Archive for December, 2009

Advanced Change Theory

Managing change can be very difficult, even in the best of times; which, many of us would agree we are not currently in.  So, how can leaders not just effectively manage change the change thrust upon them, but be the source of the change for good?  It’s not so easy I can assure you.

In my work experience, I have seen a lot of different types of change management.  Of the three, I would have to say that I have most experienced the coercion technique, with a smattering of logical persuasion.   I can’t really recall a time that I was lucky enough to have a normative-reeducative strategy tried with any of the groups of which I have been a part.

So why is Advanced Change Theory so appealing?  Mainly because it takes the best pieces of each of the three strategies I mentioned about and molds them into a cohesive change management strategy.

When I look at the 12 principles that make up Advanced Change Theory, I have to say I resonate and are in some ways modeling the behaviors necessary to achieve the following principles: creating an emergent system, developing a vision for common good, takes action to curb chaos, inspires others to enact their best selves, and changes self (not so much yet on changing the system, but trying).

I can’t say I am ready to starve myself or march up the mall in Washington to effect change, but I am certainly ready to try a method of adaptive change that can make a real difference in my organization.

The Deafening Sound of Silence

Oh, the sounds of silence can be deafening!  As a leader in my company, it can be very hard to have the managerial courage to speak out when something doesn’t feel right or really just doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes we don’t speak out because we convince ourselves that the person reached the top of the organization, so they must know what they are doing (also known as the blind leading the blind).  Other times we keep our mouths shut because we have seen the messenger be shot too many times.   And, in hopefully rare occurrences, we keep our mouths shut because we fear negative feedback, from peers, bosses and subordinates.

Another really problematic reason that people don’t speak up has to do with the managers views of those who speak up.  It’s more than just shooting the messenger.  It’s more like shooting the messenger, then hanging the messenger, then throwing the messenger off a bridge.  More specifically, the messenger’s opinions first get, at best, shot down and, at worst, ridiculed.  Then, after the public flogging the worst thing happens.  The employee gets labeled a trouble maker or a complainer or not a team player.  And that is a career killer.  Particularly in bureaucratic type of companies…and I have worked in a few of them.  I have found this type of problem more often in the larger companies I have worked for than the smaller.  Case in point…at one of the jobs I had (future 500 level company), my manager was extremely intelligent and in my opinion a visionary.  The problem?  The higher ups were not visionaries.   So this individual, who in my humble opinion could be running at least a division of the company, is still stuck as a middle manager. 

I have seen time and time again the negative effect that silence can have on an organization.  It has always been the most apparent to me when I have started a new job.  I am bright eyed and bushy tailed and excited about my new job and wham I get hit with a “because we have always done it that way.”  Which, I have to say is my arch nemesis.   When I hear those words a red warning light goes on, with a loud and annoying siren.

So what happens to that company?  They can’t innovate.  And they are swamped with group think.  In some companies that might be okay…like if you work for a power company where you have “captive” customers.  But in most companies, this can be crippling!  So what to do?   Build trust in the employees you manage and start from there.  When other departments see what you are doing, it could catch on.

Men’s Warehouse –“Your gonna like the way you look, I guarantee it”

Editorial:  Since I was surprised to find that this blog never posted on my account, I would have liked to have titled it “Men’s Warehouse, where ya been?”

Based on the enormous amount of money spent on TV advertising, it would be surprising to find someone in the US who either didn’t know what Men’s Warehouse does or couldn’t recall the phrase You’re gonna like the way you look, I guarantee it”. 

By all accounts, Men’s Warehouse has been a great success.  They have had phenomenal growth (30%) since George Zimmer opened his first store back in 1973 in Houston in a time when competitors were shutting their doors. So what did he/they do right?  There were several things:

  1. He has a servant leadership focus—he is so focused on it he even included it in his training manuals
  2. They are focused on mentoring—he has a “high touch” mentality, meaning that it is important for him and other high profile employees to go to the stores and be visible and that they have off-site training to get people more entrenched at Men’s Warehouse. It shows employees that they matter to the company.
  3. They are focused on training, though it is basically only internally done.  They train not only to provide information, but also to educate people on the company culture.
  4. He has the right focus when it comes to the company’s stakeholders:  employees first, customers second, vendors third, communities fourth and then shareholders fifth.   He understands that if you get the first and second one right, everything else will fail into place.
  5. They have different job titles and descriptions for people to ensure that they do the best possible job at the level they are supposed to be performing.
  6. While they have a salary and commission compensation system, they use team incentives to help stave off “sharking”.
  7. They learn from others—George Zimmer learned from Nordstrom’s mistakes…
  8. There is a clear career path there
  9. They measure everything—they use every bit of data they collect to help improve the top and bottom line.
  10. While a majority of the measures on the performance review were the same, there were some measures that where specific to the job title…thus, making the review a little more focused on what the person actually is supposed to be doing in the store rather than something less concrete.

While there are a lot of positives to the Men’s Warehouse, I do have a few concerns.  They are:

  1. Senior management is made up of a lot of George’s friends, listed in the case as employees that have been with George forever.  This may indicate a potential for group think depending upon the attitudes and personalities of the members of senior management.
  2. Promotions totally from within—while this is a great motivating tactic for employees, it could spell disaster from a “we have always done it that way” perspective.
  3. No outside management courses—again this could keep Men’s Warehouse from trying anything new.
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