Commitment and Alignment (Not Just Compliance)

By Dr. Andrea Shapiro

There is anecdote about President Harry Truman envisioning his soon-to-be successor, General Dwight Eisenhower (known as Ike). Truman is said to have quipped, “He’ll sit here and say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike. It won’t be a bit like the army. He’ll find it very frustrating.” In more recent years, much has been written about the limits of forced compliance. If this anecdote is accurate, six decades ago even the most powerful man in the United States recognized those limits.

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Breaking a Vicious Circle

By Dr. Andrea Shapiro

Faced with a problem that cannot be ignored, budget and deadline constraints often push well-meaning decision makers toward the fastest, cheapest fix. A quick fix treats the symptoms, but rarely addresses the underlying problem. This pattern is described by the “shifting the burden” systems archetype. Decision makers recognize a problem and see two possible courses of action. One is a symptomatic approach, which appears to be quicker and cheaper. The other is a fundamental approach, which requires more expenditure and time. Taking the quicker, cheaper route alleviates the symptoms, at least for a while. However, it also draws time, attention, and investment away from the fundamental solution.

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Is Resistance to Change Necessarily Bad?

By Dr. Andrea Shapiro

Many of us can recount stories of organizational change initiatives that did not deliver the outcomes promised. This lack of success is not limited to a particular type of initiative. There is an alphabet soup of changes that your organization might have tried with disappointing results. No matter what the acronym, sabotage and resistance are often blamed for such failures. I cannot count the number of times participants in my workshop on organizational change focus on—perhaps blame—resisters as the main source of the problem implementing change. It might feel better to have a scapegoat, but it is rarely a sign of progress.

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Posted in: Leadership

Peer Advocacy and Committed Leadership

By Dr. Andrea Shapiro

A friend started a small business involving a great deal of transcribing. A colleague recommended that he try an expensive program to reduce the amount of repetitive typing. He scoffed at the idea, saying he couldn’t count all the spam emails he received for similar labor-saving software. His colleague persisted. She showed him how the program worked, and how it increased productivity. He adopted it in his business and has reaped the benefits ever since. Every one of us can recall occasions of deciding to try something new on the recommendation of a friend or colleague. It could have been something simple, like choosing a particular movie or book, or trying a new restaurant. Trusting people whose experiences and values are similar to our own is natural. We seek out their opinions and value them more than advertising, rating services, and reviews.

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Leveraging Insights from Systems Thinking

By Dr. Andrea Shapiro

A colleague expressed surprise when I lamented that managers often ignore the long-term consequences of their decisions. Her response was that most decisions are made in the face of immediate and pressing issues, and these are exactly what people should pay most attention to. Clearly, on one level she is right—ignoring immediacy is dangerous. However, focusing only on the pressing problem is an invitation to unintended and unforeseen consequences in the future. Ensuring an effective response to the immediate concern while weighing long-term consequences is not a trivial task. Today’s business environment is complex. No one can predict long-term consequences with accuracy, and few managerial positions come with a crystal ball.

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Collaboration and Commitment

By Dr. Andrea Shapiro

While chatting with a retired fire chief, the conversation rolled around to change management. Given my lack of experience with fire departments, the chief piqued my interest by saying that implementing a change in a fire department is completely different from business. He explained that the obstacle in putting a fire department-wide change into operation lies with the officers. (In the fire department hierarchy, firefighters report to officers, who report to the chief.) According to the fire chief, the firefighters, because of their position, don’t see the need for any new direction. In contrast, the chief and his or her staff see the need on a longer-term strategic level. Firefighters see that what they are doing right now is working for the current situation and see no need for change. The chief and his staff depend on officers to enforce the change in direction, but officers are loath to do so because they have personal and working relationships with the firefighters that could be jeopardized.

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Organizations Change When People In Them Change

By Dr. Andrea Shapiro

Imagine six department heads sitting in a comfortable conference room discussing the launch of an important change initiative with the general manager. They’ve done their homework—informal interviews and formal needs assessments—they understand the problem and they’ve chosen an appropriate change initiative to solve it. They know it is the right solution, and thy are sure that employees will be on board as soon as it is announced. And no skimping on the announcement either. At the big, all-hands meeting, there were mouse pads, T-shirts, and coffee mugs all emblazoned with the logo of the change initiative. Every employee got three scoops of ice cream. The announcement left a clear sugar high, but a much less clear sense of direction. Within months, the initiative faded from people’s memory, but the problem that the company sought to solve is alive and well.

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