THE ROLLERCOASTER - Conceptual buy-in The front car reached the top of the climb and the coaster immediately dropped a heart-pounding 155 feet reaching a top speed of 72mph. It was two minutes and sixteen seconds of sheer adrenaline as the coaster had four loops ending in a cobra roll as the grand finale. Tom and Scott had brought their families to the amusement park on a sultry Saturday afternoon. After the rollercoaster thrill, they both decided they needed a break. They grabbed a refreshment and parked their bodies in a shaded area. The collective family members agreed to return in an hour and quickly scattered to other areas of the park.
After collecting their senses, Tom and Scott broke into a conversation about work. They both held leadership positions in complementary industries, so it was easy for them to have an appreciable understanding to each other's situations. Tom shared a problem he was having associated with one of his company's initiatives, which was implemented in the prior year.
Tom said, "We just cannot get this new workflow adopted with our national producers. We've showed them umpteen times that the initiative can increase productivity while reducing cost, yet some only partially utilize the workflow while others don't buy-in at all. The partial adoption is almost worse because it creates a duplication of effort and makes efficiencies look bad with mixed results. The others are just stubborn having more comfort in their traditional ways."
Scott chuckled and replied, "Well, we all know change is not easy...we've always adopted the adage that change is easier with someone than too someone. How did you roll this initiative out?"
Tom said, "Oh definitely I agree about incorporating change with the people. We thought we did a good job this time around, because we created an internal campaign and called it Hearts & Minds. The concept was that we needed people to both believe it in their heart and understand it in their mind that this initiative would help us differentiate ourselves in the marketplace, while simultaneously increasing efficiencies and reducing costs. We knew that we needed both hearts and minds won over for this concept to work, because if you only believe and don't know then you cannot succeed. Visa verse, if you only know but don't believe then you will choose not to succeed. So we made sure that we won over the hearts and minds of our middle managers and they, too, became supporting voices for this initiative."
Scott nodded, scratched his chin and looked off in the distance to help formulate his response. After a few peaceful moments Scott replied, "You know, we did something like this about 18 months ago. We broke our project down into three conceptual rollout stages: Identification, Conformity & Internalization. With Identification we reached out to strategic members of our organization to help them find commonality with what we were trying to achieve. With Conformity we used peer pressure to get resisters in-line with adopters."
Tom responded, "that sounds similar to our hearts and minds campaign just put into different terms."
Scott replied, "Ok, I'll give you that, but we took it one step further and maybe this could help you. Internalization is what's really needed. It is one thing to believe a concept in your heart and understand it in your mind. However, what really needs to happen is to put your hearts and minds to action is if the initiative is burned into your company's workflow DNA. It has to be part of who you are, what you stand for and it's like breathing...an everyday unrealized necessity."
Tom interrupted, "I hear what you are saying, but I've felt our hearts and minds campaign was to achieve what you say."
Scott smiled and replied, "Ya, it is hard to discern the difference of going beyond understanding and believing. Think of the rollercoaster ride were just on." Tom nodded with acknowledgement and Scott said, "during that rollercoaster ride were you thinking about anything else but the thrill of the ride?" Tom looked confused but said nothing. Scott continued, "During those turns at 70 miles an hour you were not thinking of your plans tonight or the things you need to do next week...you were at one with the rollercoaster and in the moment." "
I agree," Tom said.
Scott replied, "So, the same mind set needs to be ingrained in your people. Internalization is the next stage to take your people to get the adoption you need for your initiative."
Tom smiled and replied, "Yep, I know several who need and are going to get a rollercoaster ride!"
All the glasses were raised as dad made a toast, "To Mitch, congratulations for becoming the top banana out of the whole bunch. We wish you the brightest future and go confidently in pursuit of your dreams."
Everyone clanked their glasses and smiled with approval. The family and a few close friends had gathered to celebrate Mitch's promotion as he was the youngest in the firm to reach the director level. He would now join a peer group to collaborate on business events, but, at the same time, indirectly compete against each other for the next level of achieving "partner" status in the firm. Everyone went around the table to add some encouraging words or to offer a gift gesturing the sentiment of congratulations. One gift was an engraved paper weight, while another was a business card holder and all of them seemed to be straight from the Sharper Image catalog.
It was now grandpa's turn and everyone gave attention to observe respect for the patriarch of the family. Grandpa's health had recently deteriorated to the point of physically needing a walker and speaking with a slowing and slurred speech. Grandpa pulled a book out of a used and crinkled brown paper sack. The book was the Emperor's New Clothes, a popular fable for kids. Collectively, everyone's smiles faded and they looked at each other with concern for grandpa as this gift was for kids and certainly not for business.
Grandpa broke the silence clearing his voice and gently spoke, "That's the story of the narcissistic emperor where two swindlers tailored him a suit of clothes for a special public parade...remember?" The family nodded in acknowledgement to grandpa, but then looked at each other as if Grandpa was experiencing dementia. Grandpa continued, "The tailors conned everyone by saying that the fabric was invisible to anyone who was unfit for their position, so everyone was afraid to say something for fear of exposing themselves as being unfit. They kept up the pretenses even during the parade until a boy, who was too young to understand pretenses, pointed out the emperor was wearing nothin."
Mitch interrupted Grandpa with intentions to save his embarrassment and replied, "why thanks Gpa...I remember you telling me that story growing up."
Mitch looked at his wife and then his dad with concern. As the party wound down, Mitch helped dad take grandpa to the car. On the way home, Mitch was mostly pre-occupied with grandpa's sudden appearance of mental decay. He recounted with his wife that grandpa had been very active in Mitch's life, but now Mitch was suddenly very embarrassed for grandpa and equally felt sorry that a great man would mentally fall in this manner. This was the man who taught Mitch to fish, throw a baseball properly and even helped teach him to drive. Mitch could not understand what logical reason why grandpa would give him that book as opposed to a business nik-knack. Mitch rationalized that grandpa maybe grabbed that book by mistake, yet grandpa spoke at about the book at the party. Then Mitch thought maybe grandpa just didn't have anything else to give, but grandpa had plenty of resources so that wasn't true either.
By time Mitch's family reached home it was late. As Mitch's wife helped get their children ready for bed, Mitch rubbed the book with his hands trying to discern whether his grandpa was becoming unbalanced in his thinking. After a few pondering moments, Mitch thought he could at least put the book to some use by reading it to his children. Just then he opened the book and on the inside cover and the following message starred him in the face: Mitchie - I have long felt that you would reach a successful point in your life. Hopefully, this is the first in many to come. It is now important then ever that you become aware of the meaning of this fable. You see, most likely your peers will "keep with the pretenses" and let the emperor walk around without clothes. They will do this in an attempt to increase favor with the emperor. Mitchie, it will be important for you to have the courage to call out invisible clothes when you see them dressed on your emperor. You will stand alone holding true to your principles and the values of your company. You will have to balance how you can manage a relationship with those who keep the pretenses and with those who need you, alone, to point out the truth. I love you and pray for your courage. Congratulations, Grandpa.
Upon Mitch reading these words, tears raced down his face. Mitch's wife came down the stairs and noticed his crying condition.
"What happened?", she shrieked excitedly.
Mitch wiped some tears, gave a relieving smile and said, "I should have known, he's ok." Mitch's wife looked confused but said nothing. Mitch continued, "Unlike all those Sharper Image tokens, gpa gave the best gift anyone could ever receive!"
Just then he handed her the book opened to the message.
The teacher looked at his watch and announced, "30 seconds."
The teams echoed with chatter as they placed their finishing touches on their constructed towers. The object was for a group to build the tallest free-standing structure made from only marshmallows and toothpicks. The teacher barked, "Ok...hands away from your creations. Now we'll see some results of your planning, engineering and teamwork skills." The teacher extended the measuring tape from the container and slapped it on the table for an audio effect. "Remember," the teacher said, "the tower has stay standing while I measure from the table to the highest point." The teacher approached the first tower, which measured twenty-five inches. The group congratulated each other and waited patiently to hear the results from their competitors. The second group measured just shy of twenty-three inches so group one was still in the lead. Just at that moment, the tower of the last group fell, which spurred some collective gasps from the group.
One person from the fallen group protested, "You should have measured us first!"
As the teacher began measuring the fallen tower, the teacher quipped, "Ah, remember the structure has to stay standing." The teacher measured and reported, "twelve inches...group number one wins."
Another frustrated member from the third group announced, "I disagreed with the design from the start."
A second group member replied, "Well I did too."
Another member argued back, "Wait a minute...although I suggested the design, I was not sold on it, but you both agreed to it."
All three students started incoherently debating and the teacher interrupted by raising his hand in a pausing motion and clearing his throat. As the group quieted the teacher commented, "What you are experiencing is a classic case of the phenomenon known as the Abilene Paradox."
Two students from the fallen group simultaneously asked, "The Abilene what?"
The teacher giggled and replied, "Let's take our seats and I'll break it down for you." Once students returned to their seats, the teacher sat on the edge of the desk and started describing the scene for the Abilene Paradox. The teacher said, "Ok, a husband, wife and in-laws are back in the 1950's during a hot Sunday summer in the central Texas town outside of Abilene. This is before air-conditioning, paved roads and interstate highways. The four are sitting on their porch seeking a shady refuge from the sun. Assuming all are bored, the father in-law suggests they load into the car and travel 50 miles into Abilene to eat at the diner. Without objection they travel in a hot car down dusty roads, reaching a crowded diner and experiencing less than average food. Once back at home, all four found themselves exhausted and frustrated. The mother in-law stated that she didn't enjoy the trip and actually she never wanted to go in the first place. The daughter and the husband also express they too were not interested in going to Abilene. The father defends himself by saying he was only suggesting the trip because they were bored and they all agreed."
One student interrupts, "What does this mean to us?"
The teacher replied, "The conflict they developed came from an initial general agreement. Even though no one wanted to go to Abilene, everyone had irrational fears about voicing their objection."
Another student asked, "Why?"
The teacher responded, "Possibly several reasons, but the most popular is not wanting to appear obstinate to friends, family or co-workers. Most of us wish to avoid conflict in relationships at all costs, so we suppress voicing perceived unpopular feelings and truths."
A student in failed group replied, "That's me! I didn't agree with some of the marshmallow placements, but I didn't express my concern for fear of not being viewed as not a team player." The other students in the failed group nodded with general agreement.
The teacher raised his hands as if to include all the students into the conversation and said, "So what did we learn here?..We learned valuable lessons about planning the work and working the plan. We learned about teamwork and operating within time constraints. And most importantly"...
The teacher was interrupted by a student, "Most importantly we learned that bad group decisions can come through the appearance of agreement."
The teacher smiled and replied, "Yep, that's the best lesson you'll ever get out of a marshmallow...class dismissed!"
Tony recruited Doug to work for him years ago when company performance was at an unprecedented run in the market place. However, now results were on a plateau and Tony sensed the organization needed to move in a different direction to stay in front of the competitors. Tony held multiple conceptual sessions where he wanted the "minds" in the organization to think differently. He held working meetings where the management team set the strategies and tactics in place to achieve Tony's new directional objective. Doug was a key player with the company transition; however, the transition was moving slower then expected. Tony invited Doug to lunch to recap the most recent progress with the strategy and tactics. After they ate and reviewed some information, Tony pulled a small box out of his sports jacket and slid it across the table towards Doug. Doug was pleasantly surprised and had no idea what gift was concealed inside.
"What in the world is this?", Doug asked excitedly. Tony smiled and, without speaking, extended his hand out to gesture to open the box. As Doug opened the box, his face gave way to a perplexing smile as the gift was a yo-yo. Doug looked in wonder to Tony and pulled the yo-yo out of the box. The yo-yo actually appeared to be broken with its string unwound and intentionally knotted so that it could not be wound. Now Tony was known and admired for his unique wit, so Doug tried to solve this puzzle without asking Tony. After a few moments of silent smiling stares, Doug gave up. Doug said, "Well thank you...but I don't get it."
Tony replied, "It's symbolism for the situation we're in operationally."
Doug raised his eyebrows in confusion and replied, "I don't understand what a broken yo-yo has to do with our changes."
Tony raised his hand with his pointer finger in the way as if to signal to Doug to wait on the questioning. Tony replied, "Our tactics are not congruent with our strategy and that is part of the reason our organizational change is struggling."
Doug replied, "Right. We just covered some of our tactical challenges, but I don't know what that has to do with this broken yo-yo."
Tony pinched the bridge of his nose as if to find the right words. Tony replied, "Our management team needs to better understand when to spend time with forming strategy and executing tactics. When properly operated the yo-yo will unwind down and rewind up given the specific movements of the hand. Our management team must think strategy when the yo-yo is in the "up" rewind position and must disseminate tactics when unwound in the "down" position. Our problem is our management team is like this broken yo-yo where it is constantly unwound in the tactical position."
The analogy clicked with Doug and he eagerly responded, "Yes, I sense that every time we discuss a high-level concept the team can't help but get caught up in the details of a solution. Do you think that is part of our transitional problem towards our objective?"
Tony nodded and replied, "Our team jumps right to the detail of a concept without working through the strategic positioning to our objective. Our key people are the yo-yo and they need to know when to be wound in strategy and unwound in tactics. Until they understand the strategic approach we will take to reach our goal, how can we incorporate tactical tools to reach our strategy?" Doug nodded with acceptance, sat silent and let the analogy sink into his mind. Tony continued, "Doug, you are my biggest yo-yo and I need you to make sure all our other yo-yos are not broken like this one." They both laughed at the humor in the analogy as Doug picked up the yo-yo to inspect it.
Doug smiled and wittingly replied, "Yo...I am your yo-yo guy and we'll be doing "walk-the-dog" and other strategy tricks before you know it!"
Wes bounced down the stairs and announced to dad he would be needing help with homework. He then made a casual bypass through the kitchen for a snack before plopping down on the couch beside dad. Wes asked, "Dad, I need to write a paragraph for school about the difference between fixed and variable costs...do you have an example I could use?"
Dad smiled with appreciation, turned the TV off and shifted his eyes upward in thought. With a little hum he responded, "Actually Uncle Wayne's cows come to mind."
Wes' face scrunched as if to show a lack of approval and said, "Dad, I don't want to write about cows. What do they have to do with costs anyway.
With a slight sarcasm dad replied, "Uncle Wayne's cows weren't pets...they were part of his business as a farmer which directly involved both fixed and variable costs. Do you want my help or not?" Reluctantly, Wes nodded yes. Dad continued, "Uncle Wayne operated a cow-calf operation, which means he raised calves and sold them into the market place when they matured. There are a number of fixed costs associated with raising cows, such as the property, all the fencing and the labor.
Wes asked, "Labor...you mean workers?"
Dad replied, "Yes, remember there were two workers named Clayton and Jim who helped Uncle Wayne on the farm." Wes tapped his memory and acknowledged with a nod yes. Dad continued, "So those costs are considered as direct. Now the variable costs represent things such as the feed provided to the cows. The feed amount and cost varied with the volume and size of the cattle. This is really a usable definition of variable cost as the cost is contingent on specific and multiple factors."
Wes jotted some random things on a piece of paper and replied, "Ok, so the fixed cost is the barn and other things used in keeping the cows and variable costs change depending on how many and how big the cows are."
Dad smiled and said, "That's perfect the way you said it. Can you remember that to write your paragraph?" Wes nodded and hopped off the couch. As he scurried up the stairs, he stopped mid-way and asked, "Did Uncle Wayne make a lot of money with his cows?"
Dad, looked back at Wes and replied, "Actually, yes but it wasn't easy. The variable cost feed was very expensive and represented about fifty percent of the total cost of each cow. However, do you want to hear Uncle Wayne's secret for cow success?" Wes turned around on the stairs and raced back to the couch." Dad continued, "Uncle Wayne leveraged his fixed costs and reduced his variable costs by supplementing his cow-calf operation with another form of cattle raising known as the stock method. This method purchased adolescent cows in the spring and used the natural pasture grass and hay to feed them until they were ready for sale in the fall. The pasture, the pasture grass and the hay were already costs involved in the operation of Uncle Wayne's farm. He leveraged these fixed costs for another purpose to make money that was a complement to his traditional cattle business.
Wes responded, "So Uncle Wayne increased his margin on the two types of cow operations he ran?"
Dad replied, "Yes, it makes "udder" sense...doesn't it?"
Wes replied, "Dad, you are good with helping me with my homework, but bad at telling jokes!"
Dad replied, "Oh ya, well why don't you "mooove" on upstairs!"
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