Change Without Purpose–A Leadership Problem.

Happy New Year everyone. I sincerely hope your 2018 finished up on a positive note and that together we can work on making 2019 a year filled with personal and professional improvement. So, coffee in hand and with a clear head after the fog of New Years celebrating has cleared, let’s get started!

If you’re just joining these conversations with us, I am always on the lookout for solid business improvement lessons that pop up in our everyday lives—little reminders or sticky notes that are all around us, begging for a bit of attention.  And even though I try to steer clear of sports analogies or examples (not everyone is as into sports as I am, and for many people sports terminology isn’t familiar or comfortable) occasionally something happens that is truly a perfect foil for these improvement articles—and today is one of those days. Bear with me (sorry—I’m a huge Chicago Bears fan!) and I think you’ll agree that this example is worthy of examination.

The Monday following the end of the NFL (National Football League) regular season, just before the playoffs get started, is commonly known as Black Monday.  Teams that didn’t meet expectations and/or didn’t make the playoffs face pressure to make changes, and often this leads owners to fire their head coaches right after their last game on Sunday night or early the next Monday morning. In the NFL the head coach is looked upon as the CEO of the organization and is by far the most public facing member of team management. This year 6 head coaches were fired this past Sunday or Monday, and 2 more head coaches had already been fired during the season. There are 32 total teams in the NFL, and 8 teams fired their head coach or CEO. When this happens many of the assistant coaches are also out of a job (effectively fired) as they were hired by the head coach. So pretty much the entire operational management staffs of 25% of the NFL were fired in a very short window of time.

One of the most ridiculous firings this year was by the owner (think Chairman of the Board) of the Arizona Cardinals, who personally had hired the coach he just fired only 11 months ago! At the time of the hiring he said he stopped the job interview process with others because after the initial interview he just knew he was the right person for the job and there was no need to speak to anyone else. And then 11 months later—he’s so bad he needed to be fired! WHAT!? Granted there are times where change is necessary, and it’s a good business trait to be able to quickly move on from mistakes rather than compound the problem by waiting or hoping for change. But are 25% of all of these teams so bad at making decisions that they need to fire their entire management staff? Can you imagine this type of turmoil in a more conventional business or organization? What would shareholders, employees, or most importantly customers think if ¼ of an entire industry turned over its management in a very short period of time?

This looks much more like a problem of ownership and top-level leadership. If there is no real plan, no clear and communicated vision for where the company is going, and no obvious set of core values for the organization, then this type of rudderless change is inevitable. It’s much easier to cave in to outside pressure or to make a knee-jerk change of course when you and your team aren’t sure of who you are and where you’re going. Once you as the business leader set a clear course towards a very specific destination and communicate this throughout your organization and to your customers, then decision-making and navigating through difficult times can be done from a position of strength. Your values are clear, your future-state is defined and communicated, and all of your stakeholders know where the business is headed.

Once this clarity and unity is achieved, a clear-headed maturity permeates into all areas of your organization. Recruiting, hiring, on-boarding, training and development, goal setting, performance evaluations, improvement plans, etc., all become much more focused and aligned. Of course, there will still be turnover, and people who simply don’t grow or flourish in this new environment, so difficult personnel decisions will have to be made. But certainly not at a 25% annual rate, and not as an impulsive reaction to one difficult year or one unexpected mishap.

Before you look to make wholesale changes to the management of your organization, first take a very clear-headed look in the mirror. Are you absolutely clear and honest about the current state of your company? Is there a clearly stated vision for the organization, an obvious and communicated future state? Does everyone in the company know your personal core values and how those core values are manifested in the company? Do employees and teammates know their role and how their performance influences the success of the organization as a whole? If not, then the first radical change needs to happen with you!  You have to make a true commitment to change your own behavior and leadership style, to actually “live” this new vision and these core values. And then you have to communicate with and engage your entire organization and all of your stakeholders, laying the foundation for this new stability and focus to take root.

Don’t be like an NFL franchise and make knee-jerk wholesale management changes every few years. Take the initiative to change your own behavior first, and then provide clarity, stability, maturity, vision, and values to the rest of your company. Communicate and involve your team, letting them “see” this vision along with you, and get them together with you on the pathway towards achieving this future state. Make this discussion an integral part of your daily/weekly management routine. You’ll get happier, more relaxed and engaged employees as a result, and your team will have more skills and resources to perform the tasks that drive your business forward every day.  Don’t just say it—lead by doing it.

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