When Urgency Doesn’t Always Propel Us Forward

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
Chinese Proverb

Over the past few weeks, I have reconnected with some former clients and prospects and had some sobering conversations. Some were Covid related, and others were not. But in total the overall theme revolved around urgency and the need to get their business house in order. In every situation, the CEO or owner admitted that they should have started sooner or in some cases, with me, instead of someone else.

The result of these conversations is that my calendar is becoming full, and I am grateful. But there is something else that is nagging me. Why didn’t they move sooner?

I think I know that answer.

I once managed a team of 30 continuous improvement consultants. Every day they would go into companies and implement Lean Manufacturing practices. They would create vision, identify waste, and create new best practices. They would help their teams overcome obstacles, including employee objections. They were trained change agents.

Do you know who objected the most to any policy or practice change within our own organization?

Yep – those same 30 consultants!

Change is hard because it is built into our DNA as humans. Inertia is part of human nature – even when we know it is so much better to keep moving.

For many business owners and entrepreneurs, we thrive in creating change – unless it is being thrust upon us.

Last year during Covid, we saw change happen at a pace that was impossible for any of us to imagine as the clock struck midnight on December 31, 2019. To make change happen well, it helps to acknowledge the challenges and address them head on.

R. Paul Volle believes that most companies only change when forced. His article, “In Change, Top Management Procrastinates the Most,” he outlined eight steps to combat this problem that I’ve modified slightly to help accelerate this process. Specifically:

  1. Walk the Talk – CEOs and executives need to be the change they want to see in their businesses.

  2. Invest in building teams – Most problems require a diversity of thought power to solve and maintain those solutions. Silos, more than ever, create risks in organizations.

  3. Invest in Processes – Businesses dependent on individuals to save the day (including the CEO or owner) always will be at risk.

  4. Change out low performers quickly – Morale (and company performance) suffers when non-performing team members are kept longer than they should. I have never heard a CEO tell me that they jettisoned a low performer too soon. Never.

  5. Believe that everyone is dispensable (and plan for it – see this blog post.)

  6. Celebrate successes – even small ones. Most CEOs I know are always onto the next thing well before their team has finished the last task. There’s a reason we liked a being awarded a gold star in kindergarten and we still like to see progress badges on our fitness trackers. Our brains like to close the loop, and it’s our job to reinforce the wins so that we keep seeking wins.

  7. Acknowledge failures and the energy that went into the effort. We want people to try again and know that while we don’t always win, we can learn from the mistakes so that next time we will win.

  8. Invest in training and education. When Jack Stack wrote The Great Game of Business, many of my clients wanted the results of hourly employees who were looking for every dollar and could read financial statements like a CFO. Do you know how many invested in the training to make that happen? Almost none. Yes, employees may leave your company with the knowledge they have gained at your company, but many will stay, and it is those who stay who make the difference.


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