The APQC Blog

David Shaner on Why Fast Change Often Fails

APQC was lucky enough to talk to David Shaner about his book ‘The Seven Arts of Change’ and specifically about how his ‘Golden Rule’ can help in leading change in an organization.  David will be the keynote speaker at APQC’s 2014 Process Conference on October 13-15.

In part two of our interview David talks about the importance of learning what other people do, how to encourage people to think and act for the future, and why ‘Target Behaviors’ are critical for change.

You can view part one of interview with David here. 

APQC: One of the great points you make about ‘The Golden Rule’ is to promote reciprocity by learning what other people actually do. It seems this would be an obvious  so change can be planned and implemented effectively and fast. Why do the people initiating the change not include the effort to learn what people actually do? 

David: Once again, the answer is simple and mirrors common sense. In fact, you mentioned the answer in your question just now, implementers have a bias for speed.  The reason leaders of change do not engage people in this most basic way (that is, practicing The Golden Rule by putting yourself in the place of the other person and thus learning what they actually do), is because the same leaders of change are so interested in (or maybe even fixated upon) a speedy timeline for implementing the change process. 

In short, in their enthusiasm to make a quick difference, the leaders of change, once again, forget the basics.  Learning what people actually do takes time; you have to sincerly engage people in the change process.  Again, there are no gimmicks here. If the people in the trenches believe senior management is clueless about how things really work, what people really do, and what kind of attitude people really have, then you are starting the process with no respect, no trust, and no foundation for lasting change and performance improvement. If you want to truly engage people, don’t you think you should spend time base lining where we really are and what people really think (MIND) as you begin your change process?  Without a solid foundation you will loose every time.  This simple fact is a major contributor to the 70-80 percent failure rate that you cited in the beginning of this interview.

APQC: You talk a lot about feedback loops that promote an understanding of how actions taken today affect others (internal and external) tomorrow. Unfortunately, a lot of workers and people only think of ‘today’.  What can be done to ensure thinking about  future implications as part of designing improvements?

David: OK, I’m a broken record. Once again, since your question strikes at the heart of the matter, it is best to return to basics. First of all, there is only one time where real change occurs – the present.  The future does not yet exist.  The future will be the causal result of our present hopes, dreams, and ambitions.  Similarly, the past no longer exists; except in our present memory.  The focus of transformational change must be in the present moment. If the MIND of the organizations is living in the past, or is hopelessly wishing for a brighter future, then your change process is doomed. Only when each stakeholder takes responsibility for their unique role in the change process (in successive present moments), can the transformation succeed.

The key is focus. Specifically, when each person understands causally, how their actions today affect their downstream customer in the process, can real change occur.  I call this “Boardroom Awareness”.  Simply put, the left and the right hand of the organization need to understand how the enterprise will succeed end-to-end.  Just as an effective board member with business expertise needs to understand the overall strategy and the means of executing the strategy, every employee deserves to know how everything fits together from suppliers providing materials for manufacturing the product (or delivering the service) to understanding a full range of customer requirements, including quality and on-time delivery.  This includes understanding, for example, the cost of materials, how to uncover waste, how pricing affects the bottom line, how being first-to-market or innovating anything that is value-added can completely transform a business sector. In short, you can become a game-changer with a fully empowered workforce that actually understand how they can make a difference. 

Think about it. How can you ask employees, “to think and act like and owner”, if management does not give people the tools, skills, and information to succeed? Understanding causation is absolutely key.  Think of it this way, understanding how the entire enterprise has to function together in order to succeed is the same thing as raising the overall IQ of the entire company.

APQC: In part one of our interview, I asked what one thing regarding ‘The Golden Rule’ most failed change initiatives have in common. So let’s end on a positive note, “What one thing regarding ‘The Golden Rule’ do most successful change initiatives have in common?

David: In order for your business or organization to “be the best it can be”, you need to create conditions for people to perform to the best of their ability when no one is watching.  You need people to be fully engaged giving 110 percent because they want too.  By institutionalizing The Golden Rule through target behaviors,you will be able to live your dreams at work!

Why should “work” have any negative connotation at all?  We often act like the very best part of our life is reserved for the weekend, time off, and holidays.  We even have phases like Wednesday is “hump day” and then we have TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday).  However, the fact is most of us have to work because we are not independently wealthy.  Indeed, we may spend half our life “at work”! Consider this; the average life expectancy is 27,500 days (if you are one of the lucky ones).  So let me ask you, “why not practice The Golden Rule…not just at the church, synagogue, or temple…but “at work” as well”?

Successful change means that you have engaged people to ask them to go the extra mile.  This is an easy “ask” if you have created a work environment that people love, trust, and respect.  In this kind of work environment people are fulfilled beyond measure, simply because they know they can make a difference. People understand and have internalized, that they can help create the kind of work environment they want to live in. People know and trust that through their own good intentions and actions they can make a positive difference every single business day.

Thank you for this opportunity to share a few ideas.  I am truly looking forward to meeting everyone at this year’s conference.