Let’s call a halt to mindless change

Macdonald, John

I HAVE MET AND WORKED WITH HUNDREDS OF managers. When I started to write a book about my experiences, it dawned on me that the best managers all exhibited the same quality: they all seemed to have time to make a decision. However, upon further reflection, I think my original opinion too passive. In reality, leaders take time to make the right decision. They do not allow themselves to be panicked into making just any decision.

On the surface, this is an obvious commonsense approach to business decision making. But in practice, the perceived pressures of business often obscure the obvious. Common sense is just too simple. The Western approach to management contains a macho element that labels any delay in decision making as evidence of an indecisive mind. What the macho apostles are really describing is an emotional knee-jerk reaction to events rather than considered decision.

A decisive mind will not ignore emotion but will require some basis of logic, relevant facts, and adherence to a fundamental value system in arriving at a decision. That is not indecision-that is wisdom. Unfortunately, wisdom takes a little longer, and today’s managers have no time for dithering.

The intriguing fact underlying all this clamor for instant decision making and revolutionary change is that it is all demonstrable nonsense. The pace of change is actually relatively slow and well within the scope of thinking executives. They keep ahead of change rather than let change catch them on the hop.

Those organizations that do not recognize that change needs to be managed as a continuous process are condemned to periodic uncontrolled revolutions.

They then become susceptible to legions of consultants and would-be gurus ever eager to lead them to another instant decision. Downsizing is evidence of mindless change.

Businesses need evolution, not revolution. The scope and reverberations of radical change are extremely hard to control. As a consequence, the results are rarely as envisaged. Throw a pebble, even a long sequence of pebbles, into a pool and the ripples quietly touch and influence every corner of the pool. Some companies (3M, Arthur Andersen, and others) are quite good at this.

Throw in a large rock, and the results are usually chaotic. The water is displaced, the banks are damaged, and the fish are stunned or killed. The ecology of the pool will take time to recover. I see this, unfortunately, happening in companies such as IBM and others. It is high time that executives stopped hurling rocks. Instead, they must encourage their employees to practice a pattern of continuous pebble throwing. It is high time to call a halt to mindless change.

John Macdonald is famed for bringing quality management to the U. K. Previously, he was an executive with Honeywell. Macdonald is also a renowned lecturer whose incisive opinions, strong personality, and wry sense of humor are often noted by audiences. His most recent book is Calling a Halt to Mindless Change (AMACOM, 1998). You may contact Macdonald at johnemacdonald@compuserve. com.

Copyright Association for Quality and Participation May/Jun 1999

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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