Thursday, November 18, 2004

Change Without Pain..., and, Don’t Oil the Squeaky Wheel

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM

Change Without Pain: How managers can overcome initiative overload, organizational chaos and employee burnout
By Eric Abrahamson
(Harvard Business School Press, 2004)

Don’t Oil the Squeaky Wheel: And 19 other contrarian ways to improve your leadership effectiveness
By Wolf J. Rinke, Ph.D.
McGraw-Hill Company, 2004)

What are some of the growing adversities that we experience today in our organization? Initiatives overload that are often start and stop, flavor-of-the-month-with-little-follow-through type programs. Repetitive changes that result in chaos. No change at all or status quo for a long stretch of time.

What are some of the effects of these malaise? General anxiety, cynicism and burnout. Loss of organizational memory. Resistance to and from change. Organizational paralysis and demotivation. Important organizational issues are sidestepped and priorities are misplaced. Organization mired in forming and storming stages of team development.

For example, Eric Abrahamson cited many dysfunctional consequences of downsizing:
• Destruction of employee and customer trust and loyalty
• Loss of personal relationships between employees and customers
• Disruptions of smooth, predictable routines in the firm
• Increase in and formalization of rules, standardization and rigidity
• Decrease in creativity
• Loss of interpersonal interactions over time, leading to decreased cross-unit and cross-level knowledge.
• Less documentation and, therefore, less sharing of information about changes
• Loss of employee productivity
• Loss of common organizational culture
• Loss of innovativeness
• Increased resistance to change
• Decreasing employee moral, commitment and loyalty
• Escalation of politicized special-interest groups and political infighting
• Risk aversion and conservatism in decision making
• Increased costs and redundancies
• Increasing interpersonal conflict
• Negative effects on the personal health of employees, e.g., increases in headaches, stomach problems, and elevated blood pressure, as well as reports of increased drinking and smoking
• Increases in negative psychological symptoms, e.g., anxiety, depression, insomnia, feelings of helplessness, cognitive difficulties
• Loss of self-esteem, loss of self-mastery, dissatisfaction with self, pessimism, powerlessness and rigidity
• Decrease in family cohesion, increases in conflict, decline in spouses’ psychological well-being, increases in domestic arguments, deteriorating family climate and a sevenfold increase in divorce and separation.

What are some ways we can save our organization from these creative destructions?

Eric Abrahamson suggests a range of hands-on tools and techniques in the areas of:
People: how to redeploy rather than downsize talent.
Processes: How to salvage rather than reengineer.
Structure: how to recombine rather than reorganize organizational parts
Culture: How to revive rather than reinvent core values
Social Networks: How to leverage rather than automate human networks.

As leaders, what can you personally do? To increase your leadership effectiveness in times of changes and at all times, Wolf Rinke proposes these: be selfish, don’t manage people, don’t be proud, don’t be tough, don’t play to win,, don’t prove yourself, practice kick in desire, not kick in the ass, don’t have people work for you, don’t focus on bottomline, trust all people all the time, don’t worry about pay, don’t tell people what to do, don’t downsize, don’t respond to the urgent, don’t be committed.

Particularly, Dr. Rinke asserts not to oil the squeaky wheels or those habitual troublemakers, whiners and blamers. Instead, he advises these steps:

• Take complete responsibility. Make formal announcement that as of a certain date the mantra of your organization is: If it’s to be, it’s up to me. Put this mantra on business-card size cards and distribute to all employees. Then consistently take complete responsibility for all your actions and insist that everyone else do the same.
• Reject the word “try.” Don’t accept the word “try.” Try provides for built-in failure before anyone starts. Even a lack of success will meet the requirements employees have set for themselves. After all, they did try. On the other hand, “Will” demonstrates commitment, action and a high probability of success.
• Stamp out blame-game conversations. If necessary, make up posters with the words “blame game” crossed as as in traffic signs. Anytime someone engages in this behavior, point to the poster.
• Remind yourself often. Pay attention to what you are recognizing and rewarding. Always keep in mind that over the long term, whatever you reward is what you will get more of, whatever you ignore will go away, and whatever you punish will not be repeated, at least not while you are around.
• Foster independent actions. When team members bring you their problems—especially those who complain all the time—ask them to bring you one to three options or solutions for every problem. Then ask them to function as the “primary mover” who puts together a cross-functional team that will address the problem.
• Get people to work together. When people are undermining each other, call every one together and ask them what will it take to get them to work together as a team.
• Place people in positions that enable them to build their strengths. Find out what your team members love to do, and do everything in your power to place them in those positions.
• Avoid competition. Have people compete against themselves or against standards. Avoid having people compete against each other within the same organization. Losers becomes demoralized and will pull everyone around them down.
• Do what’s unpopular. Strive to have team members respect you, not like you. When you want everyone to like you, you avoid the tough decisions, you avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, you avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset. Treating everyone equally regardless of contributions will anger your most productive team members.
• As a last resort, resolve conflicts. Serious conflict seldom, if ever, resolves itself.

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