Change Creates Opportunity

“If you are not moving forward you can expect to be left behind”

While recently on holiday, I was introduced to an American reality television program entitled ‘Bar Rescue’.  I am not promoting this program in any way, but rather, I wanted to share some impressions that I received from watching it and how they relate to performance, resistance to change, and loss of opportunity.

The program’s concept is fairly straightforward. The owner of a bar, or someone close to them, contacts a ‘bar rejuvenation consultant’ who then helps them to make the necessary changes that will rescue the bar from financial hardship and return it to profitability. The consultant and his team of specialists will generally make physical and conceptual alterations, improve processes, provide staff performance training and challenge the managerial approach of both the owner and the senior management team all of which, should the bar owner follow the consultant’s advice, will return their business to financial viability. 

While understanding that this was a reality television program that is presented for the purpose of entertainment, I could still relate some aspects to my ‘real world’. What really struck me from watching this program was that, despite the fact that their bars were bleeding money and quickly headed toward bankruptcy, all of the bar owners were extremely resistant to the changes that the consultant suggested. And this resistance was present despite the fact that, as far as I can tell, the owners were not required to pay any money toward the suggested changes. (I assume that program revenues and bar capital expenditures were paid for via the advertising process as, for obvious reasons, the owners did not have the required funds). It was mind boggling to see that these owners were so ingrained in a fixed mindset that they were actually resisting free help!

Not uncommon in the real world, the bar owners rigidly held onto an “I know better than the consultant” attitude even though what they were continuously doing was failing to get them positive performance results. This reminded me of the Dunning-Kruger effect, where when a person is good at one thing they can mistakenly assume that they are good at everything, thus failing to realize the need for change. It was easy to see that this attitude, and their subsequent likely consistent resistance to change, was a major contributing factor to the decline of their bars performance over time in the first place, which as a result had placed them in their current dangerous financial position.

 “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. - Albert Einstein

Does reality television translate into reality?

Still remembering that this was a reality television program, it did cause me to reflect on change, and how it related to CAES, my clients and everyone else. Unfortunately, in my work, I see change resistance all the time. But please don’t make the assumption that it is typically the employees who resist change. Just like in the Bar Rescue program, it is just as likely that the owners, managers, leaders and decision-makers are the ‘main resisters’. In ‘my reality’ I find that it is often more difficult to initiate change buy-in at the senior levels in order to get the process started (despite their experiencing unsatisfactory performance results) than it is to create initiatives which will affect performance change in managers and employees at various lower organizational levels. It was interesting that, in our bar example, the great majority of the bar employees were eager for change to occur simply because they saw the strong connection between their livelihoods and the fortunes of their respective bars. That said, when senior managers are truly interested in achieving performance results (the key), they become more willing to lead the changes that are required to bring them about. The problem is that in too many instances performance results are not always their main focus and, when they are not held accountable for achieving them, it is almost impossible to overcome their change resistance.

 “Employees will willingly follow based on the quality of leadership, 

a key component of which is the leader’s ability to effectively lead change”.

In 2010 I wrote an article entitled ‘Change and the New Economy within which the main concept was; because the 2008 economic slowdown was ‘untypical’ of more recent recessions, we would be wise to understand that the emerging ‘new economy’ would require us to adapt to new global and domestic economic challenges. Heeding my own advice, I understood that CAES needed to change in response to the new economic realities just like everyone else, hence both our continual growth and development in the services we provide and our expansion of their delivery into additional international markets. But despite knowing and doing this, the recent Bar Rescue experience program caused me, again, to reflect and to consider whether there were better ways for CAES to achieve the performance results that I wanted to see. While we have made a number of positive changes along the way, the main issue that we continue to grapple with remains that of making strong connections with the right clients. 

Based on our experience, it is easy to say that one key characteristic of a CAES ‘right client’ is that they are always open to change. But please don’t misunderstand, a client to us is not someone who wants to change their employment situation. Rather, they are committed to changing the performance of their organization, their leaders and managers, their teams, and even themselves as individuals. Over the years we have developed various detailed ideal client descriptions, but in simple terms our typical desired client is a real decision-maker in an organization who:

  • has experienced performance success (and the benefits that are derived from it),
  • wants to continue to experience performance success,
  • is committed to ongoing growth and development, and
  • understands that this requires that they (and their people) must truly embrace actual change

From this perspective, the change resistant bar owners in the Bar Rescue program are about as far away from an ideal client that CAES can get. Comparatively, the bar owners’ approach to change was reactive and for them change only became a consideration when they had ‘hit their financial bottom’ – and even then they resisted it. In contrast, our clients are certainly not change resistant, and they rarely need to be educated about the need for change in order to keep their organizations moving forward so that they will experience positive growth. Sustaining growth-oriented cultures, they embrace change and they welcome external professional help, when it is appropriate, rather than resist it. Typically, because they have already decided to invest in this help their only decision is about who will provide it.

What about everyone in the middle?

One might think that the extremely change-resistant bar owners are a rare example. But unfortunately, ideal change-oriented clients are just as rare. Try to envision a typical bell curve. On the extreme lower-ranging left side, you will find the bar owners under whom you can add the label ‘Change Resistant’. Similarly, on the extreme lower-ranging right side you will find the ideal clients with the label ‘Change-Oriented’. And of course the great majority of organizations / people will be found around the higher-ranging middle of the curve. The question becomes; where on the bell curve would you place the label “Opportunity”? On the right side, of course, along with change. So it follows that when we “stay in the middle of the curve” like the great majority of organizations, leaders, managers and individuals, acting like most everyone else and continuing to maintain the ‘status quo’, thus avoiding actual effective change, we will miss the opportunities that are available to those who are more open to change.

From a business development perspective, CAES and organizations like us, are not really interested in any organization or individual who is not on the right side of the bell curve. The less interested in change that they are, the less attractive they will be to us (and actually to all performance-focused suppliers and employment candidates). High performing individuals want challenging work, and this is rarely found in static, change-resistant environments. Change-oriented people always gravitate towards attractive change-oriented managers, teams and cultures because they offer challenging opportunities.  

To further explore the relationship between change and opportunity, let’s return to our “Bar Rescue” example, and let’s assume that there are five bars operating within a defined territory. In this scenario, over time the local demographic (economy) has changed, but with management being resistant to adapting to this change, the five bars continue to operate in the same old ways, maintaining a ‘this is the way we have always done it’ mentality despite experiencing declining revenues (performance). Now what do you think would happen if one of the bar owners were to realize the need to change, and then to actually do something about it in order to take advantage of new opportunities that are a result of the changing demographic? It should be obvious that, whomever adapts to the new economic circumstances will then be better positioned to out-compete the other bars.

So ask yourself, where would your organization (and you) be positioned on our change bell curve? Perhaps before answering it may be helpful to read a previous article entitled “Stay Out of the Performance Grey Zone”, and then, without making excuses, honestly appraise whether you are truly achieving the individual, team, managerial, leadership or organizational results that you want. If you are not defining and achieving your desired performance results, and you continue to do nothing to change this, you are likely to be found somewhere on the left hand side of the curve.

And as a result you are missing opportunity.

Final Thoughts

It is possible that our general reluctance to accept and adapt to the “new economy” has had a significant impact in pulling many of us backwards into greater economic and social turbulence. One potential solution is to enhance leadership performance capability, at the organizational, managerial and individual levels, in order to more effectively:

  • Understand the need for change
  • Plan change initiatives
  • Manage resistance to change, and
  • Implement effective, positive change solutions

By developing leadership capability in your people and yourself, you will move away from disappointing performance results and forward toward the greater economic rewards that come with capturing opportunity.