Monday, August 24, 2009

Henry Ford a Change Freak?

I love old books. Just the smell, the texture, the excitement that comes from holding a book in your hands that is generations old can be amazing. I love reading primary history, history written by those who have lived what they are writing. History in many ways is corrupted when seen and summarized through the eyes of those who didn't live the events they write about. What becomes quickly apparent when reading old books is the reality that there is very little that is "new under the sun." Wisdom that creates best sellers today are often based on wisdom that is decades, if not centuries, old. A great example of this can be found in Henry Ford's "Today and Tomorrow," published in 1926.

Last week I shared the following quote from Ford's book with a Definity University Lean Certification class:

"Our own attitude is that we are charged with discoverinng the best way of doing everything, and that we must regard every process purely experimental. If we reach a stage...which seems remarkable as compared with what has gone before, then that is just a stage...and nothing more. It is not and cannot be anything more than that. We know from the changes that have already been brought about that far greater changes are to come, and that therefore we are not performinng a single operation as well as it ought to be performed."

It certainly appears that Henry Ford may have been a charter member of the Change Freaks! His approach to continuous improvement was certainly ahead of its time, an approach to continuous improvement that is still transforming organizations today. Here are a few thoughts on the wisdom we can find in the short excerpt above:
1. "Our own attitude..." Transformational change begins with attitude. It is not a program, an initiative, or a corporate goal. Real change leadership seeks to bring about an organizational culture that embraces change as the only way to move forward and thrive.
2. "...discoverinng the best way of doing everything" Every organization is on a journey of discovery. Be suspicious of any leader or organization that has a "program" to fix all the issues of an organization. As a change agent, don't slip into believing that all of today's problems can be solved with the same tools and methods you used in the past. This is expecially prevalent today with "programs" like lean, Six Sigma, ISO, etc. All of these are valuable, but they aren't silver bullets. Take the time to discover the new ways. Build on what you've learned, but don't limit yourself by making everything fit into your paradigms and previous experience.

3. "...every purely experimental" Observe the current condition. Make plans to improve. Execute on those plans with the required challenges. Measure and study the impact. Adjust your approach where needed based on what you have learned. And then start the process all over again. Nothing but the laws of God and nature are fixed. Everything else is an experiment!
4. "...far greater changes are to come" Changes that are successful simply point the way to greater changes that are to come. Don't get comfortable or the world (and your competition) will pass you by. Henry Ford was also famous for saying "You can have a car in any color you want, as long as it is black." Unfortunately, in some ways, he failed to act on his own wisdom!
5. "...we are not performinng a single operation as well as it ought to be performed." As shared in a previous post, real change begins with a hatred for the current state. Hatred. Not dissatisfaction-many people live their entire lives dissatisfied with the way things are but do nothing to change. Hate the inefficiencies you see in your organizations. Hate the shortcomings you see in your own life. Resolve to stay on the journey of continuous improvement. Nothing is as good as it can be this side of heaven, so resolve to do all you can to make it better.
Ford Motor Company is the only major US car manufacturer that hasn't been in line for government bail outs and subsidies. They are the only US automobile manufacturer not contemplating bankruptcy. I won't venture to claim to know all the reasons why, but I have to believe at least one factor is that they have a legacy of finding a better way to do business, of never being satisfied with how things are today. What legacy will you and your organization leave? What you do TODAY will impact TOMORROW in ways you cannot possibly imagine!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Change Agent Sees Change "Addiction"

After 20 years of experience leading change management programs in the U.S., Europe and New Zealand, BP executive Fiona MacLeod has concluded that the corporate world is "addicted" to serial change management programs that consume massive resources but ultimately fail to solve the problems they aim to address. "What really struck me is why so many of these change management programs fail, only to be followed by similar initiatives within one or two years, often before the original program is completed," said MacLeod, president of BP Convenience Retail USA & Latin America.

Thus begins a great dose of wisdom from change freak Fiona MacLeod, recently presented at the 2009 Wharton School of Business Leadership Conference. You can find the complete text of this great article on the links page. Not that I can add much to her comments, but I will take the opportunity in this blog to add a few words in response to some of her main points.

Can change be an addiction? While I am a firm believer that great good can come from change, and likewise great harm from a refusal to embrace change, I also agree that change for change sake can be dangerous. If all we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, attempts at organizational change can be doomed from the start! So how can we avoid these change leadership failures?

Many change management programs are doomed to failure because "the change we are putting in place is not sustainable -- and sustainability is absolutely crucial," noted MacLeod. So what are some of the reasons for a lack of sustainability? MacLeod cites three examples:
1. New leaders are more focused on making a "big splash" than following a long term plan for change. In some corporate cultures leaders are expected to make an immediate impact with a flurry of activity, and often nothing covers incompetency as well as frantic and dramatic activity!
2. Employees don't understand why change is needed. This goes to the heart of showing respect to people, an absolutely necessary element to the transformation of an organizational culture. If employees are on a "need to know" basis concerning organizational performance, don't be surprised if they don't recognize the need for change.
3. Ownership of the change rests with an external team or consultants, and not with the leaders responsible for running the business. Every leader should have a mirror by their door with the words "The key to sustaining change" inscribed upon it. People tend to own what they create, not what was imposed upon them. If the leaders don't look in the mirror and see ownership of the change, the grass roots of the organization will never embrace it. "Never assume that leaders get it.... We need to take probably 10 times as long in engaging, empowering and educating our leaders than we actually think we do," MacLeod said.

MacLeod recommends putting "written charters and contracts in place...You need to constantly look at them and discuss them with people." People tend to perform to the level expected of them. The problem is, most leaders never clearly articulate the expectations they have of their team! Time taken to clearly document and articulate expectations is time well spent. Don't ever assume that people understand your expectations, unless you're prepared to be frustrated and disappointed. Oh, and they should clearly understand what they can expect from you as a leader!

One more point to highlight: "I put my winning, end-state organization in place from day one rather than waiting to decide which employees would stay to support the franchises and which would leave." I haven't seen this point covered very often by successful leaders, but it is very wise advice. Taking a long-term perspective on leading transformational change doesn't mean waiting to put a winning organization in place to lead the change. In fact, a failure to do so can be fatal to sustaining improvement throughout the organization. It is true that simply reorganizing or hiring a "superstar" is no guarantee for positive change, but it is equally true that leaving a poor performing organization in place will guarantee a lack of progress and sustainment. Deal with the hard decisions early rather than later. Nothing frustrates the champions of change in an organization worse than seeing leaders ignore or refuse to deal with those who undermine change.

What are your thoughts? Can change become a corporate "addiction?"

Monday, August 3, 2009

See the Need, Be the Change!

This week's inspiration doesn't come from a biography or a great leadership book. It comes from a t-shirt I recently saw at the Easton Mall in Columbus, OH. I was sitting in a book store coffee shop waiting on my wife to finish shopping (where I've spent about two of my twenty years of marriage! Two more I've spent waiting for her outside a ladies bathroom!). Anyway, sitting at a table close by was a woman wearing a black t-shirt with bold block lettering that spelled "Change Agent." Of course, this got my attention. Trying not to stare, I finally made out the small print beneath this title" "See the Need, Be the Change!" I loved it!

This t-shirt reminded me of one of my favorite quotes. Arun Gandhi has quoted his grandfather, change freak Mahatma Gandhi, as stating "We must become the change we want to see." How do we do this? We see the need, and be the change! So often we are tempted to wait for others to act. We complain about the world in which we find ourselves, and wish "somebody" would do something, but we feel powerless to make a difference. So we close our eyes to the need. We refuse to be the change.

The message this week is simple: Resolve this week to look carefully around you for opportunities for change that can make a difference. Then resolve, in at least one instance, to be the change that is needed. Don't underestimate the change this will require. It may require you to perform an act of service that sacrifices your dignity, that requires humility that is uncomfortable. Or it may require the courage to speak up for others who cannot. It may require you share an idea at the risk that it may be laughed at or rejected. Most of all, it will require action. Not talk. Not criticism or complaining. Action. Do something. Take a risk, and make a difference. Then take a moment to share with us what you resolved by leaving a comment to this post. Who knows, you may become the change you've wanted to see for so very long!