Forced change vs Needed change

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A few weeks ago I read a passage from John Maxwell in his book The Maxwell Daily Reader about scurvy. The passage summarizes difficulties in implementing the cure for the prevention of the disease during the time of European exploration of the Americas. Multiple sources knew about the effect of fresh fruit and vegetables, but due to poor communication, stubbornness, and pride of the medical establishment, the change needed to prevent the disease was delayed.

I polled a couple of my colleagues to ask them what they thought is a modern day business scurvy. One of them replied, “This is a good question. Sometimes, forced change can hide needed change, and the two become hard to distinguish for relevancy and value with so much activity happening at once.”

His answer summarizes both the challenge faced by European sailors as well as leaders in our business environment today. I thought about this for a few minutes and then wrote a quick list to try to distinguish between ‘forced change’ and ‘needed change’. I did this quickly so as to record my “gut feel” and then observed the list as a means of reflection and learning.

Forced change

  • Reporting structure reorganization
  • Technology platform adoption
  • Technology platform migration
  • Compliance
  • Outsourcing

Needed change

  • Removing waste from processes
  • Adding value to a customer relationship
  • Cross-department collaboration improvements

When I read the list a few patterns occurred to me:

  1. The items in the ‘forced change’ list concern people, tools, and rules. The items in the ‘needed change’ list are about process, value, and communication.
  2. The items in ‘needed change’ are more impactful and longer lasting to the business.  The items in ‘forced change’ can be tactical tools to help drive needed change if executed for the right reason. For example, some technology adoption is aimed to reduce the process steps in product delivery (remove waste) to the customer. Likewise, some compliance changes will help an organization tighten their processes to be more secure in how they handle data (add value to customer relationship).
  3. The challenge with the items in the ‘forced change’ list is we often implement before there is a common understanding with all the employees about why those changes are enacted. Implementation of forced change truly feels forced. When that happens, the change will either fail outright or fail to achieve the desired results.

So what is our modern day business scurvy? I would answer; it is the failure to align the reasons for needed change in an organization with the tactical implementation of change. With that thought, I see signs of scurvy in my own management and leadership approach. Ouch. It’s time to find some citrus for my business diet.

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Pablo Vidosola via Creative Commons –


How to Change Your Organization’s Culture

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How do we change the culture around here?
During a Q&A session this week, after a presentation containing touch points of a future vision, a team member asked me the culture change question. “How do we enact cultural changes here?” The question implied an agreement with the future vision, but acknowledged the challenges cultural changes require to move away from old habits.

I love the question because it gets at the heart of attitudes, customer service, brand, and leadership within a business. It’s gets to the challenge of winning the hearts and minds of the people. Changing a culture is no easy matter. Shawn Parr of Fast Company describes why Culture Eats Strategy and just how culture is a pillar of an entire organization. The greatest strategies in the world will fail if they don’t influence the right cultural mindset of the employees of the organization. cultural change

People will change if they see the value and benefit.
My answer to the question centered around value. It’s the same concept as sales. A sales transaction takes place when both parties see a value in what they are receiving. In an organization, people will rarely change behaviors if they don’t see, understand, and desire the benefit it will bring.

Expressing value is part of leadership. If people get your vision they will want to follow. One of the roles of executive management is to create the context within which the culture of the organization is built. It’s a people thing.

But we are talking about values, assumptions, and behaviors.
No one gets up in the morning with a goal to not do their job and not provide service to their customers. But there are many factors which affect our ability, willingness, and desire to deliver superior service. It’s not easy. This Wall Street Journal article discusses a more systematic and incremental approach to change an organizations culture. If you have read any of my other writings, you’ll know I’m a big proponent of incremental changes to reach a goal.

The bottom line is we are talking about people. People make the culture. The processes, beliefs, values, etc. are a means to the goal. But the culture of an organization lives in the minds and hearts of the people. If they believe in the culture that management wants then they will execute it. So the “how” is not so much about changing organizational layout, processes, and managers. It’s about winning the hearts of the people by showing the value and reaching the heart level.

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Are you crazy enough to create change?

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I sat the in the office of a colleague not long ago and made a comment about how I thought a particular company procedure was too bureaucratic. We’ve all been there. Maybe you haven’t voiced it out-loud, but you’ve surely thought it. My point was that it wasn’t necessary to go through all this “stuff” to get to real objective of the process. It was a case where checking a box on a to-do list had become greater than what you were trying to achieve.

But what came next was one of those life stopping moments.  My colleague said “What? Do you think you can change it?”. It was said not as a challenge to create change, but as a cynical reply to admit that this is just the way it is and that I wasn’t big enough to change it. The response brought back memories of conversations at home where I had said “no” to some things my kids wanted. My wife called me a “Dream Squisher.”

It’s one of the ironies of life. People are encouraged to not make waves. Just fit in. Just follow the process. Keep the status-quo. Don’t rock the boat.Yet the people and teams of people that we celebrate are those that are able to create change. Those that are able to succeed despite all the red-tape that human institutions create. Those that at one time may have been labeled “cowboys”, “insubordinate”, or “crazy”.

The classic Apple commercial made in 1997 celebrating the “crazy” ones comes to mind.

Here’s to the crazy ones: the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have respect for the status-quo.  You can quote them , disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.  Bout’ the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.  Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.  Because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Apple Advertisement

So I ask, are you bold enough to challenge processes that have lost sight of the original objective? Are you crazy enough to dream of different and more efficient ways of solving customer needs? Are you willing to stand-up and explain your “craziness”? If so, then make your mark. Dont’ be a dream squisher. Live out-loud.

The irony of change

We live in a world of change.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The world, IS, a place of continuous change. In the work place we will experiences changes in our job responsibility, our manager, and even the company ownership throughout our career. So what’s with all the resistance to change?

To change something in our lives means we have to change ourselves.
During our lives, we learn behaviors, beliefs, and skills. Doing something outside of these boundaries isn’t necessarily difficult, but it requires an effort to change ourselves. Here’s an example. A few months ago, I asked my mother why she still pays for a house phone each month. She doesn’t use it. All the calls I get from her and the ones I place to her are via her mobile phone. The house phone is just something that has always been there for her. In behavior, she’s already changed to a mobile-only life style. But in in her mind she has not changed.

Another example. I’ve talked to several managers and executives at work about steps and approvals in the software development process. Every one of them has acknowledged the things I suggest make sense and would make good improvements. But acknowledging something and doing something to facilitate change are two different things. I wasn’t successful in getting them to realize that the changed I referenced meant that they needed to change themselves.

The irony of change is that whoever is in charge isn’t really changing.
Why do I say this? As managers, workers (even parents) we seem to gravitate towards doing it differently when we are in charge of making a decision. Think about your experiences. When a new VP is hired or manager assigned to a unit, they spend the first month or two assessing their situation of people and responsibility. Then they make changes. It’s a way to leave their mark and to get things setup their way. Maintaining the status quo isn’t why they were hired.

But is leaving their mark really just doing it the way they know how or by the rules they have learned in the past? You bet it is. So while the organization undergoes a change of direction, processes, or reporting structure the person making the change is really just doing it the way they know how. That’s the irony of change.

So what?
My learning is that change is relative to the individual. Everyone looks at a situation with their set own set of lenses and judges change based on what they consider normal. This is useful in business because it helps managers put perspective on change within their organizations. Knowing the background and skills of the people effected by a potential change will help the assessment of the overall impact of the change. Knowing the background and skills of the people effected by a potential change may also help management to work-in elements of the change that are part of the beliefs and learning of those affected. The could help to make the change easier.

What have you learned about change in your career?