Does Your Company Really Want Change?

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Q: Our management team has been trying to get the Executive Management and Private Owners of our manufacturing company to make positive changes to grow the company, achieve a larger market share and make this an all around better place to work. But although “they” say “they” want change, nothing ever happens. We’ve even had a consultant work with us for a short time and he echoed everything we’ve been saying. Change begins then hits a brick wall and we’re back to business as usual. Is this the way it is in all privately owned companies?

WK, Galveston, TX

A: To begin with, let me assure you that you and your current employer are not in a club by yourselves. Not only does this scenario occur in the private sector but in large corporations and governmental agencies as well. Several examples come to mind but here are two that should easily demonstrate this to you.

1. A few days ago, an old friend of mine interviewed for the position of Director of Economic Development for what was once a very historic and popular Midwest City with a population of 20,000. The call for candidates went out in January, 2008. Last Friday they interviewed the fourth of four candidates. My friend is hands down the most qualified and he was told at the interview by the President of the Chamber of Commerce, “…they hoped to have a decision by the 1st of June!” My friend, in a very professional manner, explained to them the errors of dragging this out so long and he asked them; “….Are you REALLY ready to make the changes that we have discussed?” The room was silent for a bit and then they did finally decide that he was right and will make that decision next week. The fear of the “newbie’s” on the hiring committee is the “old-timers” will want to go with someone from the good old boy network and it will be business as usual. The jury is still out.

There is obviously a great deal more to the story, but it shows that even a city that is losing their young people, businesses moving out of town, no new growth, virtually no inquiries of companies wanting to move there and STILL they willing to procrastinate because the fear of reality has set in. They procrastinate because change for some brings fear. But for others it also demonstrates failure. “If the new guy does good, then I guess it shows that we didn’t do so good, so we are failures!” Instead of acting all grown up about it, and realizing that they took the city as far as they can, now it’s time for someone else to take the reins and go forward before the city becomes a ghost town.

2. I know a gentleman who was hired by a large and formidable construction company and when he was introduced to the entire company by the president, he was called their “change agent” and strongly endorsed by management team. He was full of ideas, concepts, suggestions, observations and improvements and he diligently began the work at hand. Most of the staff bought into the changes and improvements and progress seemed to be happening. But once he reached the level of the entrenched upper management, the same upper management who were involved in the interview process and approved his hiring, THE WALLS OF JERICHO AROSE! Change was okay for the other departments, but not for “mine.” Attitudes began to change, projects were undermined, secret meetings with the owners, cooperation stopped and so did the process. Nobody discussed their fears or concerns with the “change agent”, just continued on their own personal agenda’s to make certain no change came to their departments. One day the president came in and said to the “change agent”, I appreciate the work you’ve done here, but it’s causing too much grief with my “entrenched” (not his word but mine) people and I just don’t I want to play in the sand box any longer, and they parted. No explanation, no discussion, but the president wanted the “entrenched” people (and probably himself) to feel safe, so it was back to business as usual.

Now this is just two examples of executives, managers and owners giving lip service to wanting change and when the reality hits, the insecurity of their lives and positions, the fear in their inner beings and the intrinsic lack of confidence of themselves and what they have built, takes over and they can’t bring themselves to innovate or hand over control.

The very sad part of these stories is the lack of learning from the companies who HAVE given over the controls, who have embraced change and have excelled to unbelievable heights. And if you want an example of a company that started around a table and now is a billion dollar corporation with several thousand employees, look at the Cerner Corporation in Kansas City. www.cerner.com. Their story and the vision of the President and founder is second to none. Their campus is sprawling, they’ve always experience tremendous growth, their employee turnover is less than 3/10 of one percent because their people ENJOY and WANT to work there. Innovation is always in the air in the halls of Cerner.

Change is not easy but it is imperative for survival in 2008 and beyond. Quality employees are becoming more difficult to find, retention of employees is an everyday process, talk of recession, and changes in the world that affect all of us. The owners and managers in control of any given company MUST understand the value of change as it relates to the organization and themselves. They MUST put aside the egotisms, greed and paranoid thinking OR it will be business as usual.


George F. Mancuso

George F. Mancuso, CPC