Accepting that Not Everyone Wants or Needs Change

Yesterday I posted in Facebook a quote that I received twice in the same morning from two different people and once previously last week.  All three people were interested in DataPrizm but wanted to adapt features of it for their existing offline workflow. They essentially told me “we want exactly what we have now but online.”  I was specifically referencing the earlier call but the other two thought I was mocking them. Maybe indirectly I was, but I did not mean to – so I am sorry!

The post and the response from friends and the prospects made me realize that not everyone needs or wants me to fix their process.  I further realized this this morning when I had a discussion with the client where I was getting frustrated that they did not want to focus on something they should.   It did not seem important to them and I was struggling to convince them otherwise despite extensive data, logic and near crayon drawings.  In the end, I accepted that I can only advise and it is up to them to implement or not.   I always do better on projects when I remember to just do what I am paid for and not provide any additional commentary.

The post yesterday came from similar frustration that has bubbled up the past few weeks from the inefficiencies of keyword management and the keyword research process and most importantly the people who perpetuate  it.  I have invested a lot of time, energy, presentations, training and money into creating a  process, as well as a tool set, that makes that data intensive process more efferent.   These efforts, couple with manually doing data mining thousands of times and now using automation and dynamic process I cringe whenever I see people doing things, in my opinion, in a less than optimal manner.

People that have worked with and for me know that I am a process fanatic. I try to force every position to have a “book of knowledge” that allows that role to be replicated by anyone who has the ability to read.   Anyone that has had any extensive conversations knows that my brain works in a multidimensional manner and I often get frustrated when I see a less than optimal decision or process. It is similar to playing 3 dimensional chess since it is working out various angles, pros and cons and risk and reward.  You may recognize this as classic “overthinking it.”  I know it is frustrating for people, especially my wife, and can be exhausting for me. Unfortunately that is how I am wired and I do my best to now make it a burden on others. It is more acute in areas where I am passionate and fluent in the topic.  For as long as I can remember, I always have been drawn to opportunities to make activities repeatable and take out human error that often comes from frustration with redundancy and attention to detail.

When I was 13 I worked for my father over the summer at a trucking company.   One of the days we went to a remote warehouse site where the company was the delivery, storage and bagging operation for a large chemical fertilizer company. For most of the day there was nothing for me to do but watch the chaos of this process.  Being bored and severe ADD kicking in, I sketched out a more “efficient process” and tried to show it to the site manager. He blew me off as the pesky kid I was. The next day I went to different stations and talked to the people at the stations suggesting slight changes and they also blew me off.

I was going crazy watching the routing of the trucks to empty their load and the backup that resulted from the inefficiency.  It was all gummed up due to the mouth of the conveyor belt that moved the fertilizer into the storage warehouse being too small.  As a result, they had to back the trucks up onto a small incline to tile them to force the material out of a smaller area of the back gate of the trailer. Pretty ingenious how they made it work but took a lot of time to get the trucks in place.

I asked the foreman they did not use a larger hopper. He told me they did not have one nor the budget for one and this was working just fine.  To him there was no problem.  The trucks were getting unloaded and the fertilizer was getting into the warehouse.  However at any given time, there as many as 10 trucks sitting idle not moving product.   Since I was bored I walked around the job site and found a broken hopper in the weeds in the back are of the property.   Borrowing my father’s welder I repaired and modified it so it would feed directly onto the belt. My father moved the hopper into place and wanting to make sure it was used correctly and to change the flow of trucks, I set up cones in the morning to redirect the flow of traffic.

Of course the foreman and workers all freaked out with the change but the site manager suggested they try it. It worked perfectly and cut the time to offload by 3/4.   This then created a new problem.   The two guys standing around monitoring the unloading were no longer necessary and they were the first to complain at the “new problem” of too much being offloaded into the warehouse and not able to shift it to the bagging area.  I had suggested changes to the bagging process as well that made it more efficient. Increasing the volume bagged and available for delivery enabled earlier billing.  By the end of the week my father was almost fired and told never to bring me with him in the future. That being said, senior management wanted to know why the site manager or foremen had not tried to solve this problem.  The site manger’s response was perfect – they never thought they had a problem, which is why it did not need solving. This resulted in the site manager being demoted and sent to a smaller site in Cleveland.

This was one of my first big life lessons. I learned that actions might be inefficient for a reason. In some cases they may know it is inefficient but continue with it to preserve jobs, protect egos, or to save money.   In other cases, like this one, the process is flawed but not to them because they don’t know any different or even have a need or responsibility to evaluate other approaches.   The other big catch all, “this is the way we have always done it” which I head daily in the Marine Corps.

Going forward, I will try to listen more and not to solve everyone’s problems for them. If they simply want and export and are willing to pay for it, I will gladly make it happen and take their money without much care of what they do with it once they have it.

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  • Bill Scully

    So true, I have seen this problem in many organizations, but I think mostly because they know it uncovers current poor performance, or a capacity issue to learn some thing new. Sometimes business goals don’t line up with personal targets.
    FYI One of my favorite business books when I was doing TQM training was “The Goal” a novel that described the theory of constraints in manufacturing in simple language. If you haven’t read it I think you would really like this.

  • Bill. Thank you for sharing this story, it has highly resonated with me at this moment. Over the last 6 months I’ve found myself trying to bring more technology and process to a few business units that are literally frozen in the digital capabilities and processes of the 90’s. I’ve also been working to consolidate the silo’ed marketing activities of several business units into a new corp marketing team that until now has not existed. Needless to say I’ve encountered in some cases an extreme resistance to change. Over the last few months I’ve observed a pattern that has helped me adapt my approach towards driving digital transformation in my company. It all started to become clear to me after the company conducted a round of Myers Briggs related team assessments. Many of those who were most resistant to change shared similar traits and fell into two groups. The first group consisted of highly introverted people who communicated that they were this way due to concerns about what others will think of them. The first group displayed fear that the outcomes of the change will highlight their weakness or ineffiency and it will make them look bad. My Aha moment was realizing that these type people care more about trying to get everyone to like them more than anything else. Also that they are often motivated not to take action due to fear that action highlights weakness or could lead to people losing jobs made me realize that change might be accepted by these people by framing it in such a way that it was designed to make them look good and reassuring them that their failing friends would be safe from harm. The second group mostly displayed low propensity towards data driven decisions, this group seemed to be driven more by the heart than the head so to speak. I’ve found that trying to offer data driven solutions to people that are not data driven is hard enough and furthermore my justifying why these solutions are valuable by offering data driven reasoning to support my recommendations fails in the same way a square peg will not fit in a round hole. The most severe case of resistance I’ve encountered has been passive resistance from people displaying both characteristics from groups 1 and 2. In DISC, which is a form of Myers Briggs MBTI, these people both display aversion to data and also have a strong desire to be liked by others. In this case they will will be extremely passive, because they want to be liked, and they will seemingly want to move forward with the change but will do overly thing in their power to prevent it. They will agree that the change is needed, but will do nothing about it. I am finding that this understanding of the personality traits that most commonly reject digital transformation sometimes helps me get the buy in I need because I’m tailoring how I frame the digital solutions to speak to them in ways that they can be more comfortable accepting the change. I simply cannot seem to accept the idea that not everyone wants change. It would clearly make my life significantly easier to get comfortable with this degree of acceptance. But I simply can’t. Deep down I believe the easiest path is not always the best path, and so I continue to try to do everything but accept the idea that not everyone wants the change. I guess I wrote such a long comment because of how much your post has resonated with me. Even though I have a hard time accepting not everyone wants change, perhaps it needs to come down to focusing on where and how to better pick my battles. Perhaps that is another one of the many take always from your post. At least for me. Thanks again for sharing this blog post. Loved it!