Sunday, May 3, 2009

Turning The Circus into Opportunity: Being an Agent of Change

Turning the Circus into Opportunity: Being an agent of change
By Doug Dickerson

I came across a humorous story not too long ago, I’m not sure wrote it, but here’s what it said. “If the circus comes to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus coming to the Fairgrounds Saturday,’ that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flowerbed, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations. If the town’s citizens go to the circus, you show them the many entertaining booths, explain how much fun they’ll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot of money, that’s sales.”

Your office may resemble a three-ring circus more than it does a highly successful working environment. Most days you may identify more with the lion tamer than you do fellow executives, and at the end of the day, you may feel like the man shot out the cannon.

The consequences of the economy have caused many organizations to juggle things like never before just to make ends meet. It reminds me of the lyrics of the Bob Dylan song, The Times They Are a Changing, “If your time to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimnin’, or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a changin’.”

Change in an organization is never easy – not even in good times, much less when implemented during bad times. So how can the implementation of change be seen as an opportunity, even when the change was not welcomed?

Allow me to explore with you what I call the Three A’s of change as you seize the opportunities that change brings.

First, accept the challenge of change. Whether you accept the challenge that change brings, it’s there before you. What are you going to do? As best I can figure you can be in-different to it, retreat from it, or accept the new challenges that have been presented to you.

John Maxwell in his book, The Winning Attitude, shares the story of the man who lived by the side of the road and sold hot dogs who was hard of hearing, so he had no radio. He had trouble with his eyes, so he read no newspapers. But he sold good hot dogs. He put up signs in the highway advertising them. He stood on the side of the road and cried, “Buy a hot dog, mister?” And people bought his hot dogs. He increased his meat and bun orders. He bought a bigger stove to take care of his trade.

He finally got his son to come home from college to help out. But then something happened. “Father, haven’t you been listening to the radio” his son said. “Haven’t you been reading the newspaper? There’s a big recession on. The European situation is terrible. The domestic situation is worse.”

Whereupon the father thought, “Well, my son’s been to college, he reads the papers and he listens to the radio, and he ought to know.” So the father cut his meat and bun orders, took down his signs and no longer bothered to stand out and the highway to sell his hot dogs. His sales fell overnight. “You’re right son; we are certainly in the middle of a big recession.”

Change always brings new challenges. It requires new ways of thinking and new ideas. What’s important is to not allow the negative voices around you to discourage you. Success will come as you navigate the waters of change, and you will probably make a few mistakes along the way. But if you will accept change with a determination to succeed you will.

Second, learn to accentuate the positives of change. In order to do this, you have to shake off old assumptions that all change is bad. Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not. One thing is for certain, you’ll never move toward success if your attitude towards change is negative.

Adapting to change in the workplace, whether by necessity or choice, is never easy for some. We are creatures of habit.

Seth Godin in his book, Survival Is Not Enough-Why Smart Companies Abandon Worry and Embrace Change, says, “Change is the new normal. Rather than thinking of work as a series of stable times interrupted by moments of change, companies must now recognize work as constant change, with only occasional moments of stability.” He went on to say, “If you and your company are not taking advantage of change, change will defeat you.”

Accentuating the positives of change occurs when you understand that change is the gateway to future success. As long as you stay where you are, you’ll never get to where you want to be. In business, if you’re sitting still, you’re getting left behind. As the leader, accentuate the positives of change, your survival depends on it.

Finally, appreciate the value of change. Appreciating change only works when people understand why you are changing in the first place. That is the task of good leadership. It reminds me of the time when Lucy was leaning against a fence with Charlie Brown. “I would like to change the world,” she said. Charlie Brown asked, “Where would you like to start?” She replied, “I would start with you!” A leader can’t change the climate of the organization if he hasn’t communicated the value of it.

Writer Lincoln Barnett once described the excitement he shared with a group of students emerging from a physics lecture at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton. “How did it go?” someone asked. “Wonderful!” Mr. Barnett replied. “Everything we knew last week isn’t true.” Keeping current with changes and relating them to your organization is a constant challenge. Yet, the rewards of adapting well to change can position you for success you never imagined.

Change presents you with new opportunities. It takes you out of your routine, it challenges the way you think, and it causes you to look at the same things in new ways. Whether you are an agent of change for good, or a victim of it, depends on whether you embrace it.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

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