To Change Or Not To Change

The Dynamics of Change

by Jim Harris

"Chance favors the prepared mind" --Louis Pasteur

A quotable quote, but really what does it mean? Certainly Pasteur had a plan in mind when he spoke that evocative phrase. How does one prepare his mind to take advantage of chance when it favors him with a visit? And what is chance unless it is a series of random events predetermined by a loftier niche as to when and where it shall appear? So many questions, so few answers. Order always comes out of chaos, even when the magnitude of the chaos is cataclysmic in scope. There is no sense of permanence in reality, everything is subject to change, sometimes very slowly like the sifting delta sands of a mighty river, sometimes dangerously and quickly like the eruption of a volcano.

How we react to change is what prepares our minds for the inevitable. We can succeed in a chaotic world because we are prepared! For even in the depths of chaos there is order, a goal to be met, or even exceeded. To speak metaphorically, let¹s take the example of a flock of migrating geese heading south to weather the winter gales and fierce storms of their northern home. Initially, they are chaotic as they take to the air, their huge wings tattooing a beat on air already laden with the first ice of winter. There is no organization to their plight, until a leader positions himself at the forward edge of the "V" as the flight magically falls into formation and begins its long journey. Order out of chaos one might say.

But even the southward migration requires incontinuity, as course changes are dictated by such things as food availability and prevailing winds. If you plotted the course of this migration, you would find a set of completely random course changes, only occasionally would a straight line present itself. The course may even suddenly shift north again for a few hundred miles, then turn southward once more. Yet when the initial migration is complete, chaos is the order of the day. But, the goal has been reached, the migration stopped, and until the spring migration is upon them, the geese will prosper and fatten their selves until they return to their nesting grounds to achieve yet another goal - - proliferation of life itself!

"As a general rule the most successful man in life is the man who has the most information." -- Benjamin Disraeli

Is it irony that lead the flock of geese to follow the self-appointed leader? Or did he simply have the most available information about the route to take? If he in fact had the most information, where did he learn it? Is there a Goose University for Navigational Aid out there in the frozen wilderness? Or was it simply an inherited skill, a blessing, or a moment to seize an opportunity? Does this make him the Golden Goose? One wonders such things, but something is abundantly clear, the leader knew it was time to make a change. Had he not put a sense of order into the chaos that surrounded him, all would have perished. And that is a sad thought indeed.

Corporate environments are changing, too. They have had to. Twenty years ago, ours was an isolationist economy, thirty years ago we projected hegemony at will over the rest of the world¹s economy. Today, the same manufacturers that once produced quantities sufficient for domestic use and exportation face a declining market share inundated with imported competition. Those managers and executives that haven¹t started their flock moving probably never will, and unfortunately they will probably perish also. Change is the order of the day. The soft-tapping knock of opportunity has never been quieter, but it is still there.

Of course corporate America is viewed as a hierarchy, a "chain of command." This perception is changing also, but it must change even more quickly. The specter of the "boss" must somehow disappear to make corporate change meaningful. The lines of innovation flow much more freely when they are not dammed up by fear of reprisal. The employer/employee relationship must be willing to adapt to a new phase of management, the employer/associate relationship is a must. Studies completed over the last ten years have proven that a happy yet disciplined work environment is far more productive than one in which the workers are "ruled" by the elite.

Of course many managers are unwilling to accept the fact that they are not in control of their organization's productivity, but in essence they are not, the work-force is. Unhappy workers mean nonproductive workers, in a non-union setting, there is generally theft, a high rate of turnover in personnel, and even outright sabotage. In a union environment, unhappiness brings about grievances, which usually result in striking workers and picket lines. To put it in simple text, we no longer have the option of a caste-type system in the workplace, every lost percentage of productivity is reflected in a lost percentage of bottom-line net profit.

The associates should be involved as a function of the decision making process, the wise manager or employer will make good use of the minds of his or her entire force of workers, letting them be a part of the overall growth and profit goal of the company. And by promoting this image, management does not lose control, it increases both the efficiency and the relationship between itself and those empowered to assist; the associates. And really, what manager or executive today knows more about the inner workings of a production machine than the associate actually running that machine? Many giant corporations have already adapted to this refreshing style of new management, but the Japanese had it firmly emplaced prior to World War Two.

Change for the sake of change is not good business. Change that eliminates chaos and restores order is a necessity.

An excellent example of all of this is the Ford Taurus. Realizing that domestic production prices were rising due to inflation and wages associated with all of the raw materials needed to produce a new automobile, Ford Motor had been looking for some time to adapt a philosophy of micro-management instead of macro-management. Further pressure from Japanese imports in the early and mid-eighties sped this change on the way. For the first time in Ford¹s long and productive history, it was losing market share, and consistently turning in quarterly losses. Executive management knew they needed a strong competitor for the mildly-priced but tremendously efficient imports.

The Taurus name was born, and a design team coupled with engineers took up the challenge. But instead of doing business as usual, Ford allowed every technician, plant foreman, line assembly worker, draftsman, service repair organizers, even secretaries, to participate in brainstorming sessions among Ford¹s seven major plants. The results; a staggering quantity of recommendations, over 1900 in all, were implemented from the blue collar ranks of Ford Motor Company. In retrospect, what the senior executives at Ford did was to micro-manage a situation, allowing those most intrinsically involved a chance a solving a huge challenge. By doing so, they raised the competitive and collective spirit of the entire organization, not to mention that the new uni-bodied Ford Taurus was the car of the year in 1986, 1987, and 1988.

But the commercial offshoot of this move, or change, was that Ford's profits took an amazing rebound, over thirty-percent as an historical average for the sixteen quarters ending January 31, 1990. When the "boss" came down from his ivory tower and asked for help from deep within his ranks, he showed his humanity, and the work force responded magnificently.

Change is good, it is natural and forgiving. There are many mosaics written on the subject as it relates to business. An effective manager will seek out those arenas that have not changed, and carefully and microscopically explore them. The chances are more than equal that an implementation or new direction could well be in order. But keep in mind the fact that "change for the sake of change" is not good business! Only if it restores order out of chaos should it be implemented.

Ford's situation was chaotic, rising cost, offshore competition, and a stigma with quality. To have allowed the status quo to remain unchanged would have certainly created even more chaos in the financial world, for all the blue chips sat in worried apprehension as Ford unfolded it¹s plans for the Taurus. But so did the competition around the world. And the novelty of the Taurus¹s development established the fact beyond a doubt that the era of the "boss" was rapidly drawing to a close. This, perhaps even more than the success it generated, placed huge fear and panic in the ranks of Corporate America. But today, there are success stories abounding about the role of micro-management in our hierarchal structure.

Perhaps it is time for all of us to change, perhaps not. We must ask of our- selves the question, "is our business stronger or weaker than it was ten years ago, and how can we improve our strength to be in a much stronger position ten years from now?" If the answer immediately pops into your mind, implement change. Only by finding and eliminating the chaos that is eroding your profits or your productivity can you hope to compete in the coming century.

About the Author:

Jim Harris currently serves as a project consultant in various innovation programs. He was a founding Director of the Oklahoma New Products Coalition, located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He holds degrees in the Sciences and the Arts, including a Masters Degree in Industrial Psychology.

Personally hired by Sam Walton, he worked through the avid growth years of the expansion of the nation¹s largest retailing giant, serving as a corporate buyer, director of advertising and sales promotion, store manager, and District Manager. Prior to his Wal-Mart years, he worked for the former T. G. & Y. Stores Company, Inc., as a Division Merchandise Manager and store manager. He has helped to launch thousands of new products into the market.

He also frequently lectures to inventor groups, and is a strong advocate of inventor rights. He resides in Chelsea, Oklahoma, with his wife and children.

©1996­Jim Harris

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Page last updated 12/21/97.