Why We Can’t Seem to Change Things

Tom Crouser March 21, 2012 Comments Off on Why We Can’t Seem to Change Things

What do you want to change? More than one owner has said, “I know what to change but I never do.” Hum. Why do we not do what we know we should? There’s a straightforward answer: we often want to change outcomes without being willing to change behavior in ourselves and others. We want more customers but don’t do the basics of getting them. We want more cash but we don’t have financials. We want to take the hassle out of the business but we organize around what workers want to do rather than what they should do. There are two forces in every business that resists all change: ourselves and the people who work with us.

There is a mysterious force hard at work in our business to keep things the way they are. It’s called homeostasis, a big word for a state of equilibrium or the natural tendency to keep things the same.

You may find your situation stressful and chaotic. You have little money. You have hired folks who don’t perform. Your schedule is set by which customer is on the phone demanding their job. Whatever the cause, you’ve lived like this for some time and there is comfort in chaos.

Yes, comfort.

Dan Ariely in his book, “Predictably Irrational,” says there is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in all of us. Our rational self is Dr. Jekyll and when operating in that mode, we can easily intellectualize that we know we need to do. Now why we don’t do it is that we have to do it in the heat of battle or when we are Mr. Hyde so to speak. Ariely says we often can’t predict what we will do in the heat of battle such as tell a worker they have to do something differently or actually change.

I worked with a client who previously had lost his house by continuing to take the money out of his equity and dumping into the business. He was renting now and still had a key worker who came in at five in the morning and worked until two in the afternoon. This prevented the owner from doing what he needed to do (sell something to someone) because he needed to be in the shop to cover.

He knew this was a problem but did nothing. He called us for help and we, too, identified the worker’s hours, among other things, as a problem. He agreed. Actually he said that the reason for the worker’s hours had changed, so it shouldn’t be a problem. We then made a list of changes with this as the first item and left it with him. Excellent. Job was done, right? Well, not exactly.

During the first follow-up telephone conference, our friend had completed a lot of the items on the list but not the worker’s hours. Okay, let’s do it next week. He didn’t do it then either.

In his rational state, it was easy for him to agree to the change. But he froze in the heat of battle. This is common. That’s when we used the quarterback routine.

Ever notice the list taped to the quarterback’s arm? It usually the first eight or ten plays he’s to run regardless of the situation. That’s because in the heat of battle, we don’t always think quickly or rationally and after so many plays, the quarterback is then calmer and can think more clearly.

So we scripted what he would say. “Joe, I’m going to need you to work from 8 to 5 pm beginning the first of the month. Do you have any questions?” Then we worked on potential responses. Result? He did it.

Why didn’t he do it before? He was fearful of the first few plays in the heat of battle. But there’s more to change. Once we overcome our tendency to leave things the same, we must deal with the team’s tendency to do the same thing.

Mary Beth O’Neil, an author, leadership consultant and executive coach, says that groups often resist change even if they absolutely know it will benefit them.

This “push-back” tendency is the second leading cause of change not taking in our business.

I was helping an owner interview a production manager candidate when I asked him to describe the last time the company implemented a policy he didn’t agree with. He told us the company implemented a job cost system that he didn’t like. So, he talked with the other guys and everyone agreed to not turn in the reports. After a couple weeks, the reports were never asked for again.

We don’t always have such clear examples of organized resistance but the results are the same, organized or not. Boss gets a great idea to change something; tells everyone to do it but then focuses on other things. That’s when the boss complains, “I tell them to do it but they don’t.”

Imagine a jig-saw puzzle. Your team is intertwined like pieces of the puzzle. Some pieces or people are bigger than others meaning some people’s influence on the team (authority) is greater regardless of their position (power). Some pieces have their tentacles connected to many areas outside their own like a cancer, some have few.

Some prepress operators run the shop even though they’re not in charge. They run the shop through expertise (no one else knows to do what they do and gosh forbid they ever quit) and their will (prima donna comes to mind). I’ve seen many press operators cuss and kick the press and become, in fact, the force that has to be dealt with in order to get any job done regardless of who owns the business or who is in charge.

Now imagine an invisible force field putting pressure on each of the four sides of the puzzle, ever pushing inward and keeping it intact and resistant to change. That’s homeostasis or the pressure for equilibrium.

And now you want to change something, huh? Well how do you break through the force field? Anytime we want to make changes you must first anticipate the resistance to the change. It is part of human nature. You can usually figure out responses you will get from workers in advance. You then script and prepare yourself for their reactions during the heat of battle.

Then you must assure the change takes. Decide what changes need to be made, let the team know, and then maintain everyone on a short leash until it sticks. This can be done through reporting or direct supervision or whatever is appropriate but you must be intent on making the change an organizational habit. And you will have to be willing to change workers if you must.

Nonetheless, why do we not change what we clearly know should be changed? Homeostasis, our own Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde behavior as well as the natural push-back we will receive from our team is why. Otherwise, it would be changed wouldn’t it? And that’s exactly why LeBron James needs a coach. Regardless of how good we are, we all need someone else to help us affect change.
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For help in personal changes, check out my 50-minute, 6-part audio program: “Why Don’t We Do What We Know We Should?” It adds to the information in this article. Only $20 at www.crouser.com

For help on what to change in your business, sign up for a no-cost or obligation Business and Market Analysis by CPrint® International. You might learn something about your business besides find things you might change for more income. www.cprint.com

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