>Challenges of a Change Agent

>I have always been fascinated by leadership and how to grow an organization in spite of a broad variety of obstacles to change and maturity.

Indeed, as I have studied, read, watched, and practiced leadership and change initiatives for over two decades, I am always intrigued at the role of the change agent.

Certainly, it is hard to be a change agent for so many reasons. It is hard to change yourself let alone to get others to change. It is hard to exist in an environment where you see new and different possibilities, but others see only their way or the highway. It is hard to see others jockey for power and revel in the humiliation and shame of their peers. Change is only for the strong-hearted.

It’s interesting to me that change agents are often alone in the enterprise. They are specifically brought in fix highly ingrained problems that very often culturally rooted and that are damaging to the continuing maturation and success of the enterprise. But the change agent is coming in with “fresh eyes” and accompanying toolkit of best practices from outside the insular dynamics of the dysfunctional organization.

But the change agent is alone, or relatively so as they may be others who are “bucking the trend,” to try to bring a new openness and flexibility to the stagnant corporate culture and decaying ways of doing business that descend like death over complacent or arrogant organizations that think that once on top of the world, always on top.

Applause to the organizational leaders who are aware of processes, products, and ways of thinking that are broken and recognize the need for change and attract the agents of change and agility.

But the change agents run against the tide. They are new and are viewed as not knowing anything about the organization. Moreover, they are perceived as a danger to the comfortable long-standing held beliefs and ways of doing things. And moreover, they are seen as a threat to the incumbents. So from the incumbents perch, the change agents need to be shamed, humiliated, thwarted at almost any cost. And the change resisters in the established hierarchy “revel” in every obstacle they throw up.

There is an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, 21-22 March 2009 about a website where people “revel in each other’s humiliation.”

The French site http://www.viedemerde.fr has 70,000 readers and it has “become a phenomenon in France…it receives a thousand or so new stories a day from which three young men who run it pick a dozen or so to post…the site now has 7,200 vignettes picked from nearly 400,000 sent in.”

It started a couple of years ago by the founder who “started posting stories online about the frustrations of modern life.”

The stories of life difficulty that are shared and read by others is closely aligned with Schadenfreude, a German word which means “One’s person’s misfortune is another’s happiness.” Or another version for the popularity of the site is that “one person’s misfortunes reassure another.”

Whichever explanation you adhere to for the popularity of people posting and reading about other people’s misfortunes and shame, points to people’s need to open up and release thoughts and feeling that are shameful and painful; people have a need to share, commiserate, and gain acceptance and to know that they are not alone.

Now there is an English language version of the popular website www.fmylife.com and “stories are flooding in. But the content is often similar. ‘It’s like there is a kind of solidarity among all countries when it comes to misfortune. We are all in a big, international pile of crap—but we’re in it together.”

The enterprise, its diehard stalwarts, and the change agents are also in it together. And they will either sink or swim. Hopefully, they decide on the latter.

>GM and Enterprise Architecture

>Where has enterprise architecture gone wrong at General Motors?

THEN: In 1954, GM’s U.S. auto market share reached 54%; in 1979, their number of worldwide employees hit 853,000, and in 1984 earning peak at $5.4 billion.

NOW: In 2007, U.S. market share stands at 23.7% and GM loses $38.7 billion; by 2008 employment is down to 266,000.

(Associated Press, “A Brief History of General Motors Corp., September 14, 2008)

Fortune Magazine, 8 December 2008, reports that “It was a great American Company when I started covering it three decades ago. But by clinging to the attributes that made it an icon, General Motors drove itself to ruin.”

GM clung to its past and “drove itself to ruin”—they weren’t nimble (maybe due to their size, but mostly due to their culture). In the end, GM was not able to architect a way ahead—they were unable to change from what they were (their baseline) to what they needed to be (their target).

“But in working for the largest company in the industry for so long, they became comfortable, insular, self-referential, and too wedded to the status quo—traits that persist even now, when GM is on the precipice.”

The result of their stasis—their inability to plan for change and implement change—“GM has been losing market share in the U.S. since the 1960’s destroying capital for years, and returning no share price appreciation to investors.”

GM’s share price is now the lowest in 58 years.

When the CEO of GM, Rick Wagoner, is asked why GM isn’t more like Toyota (the most successful auto company is the world with a market cap of $103.6 billion to GM’s $1.8 billion), his reply?

“We’re playing our own game—taking advantage of our own unique heritage and strengths.”

Yes, GM is playing their own game and living in their own unique heritage. “Heritage” instead of vision. “Playing their own game” instead of effectively competing in the global market—all the opposite of enterprise architecture!!

GM has been asphyxiated by their stubbornness, arrogance, resistance to change and finally their high costs.

“ GM’s high fixed costs…no cap on cost-of-living adjustments to wages, full retirement after 30 years regardless of age, and increases in already lavish health benefits. Detroiters referred to the company as ‘Generous Motors.’ The cost of these benefits would bedevil GM for the next 35 years.”

GM’s cost structure has been over-the-top and even though they have been in “perpetual turnaround,” they have unable to change their profligate business model.

Too many models, too many look-alike cars, and too high a cost structure—GM “has lost more than $72 billion in the past four years” and the result is? Are heads rolling?

The article says no—“you can count on one hand the number of executives who have been reassigned or lost their jobs”

At GM, conformity was everything, and rebellion was frowned on.” Obviously, this is not a successful enterprise architecture strategy.

Frankly, I cannot understand GM’s intransience to create a true vision and lead. Or if they couldn’t innovate, why not at least imitate their Japanese market leader brethren?

It’s reminds me of the story of the Exodus from Egypt in the bible. Moses goes to Pharaoh time and again and implores him to “let my people go” and even after G-d smites the Egyptians with plague after plague, he is still unmovable.

Well we know how that story ended up for the Egyptians and it doesn’t bode well for GM.

The bottom line, if the enterprise isn’t open to genuine growth and change, nothing can save them from themselves.