Working with the ‘Brutal Facts’ of Change
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:
- 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!
- 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.”
- 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.
- There’s more consistent coaching. They don’t change the rules in the middle of the game.
- 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?