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My lesson in bringing Change to a Company

October 29, 2008

“We see great potential in you. We’re hoping you can come on board and help us change things for the better.”

Heard that line before?

How about this one when you get critical about work conditions. “Well, that’s why we hired you! To make changes!”

Now of course things aren’t always what they seem. Ever seen an employee propose some changes only to be pushed to say, “No no no, you misunderstand. We’re not really changing anything,” followed by a quiet sigh of relief by the VPs and GMs?

Many companies suffer from this gripping confusion. They know they’ll get buried if they don’t change so they dangle a “Change” sign to entice you to join. But try to change something once you’re inside and watch the walls come up. The argument? “Never teach a grandfather how to suck eggs.” Or my favorite, “Son, I’ve been here 25 years. What makes you think you know better than I do?”

In my experience any change that affects the job scopes of the GMs and VPs will likely get binned. That’s the level that wants you to make changes without making changes. Want real change? Then let me be frank. No one can re-engineer corporate performance without touching that level. You know what they say about rotting fish…

But I understand how dreadful it must feel to hunger for change on one hand and desperately cling to the old past on the other. I should know, I still sleep with my Spongebob cushion.

The lesson I learnt was this. Before you come in on a ticket of Change, know who your source of support is and get his commitment face to face. If its anything less than the no. 1 or no. 2 man, forget it. Your plans can be booby-trapped. You have to know that even President/Ceo backing may not guarantee success if the GMs and VPs have a history of ganging up on the top guy.

One of the reasons why I hopped off the corporate bandwagon was after learning how easily companies turn into toxic personal playgrounds. That’s when people come to work to play out their personal fantasies ranging from self-pity to narcissism to megalomania. Just listen to the after-work chatter to know how deep the corporate disease has set in.

If you are one of those having “fun” in the amusement park, you can play ball and still meet sales targets. You know… to keep Head Office off your back. That’s what distributors and retailers are for.

I realize not all companies are like this and maybe you’ve got better luck than I had but that was the road I traveled, twice. I’m glad I’ve let it go.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2008 10:06 am

    Good post. I was about to write something similar. 😀

    True, we cannot tell someone who has been in the same industry for 25 years what to do, but maybe we can point out to them that whatever they are doing now is not helping the company at all.

    Most leaders of the older generation are afraid of losing their rice bowl and thus, they are reluctant to let you “the change agent” to change anything. If they let you to do so, they are afraid you might replace them as the “change agent”. They rather let the company dies than them dying by themselves. 😛

    Sadly, but this is what happens in most companies.

    I was 24 years old when a senior VP told me he had been in the company for 25 years. He must’ve been thinking I was born yesterday and he’d be right! Hahaha. But thats how awkward it is to talk change with someone who thinks you’re younger than his own son. Generation gap is a silent but serious problem in companies that try to penetrate the youth market. Many elder businesspeople think they know what’s best for the market and get frustrated when they fail to connect. Makes you wonder if they have the same problem with their children at home.

  2. October 29, 2008 11:11 am

    We have seen what Eric Chia tried to do in Perwaja Steel many years ago when Dr M brought him in to turn the steel mill over, and finally what it did to him.

    Then recently we saw how our PM and his boys dealt with Zaid Ibrahim.

    We know from world history some political successes like Gandhi, Abe Lincoln, Mao, etc, but some of these were totally brutal in approach. I can’t think of any corporate success stories so far…

    As they say, one of 2 things can happen. Either you change the system or it changes you. In business, money is the only “force of nature” powerful enuf to change anything. I suppose its the same for politics and anything else in life.

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