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When NOT to Listen to Your Employees

Sometimes, it seems like implementing change in your company is like trying to change the direction of a cargo ship. Progressive management theory, notably including Lean Enterprise methodology, espouses active solicitation and consideration of the opinions and counsel of employees. This makes sense and is arguably the only way to maximize the value of your company, since your employees are closest to the clients, the suppliers, and each other.

One situation comes to mind, however, where input of employees is not a great idea. Through hard work, determination, and dedication, you (and they) have brought your small or medium sized business to its current level of performance. But no matter what you’ve tried internally, the growth of sales, profitability, quality, cycle time, or some other key metric have reached a plateau, or maybe have declined.

So, you, as owner or president, have made the correct decision to seek external help. You’ve hired a consulting firm or a coach to assist you. The consultant has made observations, interviewed you and your team, maybe even customers and suppliers. Since you’ve not been satisfied with the previous results, with certainty, the consultant has recommended significant changes.

What’s going to be the biggest obstacle to implementation? Unfortunately, it’s gonna be your employees. Although most likely they have been the ones who’ve surfaced the basis of the consultant’s recommendations, they don’t want to change, or at least most of them. “Everything’s fine!” or “Why would you listen to an outsider, who knows nothing about our business?”

Here is a great, concise summary of what to think about when considering change, authored by Susan M. Heathfield; her bio is available with the article:

There is much information like this in the literature, and consultants and whole companies exist just to help implement change, so I won’t rehash it here.

But let’s think about motivation for change. If you’re the owner, or a large part of your earnings is tied to company performance, the profit and loss of the business is at your risk, not so for most of the employees. Unless their compensation is highly leveraged based on the success of the business, why would they want change? They get a nice base salary, and they doubt that a small bonus or commission is worth risking their job for. In other words, they fear job loss, more work, a need for retraining – some change in their livelihood or routine. But for most people, why mess with the status quo?

Be mindful of the objections you hear, and consider them. But keep in mind the motivation of the resister. You’ve made the decision and maybe spent the money to get the outside help. You’ve had the opportunity to study the recommendations, quiz the consultant, and have deemed the recommendations to be sound. Now, exercise your role as the one with the most skin in the game, and do what’s right for your company. If you are not improving, you are declining; there is no equilibrium.

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