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Tool Behavior

August 22, 2012

I want to share with you a story related to me in 1998. The guy who told this to me was a U.S. Army captain in G2 assigned to a staff of some general in Vietnam. The scene is a village by a river. There had been some action in and near the village. The NVA were driven off and it was now time for post action counter insurgency operations. The choppers arrive with the general, his staff, and reporters. There is the usual posturing of democratizing the oppressed and winning the hearts and minds. Noticing the women hunched over in the sun beating laundry on rocks with their children nearby, someone asked is there anything we can do for them.

Thus was born the idea to build a washateria for them. Covered to protect them from the elements. With counter height sinks to eliminate the physical strain of hunching over. Running water to eliminate the threat of river born illness, drowning babies, and water snakes. Materials and men were dedicated to this righteous cause.

The grand opening scene. More choppers arrive, with more officers and staff, and of course reporters. The tape is cut, the women with baskets full of laundry walk into the washateria and climb up onto the counters to hunch over and beat their laundry in their new porcelain sinks under the protection of the roof. Tool behavior.

None of the women knew how to use the new tools or could envision a scenario where the risks or strain on them physically would be reduced.

I see this in my work. An enterprise sees the need for a new CRM. The internal advocate pushes for change. The decision is made to upgrade beyond the decade and a half old technology and business process. The politically empowered seeing the threat to their stature resist the change. The battle ensues until the new CRM is rolled out and implemented to look and do only what the older system could do. Tool behavior.

This in my experience is not limited to things. I have seen this with people in roles. Frustrated parties are prepared to part ways (a nice way of saying someone was fired), and the decision is made to upgrade the position (a nice way of saying we are hiring a more qualified person), and the reality is the role is not redefined. Tool behavior.

Recommendations to reduce this include;

1. Realize that change in resource constrained enterprises there will be winners and losers.

2. Be prepared to deal with the loss side. This may involve repositioning, a new paradigm, explaining the new challenges to be faced. Be respectful of the past, realistic about today and hopeful for tomorrow.

3. With change comes new tools requiring new behaviors. Be prepared for those. For those enterprises spending more time and resources on the new tools and not on the new behaviors, disaster awaits right around the corner.

4. Realize that change is inevitable for survival. Not confronting it risks watering the change down and reducing possible future benefits, or being leap frogged by more agile competitors or new entrants.

In 2000 I was a manager with a company which had just bought a southeastern competitor to fill in the footprint. The cost was $1 billion for the acquisition. Teams of home office personnel were mobilized to visit the branches, executives were flown around on private jets to make personal appeals to the branch employees that nothing would change, so there was no need to take a check and go to a competitor. They were assured that not only would nothing change, but everything would get better. Meanwhile there is another executive in the acquired company’s home office gutting it. The reality was redundancies had to be eliminated. But that is not what was being communicated to the troops. All they saw was a lie and the new mean guys fired their ¬†friends. Compounding this was the fact no one showed the employees how they were hunched over in the sun by a dangerous river and there were new tools to help them do their jobs better, faster and stronger.

The conversion took place in August of 2000. By December of 2000 everyone agreed we just wasted $1 billion. Tool behavior.




From → business, Strategy

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