Don’t Scratch the White Walls…

I am trying very hard to stay out of the political turmoil on this blog, but it is very hard, tire-wash2-200x300because from a change management perspective this whole election and upcoming presidency is beyond interesting to me. What I see on a daily basis, in the companies I consult to, is playing out on a much bigger stage and it is riveting. I believe the next four years are going to change challenge us in ways we haven’t been challenged before.

Change is hard, I talk about that all the time, but change is really hard when we have been at something a long time. Our country has been built on many traditions and often people forget the difference between tradition and laws. We fall into the trap of “we’ve always done what we’ve always done” and when someone new steps in and wants to do it a different way the defenses go up. Even if the old ways aren’t particularly serving us well any longer, we grab on to them with a death grip because they are comfortable, familiar and predictable.

dan-ratherThe headline today is about the media and traditions. Dan Rather is leading the charge of condemning President-Elect Trump for not holding press conferences ‘old school’ like it has always been done. Instead P-E Trump chose to address the US using Twitter, a new media option presidents before him didn’t have. Instead of embracing these new channels and adapting the print and news media are accusing P-E Trump of breaking the rules of the past. My gut tells me this is the first of many of these national discussions. It is time to face the question of our change capability as a nation. And I also believe the donald-trump-twitter-followanswer to that question determines as much about our future in the world as our next president does. Are we a country who can mold and adapt in a changing world or are we like many around the world see us inflexible and stuck in the past. Does our tendency to cling to traditions paralyze us on a global stage?

A lesson I was taught three years ago today, when I met my horse Jasmine for the first timehome, is that often when we get what we don’t want, we get exactly what we need. I am beginning to wonder if that will be the legacy of a Trump presidency. Are we at this point in history because there are lessons we as a country need to learn to be successful for another 200 years? There is a phrase in change management; I believe I have used it before in this blog, “Change happens when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of change”. We very well may have been at that tipping point and that is the real “why” on the outcome of the 2016 election, this was our change trigger.

Some of you may have been intrigued by the title of this blog post and what it means. One of my favorite stories about always doing what you have always done revolves around tires. I heard this from a speaker at an efficiency conference many years ago. The keynote speaker had worked in the auto industry and was hired by one of the major tire manufacturers to reduce cost. Through his analysis he found that the company was spending millions of dollars a year shrink wrapping the tires. It took him over six months to find someone who could tell him why. It took him meeting with a long-retired manager to learn that they were shrink wrapping the tires to prevent scratching the whitewalls on the tires. The company hadn’t made whitewall tires in over a decade but no one had ever stopped and pointed out this was no unnecessary. They just kept doing what they had always done!mb_tires_lue_as_shipped

What are your whitewalls? What are our whitewalls as a nation? How often do we continue with behaviors or processes that no longer fit just because they are what we know or what we were told? I am always amazed when I meet with a firm and ask why they do something and the only answer anyone can tell me is “the person before me told me to do it that way”.

As we approach the end of 2016 I challenge each of you to break down a whitewall, to look at your reactions to change and really consider are you holding on for the sake of tradition and comfort or is it time to change.

Change and the Ballot Box

2016-generic-vote-buttonsThis has been a really intense week to be an American, but as a change management professional it has been incredibly interesting. While I have my views on what went on and why we as a country elected who we did, I have tried my best at times to step back and look at this professionally and as I would if I was brought in to analyze the change capacity of our country. The result is some of the best change management planning out there and at the same time some of the worst change reaction possible.

The Best Example of Change Leadership

From a change management perspective how we (mostly) peacefully change leadership every four years is a great example of change done right. It happens at predictable intervals, it is well communicated, a formal transition period is allotted. It looks really good on paper. I was even impressed with the speech that President Obama gave following the election. He said all the things a good leader guiding a change effort should. I personally thought it was one of his best speeches.obamaspeech_18330164_8col

The full transcript can be found here https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/09/transcript-president-obamas-remarks-on-donald-trumps-election/. But it was this paragraph I was drawn to

“I’ve said before, I think of this job as being a relay runner. You take the baton, you run your best race and hopefully by the time you hand it off, you’re a little further ahead, you’ve made a little progress. And I can say that we’ve done that and I want to make sure that handoff is well executed because ultimately we’re all on the same team.”

Unlike many of us the president goes into his job knowing it will end at one of two points (4 years or 8). And for that reason he has to lead thinking about what comes after him. It is change management from day one to the last day. And it was designed that way. Term limits force us to look forward and beyond ourselves. What if we all did that in our job. What if we all worked towards the goal of knowing someone would come after us and make it different than us and our job was to make it the best for them we could and to make sure that when we handed off continuity wasn’t lost? What would you do different? Would you document more? Would you create better training materials? Would you be less worried about fitting to you and more to the organization? What is stopping you from doing those things now? How can you change your mindset to being to function this way?

The Worst Example of Change Acceptance

For as good as job as I think President Obama, as well as Secretary Clinton and President-Elect Trump, did in crafting the right message after the election, I think we as a country have done a terrible job accepting the change. Across the country there are protests, students and colleges being brought to dysfunction, calls for over throwing the Electoral College vote. What happened? Why aren’t we handling this well?

The first reason is this election broke the cardinal rule of change leadership, no surprises! I think everyone was shocked with the outcome and we’re very unprepared for it. Even those who voted for Donald Trump and were hoping for his victory didn’t believe it could happen. I saw a statistic this morning that on election day 78% of people expected Hillary Clinton to win. I will admit I was in that percentage. I was out of the country at the time and went to bed without even checking the news; it was a done deal in my mind. When I woke up at midnight and saw where the results were at I was dumbfounded and thought I was dreaming. It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible.

161109045042-election2016-wellesley-4-exlarge-169Surprises during change are the worst thing that can happen. They throw everyone off their game and make us reach for the first reaction we can muster. They defeat all the planning and preparation we have done and all the responses we have readied for problems. I look around the country and I feel like we are those parents who had the ultrasound and knew emphatically they were having a girl. We painted the nursery pink, we bought all dresses and frilly things, we picked out a name, we sent out announcements and when we hit the delivery room the doctor announced “it’s a boy”. We knew we were getting a baby, we planned for a baby but this was not the baby we had built all our preparation around and we are all just looking at each other with that “what now” face.  We are trying to figure out how we had it so wrong and feel unsure what to do now.

The second reason I believe we are having such a hard time as a nation with this, and this is where some of my personal views will be more obvious because I feel passionate about this, is that we as a collective have dropped our change capacity in the last two decades. In my opinion we have failed an entire generation and are seeing the results this week. While giving every child a ribbon and not allowing scoring in sports events and grading on a curve had good intentions it has left a significant part of our culture without the reality that sometimes things don’t go their way and has not provided them the skills to be ok with that. For many in the 10-30 year old age group this is the first time they have had to face a major loss or change that was not guaranteed to go their way and they are clueless how to process it. The only emotions they can muster are the typical change reactions of denial, fighting back and trying to bargain it away.

It in no way helped them that the media and even our current leadership told them for months it wasn’t possible that Clinton would lose. And worse yet that if she did it would be tragic for our country. We took a generation without the tools to handle an unexpected outcome and primed them to believe that outcome was survivable. As a change initiative worse marketing and preparation could not have occurred. We told the bed time story over and over again of the monster under the bed, we promised that we would protect them from the monster and then are surprised when they see the monster and the reaction is panic, fear and helplessness.

There are going to be many lessons that come out of the 2016 election. I have no doubt it will be student in graduate programs and doctorate theses will be written about it. We will debate how we didn’t see it coming, how we could have been wrong, what lead to it. But my sincere hope is that we also use it as a personal and national lesson on change and how to better help ourselves and future generations adapt to change, regardless of whether it is a change you supported or didn’t.

I don’t do squishy or slimy

“Be as gentle as you can but firm as necessary, be firm without getting mean or mad and be gentle without being a big sissy.”

sushiI am preparing to travel to Costa Rica this weekend with friends I have never traveled with before. We were discussing restaurants and as it always does my, self admittedly, odd food quirks came up. Long story short, food is all about texture to me. At least 95% of my food choices are driven by how food feels in my mouth. Taste is important but if it feels weird it is a no-go! As I was telling my friend that I “don’t so squishy or slimy” I realized that is how I feel about people too.

I have a very hard time with people who can’t back a decision (squishy) or who lie to your face (slimy). There is a lot of irony between this and what I do for a living. You could say a lot of my job is attempting to make people and their processes less squishy. I spend my time with companies who have 10 ways of doing the same thing and I try to bring them as close to one way as possible. Inevitably the leaders of these companies tell me they haven’t been able to make change because their employees don’t listen to them. In the majority of these cases the reality is that the leader is squishy and the people around him have learned that.

In my last blog post I talked about asking with expectation, but communication is a two-way street. It is just as important that the recipient hear with expectation. Squish gets in the way of that hearing! And more importantly ignoring squish is a taught habit.

How many of us over 40 grew up with the phrase “just wait until your father gets home”. It was the moment of terror. We feared dad stepping in because dad wasn’t squishy. Mom was the epitome of squish. She would start to count to three and we would laugh, because we knew when she got to two she would start with “2 ½, 2 1/4” and nothing would happen at 3. Don’t make me come over there or no dessert was the same empty threats and we knew it. Over time we learned to play this game with her, knowing full well nothing was going to happen. We knew we held the power. But dads of that generation were a different story. When dad spoke, we knew he meant business and we listened knowing we had to execute. We knew he wasn’t squish.

As leaders and bosses we often feel unheard, disrespected, ignored or over run. We look at the people around us and place the blame on them when in reality we have taught them we are squishy. Do you set deadlines or give ultimatums and then don’t follow through or give in? Do you set rules but there is no ramification for breaking them? Do you harp on the same points over and over and nothing changes? Do you allow the same bad behaviors to routinely occur and let them slide? If so you are squish! And more importantly you have taught those around you to treat you like squish!

The best part about dealing with squish, be it food, horses or people, is that it is typically hortonvery easy to fix. A little heat applied to squishy food changes the consistency completely. I’d avoid steak tartar like the plague but give me a medium well done rib-eye any day!

The same applies to people. All it takes is a little Dr. Seuss logic. As Horton so well put it “I meant what I said and I said what I meant”.

Two simple rules is all it takes to get rid of squish.

1) Don’t say it unless you plan to enforce it

2) Don’t ever not enforce it if you have said it.

That is all the heat it takes!