Be intolerant of inertia, but tolerant of mistakes

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When change must come to organizations, it is the Senior Manager who will either be the catalyst for change, or the "funeral director". According to B. Jeanne Williams of the Forbes Health Foundation, while people are not born judgmental, resistant to change, or reliant on structure, these characteristics develop as stress increases our need for comfort, predictability and inclusiveness.

Speaking at the 1995 NSFRE Conference in Chicago, she said that senior managers have to overcome their own resistance to change, and disconnect their "mental cruise control" to lead the way. They must understand that upset and stress are a natural reaction and by-product of change. Williams warns that, if there is no resistance, there will be no change --- smiling, nodding people just won't bring about the change you want.

Managers must carve out roles and responsibilities, leaving no question as to where one job starts and another stops, or how they will be evaluated. Analyze your people assets. Draw up job descriptions for your staff as if they were all new positions. Get rid of the weak players if possible, or isolate them where they will hurt the team the least.

Williams urged managers to tighten discipline during times of change, and be intolerant of inertia but tolerant of mistakes. Keeping the team pointed towards the larger goal will help individuals get over the change in their daily routines or workplace. Being generous with extra praise, informal visits and cheerful encouragement will mean even more at a time when people are feeling uncertain and vulnerable.

Diagnosing stress levels

Williams also discussed stress tolerance levels and gave a list of symptoms to help the manager diagnose whether a staff member's stress was positive, or negative and heading to burnout. On the positive side, she listed anger, anxiety and irritability as being natural reactions to change. Asthma, allergies, insomnia, excessive fatigue, headaches, and loss of appetite, on the other hand, were among those symptoms that indicated a downward cycle in productivity.

In summing up, Williams encouraged the senior manager to empower him or herself, taking charge without waiting for marching orders, not wallowing or "wimping out", and setting out to win respect rather than popularity.

According to Williams, the successful changemaker must be able to play any of six roles as needed:

  • Teacher: Imparter of truth by example and discipline
  • Soldier: Willing to fight.
  • Athlete: Dedicated team player.
  • Farmer: Toiling until he drops.
  • Labourer: Building the model.
  • Servant: Willing to do any task.

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