Change For The Sake Of Change

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I had grown tired of St. Louis.

I had been going there regularly for about three years. The drive from the airport to downtown had become depressing. There were blighted areas. The hotel I stayed at was run down, and the food was drab.

There was one good restaurant in town and that had been downgraded.

Once I was asked what were the five worst cities I had experienced. Without hesitation, I put St. Louis near the top.

I became so fed up with the place that I ended my consulting contract.

Finally, I didn’t have to go back.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, another client of mine bought a company in St. Louis and I was asked to return.

This time, the driver took another route from the airport. I found that there were two sections of St. Louis and we were now going to the second one – Clayton.

I noticed how beautiful the homes were and how clean and new the downtown area was.

The first day with my clients, they took me to an Italian restaurant, and I ate the best milanese steak I had ever had.

I stayed at a five star hotel for the same price as the beat up one I had stayed on previous visits.

I look forward to going to St. Louis. I keep signing new consulting contracts. It’s one of my favorite cities.

Things changed, didn’t they?

Sometimes, all you have to do is take another road and things look different. Same city, different road.

Change Strategy

That’s a key to having a productive life, and a successful business. Sometimes all you have to do is change things up. I call it “change for the sake of change.” It’s one of the “inside strategies” I shared with you last week. (Article: “Sixteen Strategies.”)

When I’m working with businesses, I call this an “organizational strategy.”

By definition, when a business has run out of ideas and ceases to grow, I suggest they implement an organizational strategy.

When you do the same thing over and over again, because that has helped sustain your business, nevertheless, the time will come when sustaining is not enough. At some point, growth has to be fired up again. And the fastest way to do this is to “start moving the furniture around.”

Hawthorne Effect

In the 1920’s a famous study was carried out at Western Electric Company (now AT&T.) It attempted to find out what made workers more productive. The study has been analyzed and replicated dozens of times since then. It’s called the Hawthorne Effect.

It took a group of workers, separated them out from the other workers, gave them extra attention, and found that their productivity improved. There have been several interpretations on what really caused the improvement. For example, one interpretation says they improved because they were given a sympathetic supervisor. Another says they improved because they were more closely supervised, or given more attention.

I speculate that they improved because the workers’ environment changed. After having observed worker behavior for over thirty years as a management consultant, I’ve concluded people’s performance improves no matter what you do, just so long as it is different than what has been done before.

Worker Hypnosis

Something interesting happens by merely changing the environment within which people work. They snap out of what I call, worker hypnosis.

Worker hypnosis is a state of mind where employees master a task to a point where they no longer are thinking about what they are doing. They are doing it solely by rote.

Lest anyone think I am being critical of workers in general, let me dispose them of that by saying I believe all humans engage in hypnotic behavior. It is a result of our evolutionary history. Oddly enough, hypnotic behavior is a survival technique.

Anciently, certain behaviors became repetitive in order to form consistency within tribal culture. Without performing routine tasks for the benefit of the entire tribe, daily organization would break down and put the entire tribe at risk. In order to attain the necessary repetition, the brain had to go into a passive state, in order to accept the mundane routine scheduled for the day’s activities.

Likewise, within a business culture, hypnotic states are quite common. Partly out of a primal need to survive, workers form patterns of behavior, which allow them to lock down habits, which in their mind afford them the best chances of maintaining job security. They begin to repeat their activities in a repetitive fashion. Most thinking is closed off. Only what is essential for the particular activity to be accomplished is engaged in mentally.

The Slightest Change . . .

Unlike ancient tribal routine, however, humans are expected to improve their behavior within today’s business environment. To do this, one must first realize that workers’ brains are most likely in a passive or hypnotic state.

In such a state workers are not apt to immediately improve their productivity.

To overcome this, the best way is to implement an organizational or change strategy.

The good news is that even the slightest change to a worker’s environment has the ability to snap the worker out of his or her worker trance. For example, you can change the overhead lighting and inform workers that this will help their productivity, and more often than not, it does.

Ironically, there is no research that says changing the lights improves worker productivity. As far as we know, the mere fact that the worker thinks it will, is enough to produce increased productivity.

The same goes for anything else you change, whether that be a new bonus structure or a new manager. What’s key is that the change awakens the worker, and the worker is told that the change will improve productivity. If the worker is fully alert, and accepts the possibility of increased productivity, it’s virtually a done deal. Productivity will improve. That is, until the worker forms a routine, and then the process starts over again.

Summary

Any change you introduce into a worker’s environment will increase his or her productivity as long as it catches their attention and is perceived as a positive. The act of changing is key. The chain of improvement doesn’t start until change is introduced, any change. That’s why I call it, “change for the sake of change.”