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Riddell: Walk the talk

John Ridell writes a business column and a fun, Zoomer-Boomer outdoor column for the Sky-Hi News.

John Ridell writes a business column and a fun, Zoomer-Boomer outdoor column for the Sky-Hi News.

This past Memorial Day caused me to pause and reflect on two facts of modern day politics and modern day business. Unfortunately, this reflection was not of a positive nature.

Starting last Friday, you could not help but notice the seemingly endless public words of praise and remembrances of the great sacrifices by military veterans and their families emanating from countless elected officials. The words and the sentiments are always the right ones, yet come Tuesday, the vast majority of these elected officials, and the public in general, go back to their same routines and attitudes toward these veterans that preceeded the holiday. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself how long has the embarrassment with the Veteran’s Administration been going on and how many speeches have been made decrying the deplorable state of affairs and, finally, what of substance has been done to fix it? The answer is “Not Much!” Yet the bumper sticker slogans are in abundance and the “sincere” thanks from our public officials are seemingly routine.

Words are cheap; only actions change the status quo. Actions, however, always disrupt the current situation. Re-organizing, re-deploying assets, removing non-performers, bringing in new people with new approaches—these all portend change. And change is what bureaucracy hates and fears the most. Only leaders, brave enough to accept the risk of failure, will move beyond the comfort of slogans and teleprompters and take action. Unfortunately, we appear to be woefully short of such action-focused leadership in our current Federal government.

The interesting thing is that this lack of action based leadership is also quite prevalent in many of our businesses today. It matters not the size of the business, there seems to be a strong vein of misguided management that “thinks” just telling someone how it ought to be done or simply repeating some bumper sticker slogan is sufficient. Simply saying “We’ve got to do a better job!” without clearly understanding what this means and the necessary change behind it is leadership at its worst.

There are two organization maxims that I have found to be always appropriate. The first is that bureaucracies always exist to sustain themselves. Self sustaining implies no change. “No change” is synonymous with organizational comfort. So to bring about change in any organization, one has to understand that it will, in all likelihood, be a bit uncomfortable, a bit painful. So change management ultimately becomes organizational pain management. From pain or discomfort comes change.

The second organizational law is that companies and bureaucracies are perfectly organized to deliver the results they do. Organizational structures are the intersections of highways of activities. Every bureaucrat represents a stoplight. You want to smooth out the road and speed up the pace, you just need to remove as many stoplights as possible.

If you run a business and you are serious about running it better, think about these organizational opportunities. If you truly are embarrassed about the deplorable condition and treatment of our veterans, ask your elected officials what they are doing, not saying, to fix it. Tell them its past time to do what they say. It is time for leadership to walk the talk!

Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.