July 3, 2022

Article 6.4


Machiavelli stated in his timeless book, The Prince, that: "there is nothing more difficult...than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

Imagine, for instance, that we have just arrived back in our office from a "quality service" seminar having decided to revamp our order fulfillment process. Our goals include: being able to unconditionally guarantee zero errors and on-time delivery or we pay meaningful bucks; and to have an order cut-off time and total response time that will meet or beat the best times in our industry.

Before we announce our "vision" to the troops, we can anticipate a few things:

1. All organisms, including firms, resist and usually defeat change; this can be called "homeostasis," and it increases with the size and the complexity of the organism.

2. We have, however, a compelling story for the troops. Because they are also consumers who don't always get outstanding order fulfillment in their personal lives, they can identify with our dissatisfied customers. If we achieve our goals, the benefits to the employees would be: pride in being the best; job security and growth by retaining customers at a greater rate than our mediocre competitors; high morale that comes with things going right and happy customer feedback; and others.

3. We will have to remember to describe and sell the benefits often though, because the struggle to get there can be overwhelming.

4. We will have to rethink the systems, job descriptions and skills that undergird the order fulfillment process. For speed we will have to strip out inspectors and authorization steps by supervisors. For late cut-offs and quick response time we will have to have swing shifts and cross-trained personnel that can go at variable speeds. We probably will have to rethink the information and communication systems that overlay the new system. And we may have to have some different type people who can do all of this; the 9-to-5, one-task, one-speed types will have to change or leave.

5. All of the changes above will create confusion, anxiety and resistance from a majority of the people involved. Lots of whys, hows and assurances will have to be explained many times during the implementation phase.

If our implementation plan accounts for points 1 to 5 thoroughly, we might be tempted to kick-off the program, but there are two other critical aspects of change to consider.

6. There is a psychological process which the thoughtful leader can push, but not rush. We all take more or less time to emotionally reprogram ourselves as we: un-hook from a past order of things; drift transitionally without moorings and sometimes declining status; and then re-hook to a new-order of things. Leaders can answer stated anxieties, but time for comfort-zoning is also necessary.

7. There will finally be a physiological dimension to any change which is most often ignored in implementation efforts and therefore worth covering in more detail.


To guide us through any transformational change we are considering, we might think of what is involved in transforming the human organism, our bodies, from a poor physical condition to a good one.

On day one at the local, high-school track our body is good for one, slow-paced lap which stresses every part of the uniformly weak body. Our overall pulse-rate rises quickly until our central

nervous system registers that we will die if we continue. On day 2, in spite of aches all over, the body miraculously goes two laps; it has renewed itself and come back stronger. We will continue, thereafter, to painfully struggle for weeks to get to a desired level of condition. To stay at that target level requires, however, far less "maintenance energy" than the transformational energy that was required to get there.

Within this conditioning process, there are some key elements at work which also apply to a company transformation; they are: a sustainable, higher heartbeat or pace of improvement, a central nervous system, cellular renewal, and transformational energy.

If we had sprinted on day 1, we would be going at an unsustainable pace and perhaps hurt body parts. When we announce a program at work, everyone has been giving 100% from their subjective viewpoint. If we ask for 100% to maintain the status quo and 50% more for proactive changes, most will burnout quickly in spite of possible initial enthusiasm. And, because most people are interconnected to others for job inputs and outputs, they can not change or go faster than those on either side of them. The transformational leader has to get everyone to uniformly raise their effort level to a sustainable 10-20% over their current base and then to maintain it for the months that it will take to reach the goals.

The leader must also create communication systems to mimic the central nervous system to let everyone know instantly and constantly that everyone else is also: participating in the program, hurting and creatively applying themselves in extra ways. Without this feedback, the committed people loose hope by assuming that others aren't helping and that a few individuals can't carry the rest. With continuous news of lots of small, daily wins coming from a broad group of participants, the borderline participants are encouraged to join the cause. And, if the coasters are not getting recognition or are measurably exposed for lagging behind, then they will improve or often leave to work for a low-performance employer.

One of the miracles of life is that if we stress our tissues, they come back the next day stronger. A leader or a leadership team must provide this cellular renewal energy to the troops every day. By circulating around, leaders can catch people stretching in the right direction and give them public and printed "praising statements." The recipients will be pleased and "renewed" to try again. The communication system will let others know about these many daily victories. Without this constant renewal energy, most worthwhile programs will maintain good enthusiasm for about two weeks before homeostasis starts to win.

Even if broad-based commitment and progress occurs, there will be points during the improvement journey when morale starts to lag. People will assume that - "when we get to be good, we will still have to work this hard to stay there, and I don't know that I can do it or that it is worth it." Here the leader must explain the difference between transformational effort to get to a new plateau and the far less stressful, maintenance energy that it takes to maintain a plateau.

Once a team has recharged their batteries at a new plateau, however, they are apt to start to get excited about taking on another transformational challenge with more confidence than on the last climb. But, the thoughtful leader should refrain from making this point in the middle of a stressed-out climb and just sell the benefits of a normal work load on the next plateau


There are many important programs that all firms wish they could install, but overcoming homeostasis with good transformational leadership ability is in short supply. Programs to improve the quality of goods and services are intuitively appealing to all employees, but the odds for success will be low if leaders forget to accommodate the psychological and physiological processes that underlie any significant change.


Merrifield Consulting Group, Inc., Article 6.4