[BLC Pamphlet Excerpt] A Bunch of Good Reasons to Start Using BLC

A Bunch of Good Reasons to Start Using BLC

Before I get into all the details, here are a bunch of good reasons why I believe it’s worth learning to use this recipe.

It Gets the Right People Involved in the Change

BLC requires people in our organization to own the reality that—like it or not—they’re going to be involved in change. Better still, it pushes them to participate in designing how the change will impact them and their area of work. I fall back here on what I’ve heard Stas’ say a few hundred times: “The wisdom needed exists within the organization.”

That said, in most businesses, the existing wisdom is never put to work— usually only a small segment of the people who will ultimately be impacted are ever asked for their input. But the more people who get involved, the better the change work will go, because different perspectives make for more holistic work. As Peter Senge says, “Collaboration is vital to sustain what we call profound or really deep change, because without it, organizations are just overwhelmed by the forces of the status quo.” BLC grants us access to new insights by getting people’s hearts and minds involved in the work early and often (as the late Mayor Daley’s ward bosses used to recommend when voting in Chicago back when I was a kid). The process may be unglamorous, but it’s an effective way to increase engagement across the business. And the same process can address the “energy crisis in the American workplace” (see Secret #19). When people know how to get involved, when they have a clear path to pursue to make a difference, engagement and energy levels are guaranteed to go up.

Good Systems Work Leads to Success

To paraphrase Edwards Deming, the well-known statistics and quality expert, the responsibility of management is to create a system in which people will be successful. The Bottom Line Change process fills that bill: it’s a recipe we can rehearse and a process we can get comfortable with. When we get good at BLC, change can become something we’re prepared to deal with at every level of the organization. It’s doable—often desirable—instead of disruptive and derisive.

Businesses (or nonprofits) aren’t just a collection of independent departmental entities that have no impact on each other’s lives: an organization consists of interrelated elements within an ecosystem. Any time one part is altered, almost every other piece will be impacted in some way. BLC addresses this reality effectively because it acknowledges up-front that most everyone will be influenced by whatever change we’re making. Ron Lippitt writes, “We have a responsibility for thinking about how to get started, how to move from here to there, how to take first and second steps, and how to involve those who need to be involved. These are important parts of an image of potentiality, for they serve as a bridge between present reality and future dream.” Many leaders, unfortunately, often live in denial, hoping and believing that “non–decision makers” don’t matter much. BLC systemically puts a stop to that problem. Rather than leaving frontline folks confused and concerned on the sidelines, BLC brings them effectively into the process well before the change actually happens.

It Ensures We Have a Clear, Documented VIsIon of the Future

So many change efforts begin for very good reasons, but often no one takes the time and trouble to figure out where the efforts are headed. Tearing down the bad can be inspiring in the moment, but without a clear picture of a better future, the odds are high that the “old regime” will simply return after a short hiatus. German anarchist Gustav Landauer refers to that destructive model as one that “delights in replacing action with permanent and meaningless complaint.”

Focusing on the positive rather than raging about the evils of past and present drove Ron Lippitt to develop the idea of visioning (or, as he called it, “preferred futuring”) in the first place: “One of my major motivations was to break away from the frustrations of being bombarded day after day with the sound of problems, frustrations and pains voiced by competent . . . leaders who seem to be so immersed in daily operations that they can only talk about their immediate situation.” BLC impels us to get our act together by coming up with an agreed-upon vision of success (Step 2 in the process), and, over time, uniting as many people as possible around our common goals for the future. This allows the entire organization to know where we’re headed, which makes everyone’s work infinitely more effective, engaging, and rewarding.

We Get Good at Change

When we use the BLC process well, effective change management becomes as familiar as making chicken soup. The beauty of BLC is that here at Zingerman’s, the formal process is taught and used all the time, and the informal-but-all-important cultural knowledge around it supports that work. More often than not, the process puts appropriate brakes on us when we forget to follow our own system. “Where’s the ^#!$* BLC on that?” is not an uncommon question around here. While I’d prefer that we properly use the process every single time we initiate a change, it’s kind of cool that even frontline people know it well enough and have the courage to call us out when we unwittingly short-circuit our own way of working. The culture supports the system and the system helps develop the culture and everyone in it!

As people get used to the idea of change being OK, their stress level stops shooting up every time a change is rumored to be coming along. If they know and trust that we’re going to get their buy-in and be up-front about any impending change, there’s far less energy expended in worrying over the randomness of the boss’s behavior. Mindful change becomes a manageable part of our routine rather than a disruption. As Ron Lippitt writes, “Nothing is static; improvement is always possible, provided, of course, that we can agree on what really constitutes an improvement.” It’s Natural Law #8: to get to greatness, we need to keep getting better all the time (see Secret #1 in Part 1).

Wendell Berry writes, “Yet another not very stretchable human limit is in our ability to tolerate or adapt to change. Change, of course, is a constant of earthly life. You can’t step twice into exactly the same river, nor can you live two successive moments in exactly the same place. And always in human his- tory there have been costly or catastrophic sudden changes. But with relentless fanfare, at the cost of almost indescribable ecological and social disorder . . . industrialists have substituted what they fairly accurately call ‘revolution’ for the slower, kinder processes of adaptation or evolution.” BLC is clearly of the latter variety. It introduces change into our lives in an ecologically sensitive way. Ultimately, the organization starts to internalize and normalize the process and the belief that change is part of our lives—a part we can’t control, but one that we can work on and manage. Gustav Landauer’s grandson, film director Mike Nichols, demonstrated wisdom worthy of his grandfather when he said, “The only safe thing is to take a chance.”

The Recipe is Easily Scalable

The BLC process works well for all sorts of changes, large or small: from moving the copier to another part of the office to rewriting the organizational mission, or from deciding to open an hour earlier in the morning to opening a whole new office. It works with difficult decisions (like price increases or layoffs) and more upbeat ones (rollouts of new products or promotions). And, as one of our ZingTrain seminar attendees recently pointed out, it works at home, too.

BLC Gets Much Better Results

BLC teaches leadership, rewards patience, and builds buy-in. It also saves money—more effectively managed change means less waste, more focused use of limited resources, better service, increased product quality, less stress, and more fun, all of which can quickly contribute to better bottom line results. Which is, after all, why we named it Bottom Line Change!

Change Sticks

When done the old-fashioned way, most change tends to disintegrate not long after it’s announced. If buy-in is low from the get-go, change rarely holds. Frontline employees who learn the drill know enough to passively allow things to proceed, say almost nothing, and actually do very little. They just wait until their manager moves on, gets promoted, or forgets to finish what was started. With BLC, when it’s done right, change slowly but steadily sinks roots into the organizational soil and the ecosystem sustainably incorporates the new arrival. Change sticks.

It Helps us Develop More ad Better Leaders at Every Level

Leadership, by definition, always involves change—after all, leading means convincing others to go from the comfort of the status quo to a more positive (but unknown) future. Teaching BLC helps everyone develop as leaders—i.e., change makers—in a systemic, concrete way.

It Protects the Organization from its own Hierarchy

BLC serves as a failsafe. If we actively teach the recipe, then our integrity hinges on how well we actually use it. And when we do put the process to work, BLC will help us avoid the inclination to act impetuously or in anger, meaning that we radically reduce the number of in-the-moment “I’ve had it, let’s take immediate action!” decisions, which tend to be the norm in most organizations of any size.

Changes Will be Implemented Faster and More Effectively

You read that right—using this process actually leads to quicker implementation of change. The old model might appear to move with great speed—anyone can order employees to do something at any time. But whether they actually do it, and how resentful they feel about it, is another organizational story altogether. Admittedly, BLC will often mean a far longer lead-in period before the final decision is made. That said, though, the time from the initial idea to its actual and effective implementation is always shorter than that when we do it the old autocratic way. And we obtain more meaningful results in the end. 

It's in Harmony with Nature

Nature is anything but static: every hour, every minute, every second brings more change. Embracing change, learning to work with it rather than against it, recognizing that healthy change is a good problem to have—these realizations can help us manage our stress and make the vagaries of everyday life far less tiresome. And change can actually be fun! As anarchist science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin says, “Change is freedom, change is life.” Coming back to the concept of an ecosystem, typical organizational change is done (to use one example) in the style of a bunch of bosses cutting down a stand of big trees to make room for more parking. Their intentions may be good, but they failed to consult with the longtime staffer who’s been looking at that tree for fifteen years to find inspiration, or the local naturalist who would have told them that the trees were home to a rare sort of hummingbird, or the owner of the building next door who happened to already have a plethora of extra parking spaces to share.

Bottom Line Change Builds Belief and Hope and Calls for Generosity

BLC is the process poster child for building the positive belief, hope, and generosity I wrote about in Part 4. The compelling reasons (Step 1) and the vision (Step 2) are all about building belief. The vision then paints a hopeful picture of the future and teaches people to find the pathways to get there by getting them involved in the microcosm (Step 3) and working on the rollout of the change and the action plan (Step 4). When you’re collaboratively and constructively working toward a better future in meaningful, down-to-earth ways, you can’t help but become more hopeful. And because the process is constantly calling out to others for their input, the spirit of generosity is implicit.

Anyone Can Do It!

What’s one of the most meaningful reasons for putting BLC into place? It builds an organization in which anyone can initiate a (small or large) change process they believe is right for the organization. We can get rid of the suggestion box—in its place, we ask everyone to step up and lead. 

Complete and Continue