Thought for the Week: Reflective Action

"Don't ever take a fence down until you know why it was first put up." G.K. Chesterton

A willingness to change is a necessary characteristic of any successful leader. The ability to consider the evolution of the status quo as a viable option is not only admirable, but crucial. It is what we would call a "necessary" part of leadership but not "sufficient" on its own.

One major challenge in thoughtful and reflective change is the ability to maintain the necessary patience and insight to identify exactly what needs to be the focus. Change for the sake of doing something different is rarely if ever worthwhile. Without a purpose, it is at best annoying and at worst counterproductive.

IStock_000005978967XSmall  I have an acquaintance who took a position as senior manager of the sales function of a mid-sized business. One of the first things he did was to change the dress code of his salespeople from "business casual" to "traditional business." In other words, the khakis and polo shirts left and the ties and suits came in. His thought was that the salespeople needed to present themselves in as professional a manner as possible. They should be seen as experts in the solution that they sold and experts dress professionally.

The only problem was that the customer base for these sales people was the IT department of small to mid-sized businesses. Most of their customers not only avoided suits, they only dressed "business casual" when they were dressing up! The new dress code was laughable to the clients. As far as they were concerned, the suits added an air of pretense to the salespeople, almost to the point of the customer wondering what the salesperson was trying to hide.

Needless to say, the dress code was quickly returned to its original definition. It was clear that business casual was professional enough without being over the top. The new manager had the greatest intent in mind but failed to take the time to discover why the dress code existed in the first place. The leader before him had determined that this not only made the salespeople more comfortable but more importantly it fit into the culture of the customer base.

Things are the way they are usually because they made sense to somebody at some point in time. This doesn't mean that the status quo should stay the status quo. But before eliminating or redesigning a practice or program, take the time to understand the reason the practice was created. Perhaps your solution is still better, but you will have at least created a clearer picture of the problem you are trying to solve.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply