Working with the ‘Brutal Facts’ of Change

Jun 20, 2007

By Rick Moss

Chuck Coonradt, founder and CEO of Game
of Work
(the meaning of that name will soon be apparent), is fond of this quote from management guru, Jim Collins:

“Leadership does not begin with vision… it begins with getting people to confront the brutal facts and to act on the implications.”

The theme and promise of Mr. Coonradt’s National Grocers Association workshop for independent retailers earlier this year was finding the “Holy Grail of Change Management,” and he made sure to fill in the audience on his own third generation retail background to emphasize his first-hand understanding of how difficult and critical change is in retailing.

Mr. Coonradt’s talk was colorful and anecdote-filled, and yet he preached a tough, “accept no excuses” approach to change management.

“Your success comes from your behavior,” said Mr. Coonradt. “The relationship between success and behavior is direct. You cannot lose weight on a hot fudge sundae diet. You can’t spend your way to financial freedom.”

“The second thing is winners believe in it and losers all wish this relationship wasn’t true. Winners say, ‘If it’s to be, it’s up to me.’ And losers, well…they’d like to blame somebody else.”

Conditioning, said Mr. Coonradt, is one of the greatest enemies of change because new hires come to the job indoctrinated in ways that are often antithetical to what makes a good employee. Raised with the principle “never talk to strangers,” for instance, is something they’ll need to “unlearn” if you have any hope of teaching them proactive on customer service.

Another hurdle to facilitating change is the complacency that comes with success. Mr. Coonradt contends that change is hardest to accomplish in successful companies, where the attitude of “we’re doing good, so we’re doing OK,” thereby implying we always will, must be overcome.

One of Mr. Coonradt’s “life-changing” moments actually inspired the name for his company. Watching sluggish, unmotivated factory workers shift into high gear when breaking for their lunch-hour basketball game, he realized that the greatest lessons for managing change in the workplace could be observed in the way people play:

  1. Feedback is more frequent in recreation than at work. On the golf
    course or in a tennis match, feedback is constant. “And then we think we can run our businesses on weekly sales numbers, monthly P&Ls, trimester inventories in the grocery department, and an annual performance appraisal.” Wrong!
  2. Scorekeeping is better in recreation because it is dynamic. “We
    watch the score while the game’s in progress so we can change behavior to
    win BEFORE the time runs out.”
  3. Goal setting is more clearly defined in play. The NFL has the Super
    Bowl; NHL has the Stanley Cup; Major League Baseball has the World Series.
    These don’t change.
  4. There’s more consistent coaching. They don’t change the rules in the middle of the game.
  5. There’s a higher degree of personal choice. When I choose it, I own it.

The power of personal choice is critical to the understanding of what motivates constructive change in workers, according to Mr. Coonradt.

“Usually when we say ‘have to,’ we are negative about it. When we use ‘want to,’ all the questions get answered in a positive direction,” he explained. “Each time you communicate change to a member of your organization, they’re going to want to know, ‘Why do you want it done? What do you want done?’ and ‘How?'”

Of these three questions, says Mr. Coonradt, people hate to be told ‘how’, but love to be told ‘why’. So the ‘why’ should always be the first thing you explain. “It’s maddening if you can’t makes sense out of why you’re being told to do something. To important people we always insist on explaining why. To unimportant people we only tell how. They can tell how you feel about them by the way you talk to them.”

Discussion Questions: In your organization, how would you rate management’s ability to manage change effectively? Do you think competence levels are different for how lower-level workers are managed? Do you have any specific advice to add to Chuck Coonradt’s?

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5 Comments on "Working with the ‘Brutal Facts’ of Change"

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David Biernbaum
14 years 11 months ago

I really appreciate that Rick Moss has shared with us the summary of Chuck Coonradt’s “Game of Work.” How appropriate right before the start of NACDS Marketplace, which so many of us will be attending in Boston, starting as early as Friday, this week. Rick, thank you, this is good stuff!

In all my years of working in this industry, and in particular and more recently with so many hopeful small players and entrepreneurs, I can testify that success definitely comes from our behavior. The companies I have helped achieve the most success are those with leaders that believe before they see, and never blame other people, circumstances, or real world events and realities.

In my small-group coffee talk summits with small and medium size businesses, we often discuss that it’s not what happens that matters, as much as what we do about what happens, that matters more.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 11 months ago
Amen to Mr. Coonradt, as he’s dead on with his observations. Change is our biggest obstacle as well our biggest opportunity right now…and as hard as it is to face, it’s not going to get any easier. Many retailers (and marketers for that fact) are terrified of what lies ahead. As a consultant, I see two clear camps: the ones ready for the challenge and thrilled about it and the ones that are going to fight it all the way (either publicly or passively). It’s shocking to me to still run into management constituents that aren’t voraciously reading, talking, researching and observing the climate of retail and marketing today and doing all that they can to get innovative. After all, the first-to-market advantage doesn’t come twice, right? I feel it’s going to take a few things to get most of the industry on board: -some amazing case studies that set the bar and instill a sense of comfort with the risk/reward at play -better methods for accountability to monitor the success of “innovative change” efforts… Read more »
Jeff Weitzman
Jeff Weitzman
14 years 11 months ago

I think he’s dead on. Nothing in the article is exactly revolutionary, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. “What gets measured gets done” is an old adage, yet so few organizations do a good job measuring progress and rewarding achievement against those metrics. Many companies that went through a growth phase outstripped their ability to measure progress in a timely fashion as they focused on growth and revenue, and when they “arrive” the task is often gargantuan.

So my advice is to build reporting and measurement in from the start, and company leadership has to support these efforts, even though they don’t directly contribute to top-line revenue, because they ultimately support real profitability.

Kai Clarke
14 years 11 months ago
I agree with the author. Change and organizational behavior are the most difficult tasks for the modern organization to handle today. Most of modern times have demanded that we have dealt with the chaos of reorganization, adjusted to the “ups and downs” of the economy, and witnessed and experienced the impact of the Internet on people and organizations. This has required that all companies have a focus on their organizational behavior and the requisite change management. It has changed the way we work dramatically. We are now a part of a fast-paced, constantly changing and demanding world. This means that organizations need to always be looking for ways to improve their processes. The quickest way to do this is through people; having them confront and adapt to change as a regular way of life in the organization. Successful organizations are changing the traditional employer-employee relationship, putting emphasis on employees by focusing on intellectual capital. Intellectual capital includes the dedication and expertise of an organization’s employees. Peoples’ knowledge and performance help organizations meet their goals. Giving… Read more »
Janet Dorenkott
Janet Dorenkott
14 years 11 months ago

The one thing that’s constant… is change. Change is nothing new but it is something that all companies have to deal with. There is a very simple book called “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard. It’s short, uses common sense and presents how different people handle change. Mr. Coonradt’s course sounds great and I agree with the concepts. Whatever companies do to handle change, they need to make sure they believe in it. It is my opinion that you can’t be successful unless you are selling something you genuinely believe in. Being nimble and adjusting to the market quickly is a necessity. People who sit around and complain but don’t offer solutions will never be successful.


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