ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — March 2004

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In the Spotlight
Bombardier Recreational Products
Moving the Elephant
Empowerment—Seeing the Elephant


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March 2004 News For A Change — Home Page

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How You Spend Your Time Demonstrates Your True Values
Do the leaders in your organization tend to say one thing, yet do another? When their actions are inconsistent with their words, it is difficult to know their true values.

On a flight back from Ottawa, Ontario, to Raleigh, NC, I had an eye-opening experience about this concept. I was sitting in the aisle seat, the middle seat was empty, and a man was sitting in the window seat. We had our tray tables down and were both working diligently on the papers in front of us.

Then I did something you’ve probably done yourself. I let my eyes stray to his pile of papers just for a second. Of course, at exactly that time, he happened to look up at me, and I quickly snapped my head back to my own work. A few minutes later, he did exactly the same thing and got “caught” himself. Then, almost in unison, we asked each other, “What’s that you’re working on?”

At the time, I was involved in strategic quality planning and was reviewing my notes for an upcoming conference presentation. He, as it turns out, was a consultant who worked with senior leaders from Fortune 500 companies that were undergoing change. We decided to put away our work, fold up our tray tables, and enjoy a productive conversation for the remainder of the trip.

First, I shared some of the approaches to change that were successful in my organization. Then I asked how he worked with his clients to help them implement meaningful change. Here is how he explained it to me:

“Well, usually my clients bring me into a mahogany and brass boardroom, with all the ‘grand poobahs’ sitting around the table. Then they say something that amounts more or less to, ‘Oh, please tell us what to do, oh enlightened sage!’”

“What do you do then?” I asked him.

“I go over to the most senior executive in the room, borrow his or her day planner, open up to any date at random, and read what it says. Of course, the executive is a little confused, and asks what I’m doing. I tell him that I’m trying to find the time on his calendar where he personally taught a class on the new initiative, met with customers, or ate lunch with the ‘little people’ in the cafeteria. ‘Oh, that!’ he would answer, ‘Let me get on the phone and I’ll get my senior associate executive assistant vice president for quality, and he can help you!’ This tells me everything I need to know about the organization’s level of management involvement.”

While this may be an isolated case, we all know that this kind of approach to change rarely works. Although we don’t really expect the senior executive of the group to do all the legwork in implementing change, at some point delegation ceases to be delegation and becomes abdication—abdication of the leader’s responsibility to lead by example. And when this happens, everyone in the organization easily recognizes it, and the results can be difficult to overcome.

In business, as in life, when things are important, we need to find time or make time to do them. If you want to determine the true values of your organization, study the behaviors of your leaders. Watch where they spend their time and you’ll come to a very definite and clear conclusion about where they stand.

A nationally recognized customer service expert, author, and trainer, RON ROSENBERG, CSP, recently founded, a Web site dedicated to helping people get the service they deserve and to teaching companies how to provide it. He has been featured in publications including The New York Times, Smart Money, and Real Simple and has appeared as a guest on nationally syndicated radio shows including “Dateline Washington” and the “Gary Nolan Show.” For more information, visit his Web site at .

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