- January 30, 2019
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: Leadership, Management
It’s an exciting time to walk into a new job at a new company and know that you get to set the tone for that company’s vision and performance. If it’s a brand new company and you’re an energetic leader, you’re starting with a clean slate, so you get to create the culture.
But if you’re coming into a company that’s been around for a while, you’re walking into some built-in resistance and tradition. People aren’t excited about change, and they probably aren’t happy about you replacing the person who was there before. Or if it’s a new position, they’re not happy about the changes your presence is going to bring.
I’ve been in both of those roles several times, and the way I’ve found to deal with that resistance is to create very clear objectives up front with very clear ending dates. This lets people know at the start what’s expected of them. They won’t wonder if I’m going to have a different set of standards or spend time trying to figure out what I’m going to do. They know it up front, and they’re free to find different ways to meet those objectives or find different employment.
Clearly stating those objectives up front shows the path I want people to take, and I don’t have to deal with the “we’ve always done it this way before” mindset that many established companies and employees have. I tell them up front, “we’re not doing it this way anymore. I was brought in because we have to stop doing it this way,” and people generally get on board.
It’s another example of the Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 rule. That is, 80 percent of the people are a silent majority and will go along with whatever you want.
But it’s the other 20 percent that will make or break you. And they’ll only break you if you let them.
According to The Art of War, the famous general Sun Tzu was challenged by the Emperor to demonstrate his military training techniques with the Emperor’s many concubines. Sun Tzu ordered the women to line up, and he appointed two of them as lieutenants. He told them, “You’re responsible for everyone’s performance. If they don’t perform my commands, you will pay the price.”
He lined the women up in two columns and gave them orders to come to attention, turn, march, and so on. Every command he gave was met with laughter, but no response to his orders. So Sun Tzu ordered the two lieutenants to be put to death. (This was 6th century BC, mind you. They weren’t as enlightened as we are today.)
Afterward, he appointed two more lieutenants and gave them the same speech. Then, when Sun Tzu gave his orders, the women readily followed them. They snapped to attention, they snapped their turns, and they marched in perfect step.
Now, I certainly don’t advocate the mistreatment of your employees, or even the random firing of a few employees just so you can flex your manager’s muscle. Anyone who is that ruthless and dictatorial doesn’t deserve to be a manager.
On the other hand, if you have employees who refuse to meet their objectives on time, or refuse to follow your lead because “we’ve never done it that way,” you should fire them. They’re never going to come around and they’re always going to be an obstacle to your vision. They’re going to be a hurdle at best and a complete derailment at worst. But if you remove them, you’ll very quickly find out who is going to be on board with your vision and who is going to opt out.
If you have a company with a few dozen people or more, you can’t spend your time fighting with 20 percent of them. You can’t fight the status quo, you have to set new objectives and goals. Even the most persuasive among us will always have detractors and hostile antagonists. But don’t spend your time trying to win them to your side because they’re not going to come over. Cut your losses quickly and put your energy into making your visions come true.
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business, as well as speak at conferences, trade shows, and chambers of commerce. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Photo credit: 663highland (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.5)