Restoring Common Sense During Change

January 26, 2021

Restoring Common Sense During Change

I prefer to look at our post-pandemic world through an optimistic lens. The changes in how we work, and the new routines most of us established have created, if nothing else, an opportunity. To wit, is there a better time in the world to abandon the nonsense of the past, reset our work routines, erase real inefficiencies and restore common sense to our day-to-day routines?

My overall mission is to reunite companies and their employees with their own common sense, empathy and humanity. The five steps to getting there are as follows:

1. Caged

Caged is an apt description of 9 out of 10 companies, whether they know it or not. At least half the world’s companies are in a crisis—they just don’t know it. My first job, then, is not to implement change, but activate the need for change.

The average employee spends less than five years in his job, generally outlasting both the CEO and the CFO. What if CEOs focused instead on where their companies will be in a year or in two years? That’s a lot more relatable for everybody. Common-sense changes are best carried out using small, tangible, immediately “winnable” steps. If a proposed change is too big, bold or ambitious, the fear of the unknown is too great, and most companies (e.g., their employees) will be resistant to and reject it.

My mission is to force companies to see themselves not from the inside out, but from the outside in. 

2. Courage

This second step, courage, occurs when companies and employees begin instituting a series of small changes that yield immediate positive results. This takes place during what I call the “90-day intervention.” Tell companies how to change and most will hear you out, agreeing that change is necessary and “good.” Problem is, a few months later, enthusiasm inevitably sags. They realize they didn’t really want to change, and they promptly revert to their default mindset.

Rather than explaining changes, I propose we simply go ahead and do it. This strategy involves doing things quickly, accurately and efficiently—within a 90-day time limit. A ticking clock injects a sense of urgency to the proceedings, which typically dissolves company politics. 

Courage focuses on small, easy wins, or what I call “proof points”—companywide common-sense issues that can be resolved quickly, the results of which immediately make life easier and better for everybody. 

Consider the alternative. If I handed management a long list of changes and one or two didn’t work out as planned, company naysayers would use those stumbles as evidence that even seemingly insignificant changes were doomed to fail. Those small steps would become negative proof points. 

Now, from an operational perspective, none of these small changes, or proof points, will have a profound effect on a company. But by thawing or unlocking what employees assumed was mandated corporate law, they have a powerful influence on the culture. If small changes can have immediate and positive effects, imagine what much larger changes can do.

3. Celebration

I find that at the start of any 90-day intervention, most employees are energetic, optimistic and eager to implement changes. But after 90 days, or around day 75 or day 80, their optimism flags because either the company’s immune system can’t handle change or employees are being bombarded with second thoughts.

Without constant, ongoing communication and evidence of change, employees will begin to feel as though nothing is happening. If, say, after 90 days the employees feel that they are working harder than management to create lasting common-sense change, they will likely begin to lose faith in the project, in management and in the company.

This is why change needs to be visible at the highest levels, whether it’s the CEO walking the hallways or top executives taking time to respond personally to employee emails and customer complaints. These gestures alert the company that change really is happening.

Most crucially for your employees, celebrate your wins. Commemorate your small, tangible victories. Observing and celebrating small victories also reinforces the belief among employees that they’re indeed playing for the right team. No matter how small or insignificant a change may appear, it holds symbolic value for the other members of the tribe. By recognizing and celebrating contributions, a company shows that management is not only listening to employees, it values them too.

4. Conquer

Three-quarters of the way through any corporate transformation, a company always slumps. This drop takes place when a company realizes that change isn’t some abstract idea or theory. It’s real. Employees also realize, some for the first time, that they need to change too. With this step, conquer, you prevent employees from retreating. Sometimes, before you do that, you’re obliged to witness a failure or two. 

Make sure you have a concrete solution ready for whatever problems come up—and that you communicate that solution to everyone in the company. If you don’t, people will start talking. They’ll tell everyone that change didn’t happen, that change was impossible to sustain—and slowly, the changes backslide.

5. Contribution Culture

In this step, contribution culture, you appoint common-sense change agents—and set them free across the organization. I ask the change agents to transform one small thing that makes their lives, their surroundings and showing up for work every day easier or more bearable. Why do I ask them to do this? For one thing, they need to realize how difficult change is.

Once those employees have made that single change for a month, I then ask them to present the results to the group. Then I ask them to select five individuals in the company who they either know well or like and respect. These are people who can be convinced to do things. The key role for common-sense change agents is to consistently activate the need for change—which inevitably shows up as employees discover things that run counter to common sense.

Excerpted from The Ministry of Common Sense: How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses, and Corporate BS by Martin Lindstrom. Copyright © 2021 by Lindstrom Company, Ltd. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

The Authors: 

Martin Lindstrom is the founder and chairman of Lindstrom Company and author of seven New York Times best-selling books including Brand Sense, Small Data and Buyology.