Do You Make Changes the Hard Way?

Irritated Businesswoman at Printer

Leaders and managers are always changing something in their organizations, but they often make costly mistakes. Here’s how to make change the right way.

Today’s post is by Dr. Glenn Varney, co-author of Grasp the Situation (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

You would think that leaders of organizations would understand a problem before they try to fix it. After all, they are leaders, and they are expected to know how to manage and make their organizations efficient and productive. The bad news is that many leaders make costly mistakes each day because they do not fully grasp the situation before they attempt to solve a problem.

It is estimated that 70% of all organizational changes fail because leaders do not take the time to understand what needs to be changed. Instead, they leap in and do a quick fix when the problem deserves a rigorous diagnostic process.

To illustrate the point, here is a true story about a plant manager, Mike, of a 500-employee automotive parts facility who really screwed up his organization because he leaped before he looked.

Mike’s administrative manager came to him one day recommending they acquire a new high-performance copy machine which would “meet increased workload” and improve production control timing. He pointed out that the other two copiers were “overloaded” and could not keep up with demand. Mike gave the go ahead, and they installed the new machine.

Several weeks after the machine was installed, Mike was walking by the new copier and observed a long line of people standing waiting to use the machine. Mike thought that this was a waste of time and assumed that employees just wanted to use the new machine instead of the other machines. He decided to swing by the two other copiers and found the same thing—people standing in line.

Feeling upset and angry, Mike went back to his office and sent out a memo that stated that there was to be no more standing in line and using the copy station as a “social center.”

Several days after the notice was posted, his ad manager came rushing in announcing that “everything was getting all jammed up” and “you have to let people go to the copier when they need to.” Mike was furious, and in a loud voice told his ad manager to “get that new machine out of here and go back to just two machines.” As a result, the machine was removed, and things only got worse. Mike never understood the underlying problem.

Here is the point: Mike gave the go ahead to install the new equipment with no evidence of what the problem was. He really made change the “hard way.” Here is what he should have done.

First of all, he should have recognized he had a problem before his ad manager rushed in and told him about it. He needed to make sure that he fully grasped the situation before he gave the go ahead. Once he clearly understood what was going on, he needed to study his options for fixing the problem. Next, if Mike had done it the right way, he would have picked the solutions most likely to work and tested it to be sure it would solve the problem. If it worked, then he would install and monitor it to be sure it is solving the problem. Finally, Mike would have notified members of his organization of the changes and asked them for their feedback on how the changes are working from their standpoint.

These steps are quite simple, and it works in 80 to 90 percent of the change situations you will find yourself in.

What Mike failed to understand was the underlying problem.  Had he slowed down and “looked before he leaped” he would have realized the underlying problem was an outdated production control system that needed to be modernized applying new computer technology.

Following the diagnostic steps seems so logical; however, it is easy to get caught up in the moment and make a snap decision without fully understanding the issue. But think about it this way: you would not like it if your physician did not fully grasp the situation before he/she prescribed a solution. Organizations need similar care in the sense that leaders should not be so quick to act.

In conclusion, here are a few suggestions that will save you money and pain:

  • Make sure to slow down and think before you act.
  • Be foresighted and see a potential problem before you have one.
  • Make sure that you fully grasp the situation before you act.
  • Once you understand the problem, design a solution.
  • Finally test your solution, install, and check it.

Do you want to make changes the easy way instead of the hard way? Then always fully grasp the situation before you take action.

Grasp the SituationGlenn H. Varney, PhD has spent more than 20 years in leadership roles in industry and 25 years in academia. He is a recognized teacher, practitioner and consultant and has written extensively about leadership and organizational change. Varney is the co-author of Grasp the Situation: Lessons Learned in Change Leadership (CLICK HERE to get your copy). Go to for more information.

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