Embrace Risk, Manage Change, and Laugh Often

Communication Challenges
All the talk about change is just that – talk! We actually know very little about the final shape the future will take. Chances are, when it does take a final shape, if it does, many of us won’t like it much anyway.

Which is further proof, as if we need any, that for the majority of us, change is scary. Change is never less than uncomfortable, unpredictable and unsettling. Like it or not, though, change is the nature of reality. And, as Woody Allen said, you might hate reality but it’s still the only place to get a good steak.

For the typical manager, who has watched the changing workplace twist like a pretzel in recent years, coping with change is old hat. But coping, which is more reactive that proactive, is not necessarily effective management. Even the sharpest manager could use a few tips on turning change to their organization’s benefit. With that is mind, consider these five strategies for managing change:

Avoid making on-the-spot judgments about the future.
Every problem is a challenge to create a solution. When we’re faced with a challenge, we first must understand that our judgments affect our perception of reality. If we judge a challenge before we attempt to confront it, we run the risk of cubby holing it in the wrong mental category. IBM made this mistake in the early 1980’s when its directors flatly stated that the PC would have “no effect” on the computer market. Talk about Dumb and Dumber! Big Blue almost ran itself out of business with that arrogant, unconsidered assumption. Instead, they should have seen the personal computer as the potential predator it was and moved to confront the challenge.

Understand the difference between fact, opinions and ideas.
Clarity is essential in managing change. Knowing the difference between facts and opinions about the future will guide you to confront and change more creativity and efficiently. Health care reform is a good example. Will it include universal coverage, or will some people be left without insurance? Will it require employers to pay for health care, or will the government raise taxes to cover the cost? Will coverage be portable, or will some of us be left uninsured between jobs? Until these ideas are codified as facts, all we have are opinions about the future direction of reform. Differences of opinion, as Mark Twain noted, are what make a horse race. Hospitals, however, are in the business of solving people’s problems, not running a racetrack.

Solicit information from all departments.
The best way to solve a problem is to have at your fingertips, the best information from all areas of your facility. This requires sincere listening. Employees and associates know when you’re not listening and most of them will resent it, especially when obligatory hearings waste their time. Extremists think communication means agreeing with them. In reality, good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. But it’s essential when management decisions typically affect the work loads from administration to engineering (that’s not A to Z, but administration is usually on top and engineering on bottom – or at least in the basement. Until a system failure, that is. Then engineering is definitely on top).

Analyze your challenge from at least four different viewpoints: bottom line, service quality, employee impact, and facility systems.
Demand that your review team look at all challenges from multiple viewpoints. This classic issue can be examined best from the perspective of interrelated decisions. For example, the ripple effect of rightsizing and downsizing (formerly known as “lay-offs”) can be felt throughout an organization, beginning with employee morale. When workers are laid off, those who remain often begin to resent management. Productivity may lag as a result. Next, unhappy customers may complain to friends about the quality of service, driving prospective customers away. What initially was a simple arithmetic problem has evolved into a more serious challenge to the bottom line. It might have been prevented by quality analysis up front.

Ask yourself, what’s the ideal solution to this problem?
Note the word ideal. Too often, we fail to ask the right or best questions. Instead of looking for the ideal solution, we seek a quick fix. If you want a better answer, ask a better question! If you ask your kids why their room is always a mess, they’re likely to launch into a prepared list of excuses that includes either, a) the heavy social demands of being a teenage; b) the impossibility of finding anything in a clean room; or c) a blank stare. A better question would be, “how can we arrange things so that your room is neat every day?” Again, the key is listening sincerely and following through with a reward or acknowledgment.

As you can see, managing change is largely a question of effective communication. And effective communication requires a basic foundation of trust. If we don’t trust the person we take direction from, we’re likely to doubt that they have our best interest at heart. Ultimately, where there is no trust, there is no healthy communication. In the end, managers might want to ask themselves the same question my mother used ask me over and over again: “would you rather be right, or happy?” Being right all the time can be fun, so long as the blinders don’t fall off. But happiness is its own reward. And in a world of change, happiness comes in knowing you’re one step ahead of the inevitable.

by Jim Pelley
Laughter Works Seminars

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