with the majority and play nice with management. However, once they get back to their offices, they forget what they agreed to and start trying to get their projects pushed through regardless of the strain on resources.

It seems like it should be easy to avoid these pitfalls, but resource burglars are often very clever. They may try to sneak their projects through as regular everyday requests. By the time the resources figure out the con, well, might as well finish things up, right?

The easiest way to avoid these conflicts is to make sure that everyone in the organization knows and understands what the priorities are. A good way to do this is to put the goals in writing and prominently display them in the office. It’s hard to ignore an agreement that is visible to everyone.

Goals and priorities do change, but it is important to make sure that your group is protected from being taken advantage of. Be flexible, but be careful to alert decision makers what the trade-off might be. Every change will result in some delay for another project. Make sure everyone involved is aware of the consequences and potential drawbacks.

Ignoring Reality

It’s a reality of life in many organizations. The powers that be decide to embrace The Next Big Thing and they begin to bring in new managers to implement this new idea.

Then the exodus begins. At first, the powers that be are excited. Obviously, these people are walking out the door because the bold new managers are stirring things up. Their absence will only help things, since they obviously must have been the people holding things up, right? That’s probably true in some instances, but it might be a good idea to keep an eye on the situation and look at the feedback from exit interviews. Or just ignore everything and assume that this is the fire needed to clear away the unnecessary underbrush.

Or you could find yourself like Enron. When many people looked at the aftermath of Enron’s colossal collapse, it became clear early on that the company’s efforts to modernize itself and increase its stock price had placed it into an insurmountable death spiral. The company’s core business had been transporting natural gas around from point to point. When a brash young executive arrived on the scene and revolutionized the relatively mundane business of selling natural gas, the company took notice and quickly elevated him to company stardom. Jeffrey Skilling was the future of the company and the board wanted everyone to take notice.

At first, things seemed to be going well. While many longtime staff members ran for the exits, they were portrayed as “not getting it” and the company was deemed to be better off without them. Skilling quickly surrounded himself with others who thought the same way he did and they mocked and ridiculed not just the old guard at Enron, but their competitors, customers and industry.

Thus Enron began taking its eye off of the fundamentals, concentrating on the next shiny thing that would impress Wall Street. The people who actually produced the products and services for sale were marginalized and treated poorly. The brash, rude and obnoxious new blood soon chased off the people whose institutional memory and skills were vitally important in running an energy company. When the flashier things didn’t pay off, the company was forced to begin using accounting gimmicks to prop things up. Eventually the gimmicks became criminal acts and the company collapsed because the very people who could save it had been chased out years earlier.

Now the point of all this isn’t to say that companies should resist change; change is an inevitable part of the workplace these days. Yet change should be carefully managed and overseen. Rather than ignore the feedback when employees voluntarily depart after a change, it should be collected by a neutral party in the organization and analyzed to make sure that the organization isn’t setting itself up for defeat by putting in an abrasive leader who will just chase away staff and enforce his or her will regardless of whether it is workable or not. A good leader gets the lay of the land before making any changes. A disastrous leader barrels through his or her new department eliminating things just because they’re “old” or not in fashion. Just like the fashion world, businesses can become enraptured with trends and fads. How it deals with them can dictate whether the company is successful or a failure.

Know Your Brand!

Once a company gets big, it often tries to spread out its product lines by adding new items it thinks will bring in new business. The important thing to know, however, is what customers expect and want from the brand. While companies like Wal-Mart or Dollar Tree could put their names on just about anything, regardless of quality, many companies find themselves damaging their brands by selling merchandise that their customers wouldn’t expect from them.

In a best case scenario the items are largely ignored- a bizarre footnote to corporate history. In the worst case scenario, the brand could suffer from slapping its name onto a seemingly random, low quality item. These pitfalls can be avoided by knowing exactly what customers expect and giving it to them. Even a great item can be derailed by sloppy branding.