“What’s the use of having all these good ideas if we can’t do any of them?”- exasperated ready-mix CFO.

Some people get their way by fiat: Do this or else. CEOs can sell off divisions, hire people, fire people, send them to Siberia, etc. Politicians and judges legislate changes they want and send resisters to jail if they don’t comply. But most of us don’t have these implements, so we must be creative to get others to really enact change. Many consultants will prescribe the answers to change management through complex performance system charts and tertiary personality diagrams that probably make sense on an academic level, but not in the concrete trenches.

Improvement is particularly relevant the first part of every year. But does driving change really have to be this hard and expensive?

Based on discussions with executives and managers in the building products industry over two years, the answer is: It doesn’t have to be. Below are three surprising observations on making change happen from leaders in the world’s second oldest industry:

What looks like resistance is usually a result of a lack of clarity.
How many of us have vowed to eat healthier in 2017 or drive a higher margin on materials this next quarter? Despite our internal willingness, how easy is this over the long term? For most, not very. Instead, we should break the goal into doable action items: Eat Greek yogurt instead of ice cream, aim to hit your best demonstrated cycle time for the year for an entire week straight, spend one hour more per week on the more profitable accounts and less time on generating new ones. Identify specific performances that have been achieved in the past and challenge them to repeat it. Then, ramp up to a higher frequency.

What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.
Find the motivating pressure points. Sometimes, all it takes is a physical prop like a recent picture of a competitor’s great project or a running meter that shows how much money the group is losing per hour on an inefficient mix design. But other times, the folks are just trying to do too much at once. Researchers have found that self-control is an exhaustible resource, just like your muscles after doing 20 bench presses at the gym. When people exhaust their self-control, they are really exhausting their ability to push forward in the face of frustration. It’s your job as the leader to recognize this and keep their “muscles” fresh.

What looks like a people problem is often a situational problem.
One cement executive puts it succinctly: Some people are just lazy and you need to get rid of them; let them work in an environment that suits laziness. If it’s a people issue, then it obviously has to be addressed. Below are three steps this manager follows when dealing with a people issue:

  1. Should the person be on the bus? If NO – end discussion and deal with the root cause. If YES then move to 2.
  2. What seat are they in? Why isn't it working? Skills mismatch, training, etc? Peter principle?
  3. What seat SHOULD they be in? Let's adjust.

The rest of us really do want to do a great job and excel. But there are situational factors that can get in the way of thinking clearly or staying disciplined when implementing change. One way to eliminate these factors is to tweak the environment. Is the regular office so busy and filled with constant interruptions that the team can’t focus for even short periods? Is the corporate culture at odds with the goal? Do you really want to get your blood pressure down but you know you’ll devour an entire large pizza if the game is on? Recognizing situational factors at work that accelerate failure is a great place to start.

And look at how you reward people who do make the leap. Does your top-selling sales person win a one-on-one dinner with the big boss? Would he consider that a punishment rather than a reward? What can be tweaked in what you are doing now to make implementation easier?

Simply put, change has to do with creating a downhill slope and giving the people a push. John Wooden once said, “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur… Don’t look for the quick, big improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time.”
That’s the only way it happens, and when it happens, it lasts.