Daddy would often tell me, "See you in the funny pages." In basic training on Sunday mornings, newspaper vendors used the funny pages as wrappers for their news offering. Trainees were more concerned about the funnies than the headlines. As a consultant, Dilbert, Sally Forth and Shoe have allowed me in one picture and a few words to communicate more effectively than with five slides and 10 minutes of ramblings. I now realize what Daddy meant: The "funny pages" are life.
Today, leaders talk about "managing change." This is a reactive process of solving problems and capitalizing on opportunities as they transition from today through tomorrows. Such noble efforts often lead to exhaustion, frustration and average success. Your best opportunity is efficiency.
Consider instead what I call "architecting change," where you design and build your future. As Peter Drucker, a writer on management theory and practice, said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." This is proactive. It is a new process so there aren't "best practice guides" or to-do lists that give insurance agencies and brokers so much comfort. It's about innovation and effectiveness.
Three cartoons exemplify the challenge in change. The first I read 40 years ago. An instructor is telling her students to write their philosophy on life. In frames that follow, students ask:
"Is loose-leaf paper OK?"
"What color ink should I use?"
"Should we skip lines?"
This demonstrates that most people worry more about what they are doing than who they are. They're more comfortable working from someone else's to-do list than designing their own future.
In a recent industry publication, I came across the second cartoon. By Ted Goff, it shows two business professionals, one saying to the other, "Your idea is flawed. I just want to let you know that before I hear it."
Last year, I watched the majority of an agency's managers and producers (who should know better) ignore and then aggressively resist the organization's innovator long before they heard much less understood the concept he was developing.
Finally, in our third funny, Maxine summed up the thoughts and feelings of 99.9 percent of us when she said, "Change is good as long as I don't have to do anything different."
FROM FUNNY PAGES TO THE FUTURE
To architect change, your new organization will need a foundation, a philosophy, a purpose and values. Your vision will be who you are, and your mission is what you must do to achieve it.
Remember that in tomorrow's world talented people are the most important asset, and they are volunteers because they have unlimited options. They can leave you and go somewhere else anytime they want. You must have the best and the brightest. You can't afford adverse selection, and you can't afford to have an office full of people who ask what color ink they should use. So to change your culture of today, you have two options: Change the people, or change the people.
As Stephen Covey, leadership guru, explained, leaders must "begin with the end in mind." Unfortunately, most of today's leaders are also managers. Managers begin each day with the beginning in mind (the status quo). It is impossible to envision the future if you are in a room with your head down, looking at budgets, procedure manuals and compliance issues, and being bombarded by folks waiting in line to tell you about what went wrong yesterday and how the problem du jour assigned to them could be better handled by someone else.
In your future organization, no redundancy, waste, fraud or inefficiency can exist. There must be interdependence among the client, you as the intermediary, and the providers of products and services that you invite into these relationships.
You can't see, much less architect, the future from a place filled with the smoke and mirrors of today and yesterday. You must venture unencumbered into this brave new world, plant you flag in the ground to stake claim in the future, and then return to the present to disassemble what you have to create anew what you need.
Complementary and supplementary skills will be critical. These will include communication, flexibility, multitasking, creativity, empathy and collaboration--not the "mechanical" skills so important today. Diversity of ideas, talent and expertise are vital, as is the ability to listen, to learn and to appreciate those different from us. Innovation will be more important than knowledge or experience.
Your only other option is to do what you can with what you have and hope that the future allows you a unit in the ghetto of sameness. Agencies strive for "differentiation," yet resort to following the "leaders of the pack" to be different. Think about that. Maybe it's time for you to take the road less traveled and become the architect of your future.
MICHAEL G. MANES is owner of Square One Consulting, a New Iberia, La.- based consulting business focusing on planning, sales and operations, and change management and architecture. He has over 37 years of insurance industry experience, including serving as an instructor of risk and insurance at Louisiana State University.
May 16, 2011
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