I love my job! Today’s destination is Phoenix where we will be facilitating a training program to a group of would-be SuperHero Consultants, which inspired today’s blog theme...you’ll see the connection. The day began at 4:00 am and a good deal of this written from gate C28 of the Philadelphia International Airport. I mean it, I really love my job! On any given day I am a puzzle-solver, listener, creator, diagnostician, advisor, writer, broker, analyst, project manager, and most importantly a learner.
My favorite role is learner. And I really love to learn new words. My fascination with words became crystal clear when I commissioned a comic book artist to create my personalized superhero for a charity fundraiser. Thinking it would be fun and interesting, I invited my team to help identify my superpower. They unanimously (and alarmingly quickly) selected, ‘uses words mere mortals cannot understand.’ I don't know that I'm thrilled with my superpower, but for the moment I will embrace it as a gift.
Today, I am going to share my superpower with all of you, and introduce you to my newest vocabulary word, Ttwwadi. Yes, you read that right. I didn’t accidentally put my coffee cup down on the keyboard...ttwwadi. Ttwwadi, pronounced tee-WAH-dee, is a noun of Anglo-English origin and is defined as ‘the insistence on maintaining status quo, preserving outdated and outmoded ways of doing things. It results in the inability of a leader, team, or organization to conceive of something new, alter behaviors or expectations, create change, or initiate evolution; also incapacitating inertia’. Wait, hold on! Don’t reach for your dictionary just yet.
How did I happen upon this new jewel in my lexicon? At 29Bison we spend a great deal of time learning from employees in organizations to improve transaction outcomes and facilitate the due diligence process. People and companies (because they are made up of people) are infinitely fascinating, and when asked, many of them will share interesting (and sometimes surprising!) details about their jobs, teams, leaders, customers, and the unique minutiae that make an organization really work...or not. This is how I happened upon this wonderful new addition to my word collection.
During a recent employee round table discussion with a group of managers and supervisors, we asked, “What are the greatest opportunities for helping the organization achieve this year’s aggressive business targets?” The group shared many excellent ideas, including enhanced technical training for staff members, various and specific technology and equipment upgrades, improved process flows, etc. And then… the very animated manager seated to my left burst into the conversation and practically hollered, “None of those things can happen if we can't get past Ttwwadi! You know! Ttwwadi!” ~ We stopped in our tracks and asked, “What on earth is Ttwwadi?”
In an effusive (I’m activating my superhero powers here!) monologue, she shared her 24-year-long frustration with the organization. She cared for the company a great deal, and had deep admiration for the people and vision, but was deeply disappointed by the lack of progress being made. She said, “I wish we could get out of our own way! I’m so tired of our usual response to suggested improvements and opportunities - why are they always met with, because ‘that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it’? Ttwwadi!”
There was a flash of understanding and then the group lit up. Many of them felt the same way...frustrated that plans and proposed progress was often met with resistance and a pull back to what was familiar. We engaged in some very important and meaningful conversation with this team, and then with others in the organization, about the overwhelming lack of motivation and initiative resulting from their failed efforts at progress.
For this organization the implications included equipment and processes which hadn't been updated in more than 30 years (no joke!). As we continued to assess the current conditions, we found work-arounds being used to accommodate failing systems and equipment (which required extra man-hours to maintain), contributing to production errors, increased production downtime, and lost man-hours for the company. How had they gotten here?
Human beings are creatures of habit. For the most part, we like stability and the comfort of sameness. And, many businesses dread the idea of spending money to replace things, or change processes, for fear of upsetting the apple-cart or worse, breaking things that aren't already broken. While I applaud prudence, in a situation like the one we were grappling with, it appeared that things had been taken to extremes.
There is time-tested evidence that the practice of continuous improvement offers tremendous benefit for organizations. Simply taking a few minutes at the end of an activity, or the end of the day, to reflect on what went particularly well, what was learned, and what should be adapted to make things better, allows you to keep the best parts and improve upon those that weren't what you hoped for.
Successful companies encourage employee opposition to policies and procedures they feel are expired or out-of-date. They believe that in order to continue growing and improving, checks and balances must be in place that do not penalize team members for suggesting changes, proposing new ways of doing things, or criticizing components of the organization that are no longer working. By inviting employee ideas and innovation, these companies continue to evolve, a process that is critical to any thriving entity.
In their book Built to Change, Edward Lawler and Christopher Worley say, “most organizations simply cannot sustain excellent performance unless they are capable of changing.” They make a compelling case for building flexible and adaptive organizations, which:
The cockpit bell rang and the pilot announced that we were 10 minutes from landing. My formerly quiet neighbor perked up and asked me why I was on this flight. We briefly introduced ourselves and he told me that he and his wife lived in this city once, for about a year. When I asked if he liked it, he shared that his wife is an enthusiastic educator of children with special-needs. They had moved here for his job and she took a role with a local, well-respected school. After 9 months they were looking to move back home. I asked why, and he told me, “she was unable to overcome this new school’s insistence on doing things the-way-they-had-always-been-done and it saddened her terribly that she couldn’t make a real difference in the lives of her students and their families,” so they packed up and headed north again. It seemed that they had recently found opportunities in much more dynamic organizations, and are very happy.
However, in this case, a school lost a fantastic teacher, eager to make a difference, simply because of a resistance to change. It happens everywhere, every day. Change is scary, but necessary, and without it, success is not sustainable. Self-reflection, the willingness to hear new ideas, and an openness to thinking outside-of-the-box are all necessary ingredients to progress, evolution, and growth
As an aside, should you be curious, my superhero image hangs on the wall of my home office, directly across from the bookshelf upon which rests my copy of the Oxford English Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. It is a daily reminder to continue growing, learning new things, and sharing my findings with others. Have I mentioned that I love my job?
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29Bison are human capital advisors specializing in due diligence, value optimization, and pre- and post-transaction services.