Central Penn College - Talkin' Organizational Change with Doug Fisher

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December 4, 2018 Talkin' Organizational Change with Doug Fisher

In addition to teaching business administration courses at Central Penn, Adjunct Professor Doug Fisher recently became the new president of DynaTech Generators in Lebanon after having been semi-retired for several years. The company serves the northeast region with generator sales, service, rental and more.  

Fisher also owns a consulting firm that provides executive coaching services to business owners and executives, mostly east of the Mississippi. For the past two years, he coached the men’s soccer team at the college, leading them to two winning seasons. Unfortunately, he has stepped down due to the demands of being a full-time executive at DynaTech.  

For more than a quarter of the century, he’s worked as an executive in a variety of fields, including technology, energy and financial services. He specializes in turning around under-performing companies.  

Central Station recently interviewed Fisher on this topic via email… 

CS: One of the courses you teach is Organizational Change Management. Can you talk about your experience “changing” an organization?  

DF: This is what I do; my specialty is turnarounds, making struggling companies successful. It starts with getting the right people doing the right things and then adjusting the strategy. I thrive on the challenge of seeing the overdue smiles when debt is eliminated and growth is abundant and sustained. Thankfully, we’ve experienced tremendous success at every stop over the years, due to the terrific people in each organization. We also did something similar here at Central Penn, taking a growing but struggling soccer program and turning it around, resulting in our first two winning seasons. 

CS: What are the challenges regarding organizational change? And what are the rewards?  

DF: The challenges are obvious; the organization is failing. Profits and revenue are usually declining. Jobs might have been lost. Turnover is typically high. Establishing a positive mindset and experiencing early “wins” is critical. When you are a new leader, people have no reason to believe you or buy in to your systems until they experience success. The process becomes a bit easier as the early and late majorities both get onboard.  

The rewards are many… the smile of a business owner who was losing money and now sees his or her debt dwindling, profits growing and with engagement soaring. Team members start to become happy and recommend the company to their friends. I’m paid well, but the greatest reward is seeing the lives of the employees improving.

CS: How do you get buy-in from people who have been at an organization a long time (and who may be invested in the status quo)? 

DF: My system is to clearly explain what will happen and the results it will produce. I am candid about the coming change and the adjustments that will be required. Often there are cultural changes that must happen. Those who cannot buy-in relatively soon must adjust or move on. Those who buy in have realized significant reward. If we win the heart of a veteran employee, it is typically because of honesty, genuine concern and early victories. 

As for the status quo, we take it out back and bury it… deep. I am committed to continual improvement. Process maturity and organizational change are embedded in many of the courses I teach including Organizational Change and Operations Management. 

CS: How long does organizational change take? Or, how long before you see results? 

We usually see positive results almost immediately and this establishes traction. As for how long it all takes, that varies based on many factors including the severity of the systemic issues within the organization, the quality of the people, the company’s reputation and many more factors. Market conditions are irrelevant to me, and I do not accept this (or any other) excuse. I don’t care how many people are buying something; I focus on making sure those who do buy, buy from us.  

If a troubled organization has a solid business model, change can happen faster, usually “below the line.” If we’re losing money and sport a low gross percentage, I slow the process and stunt any growth until we are making money with our efforts. Doing more business while losing money results in greater losses. This is about obtaining quality data and making sound business decisions with that information. 

CS: What is a “non-textbook” lesson you emphasize to your students?

Levels of clarity!

You either have business clarity or you have business blur, and the latter will kill a business. When new or persistent business issues attack the well-being of your organization or sphere-of-influence, you might let them rattle around in your head or sit in a room with a like-minded friend or small group of people. Then ideas will spurt out of the more confident or outspoken participants. This approach often ends with “group think” or one person pushing their solution. A better approach is to take the issue through my three levels of clarity:

Level I – Think at length about the issue, not the solution. What is the true cause? Are you examining the symptom or the disease, another “non-textbook subject?” On our Monday evening Collaborate calls, I’m always pleased to hear my students grasp the value of “thinking it through” as we spend 15 minutes just discussing an upcoming assignment and how it could be mastered. The value of careful consideration cannot be understated. Think your business issues through and you will achieve one level of clarity.

Level II – Verbalize the issue and what you were thinking at length. This sounds easy. It is not. First, you must find a listener, someone who is not busy and has time to let you sound off at length and dissect this issue. Do you want their feedback? Perhaps. The most important thing is your clarity, which will soar when you talk it through. Psychologists will tell you many patients see the answer after explaining the question. Level two clarity is powerful and often gives you the requisite perspective to remedy the situation. If not, let’s hope you have someone in your firm who can facilitate issue processing.

Level III – If needed, gather a group of trusted advisors around a table. Explain the problem. Allow each advisor to ask clarifying questions until they understand what they must do to offer their suggestions. You are then forbidden to speak so you may take notes as each advisor offers their unique suggestion. When you have their feedback, you will be amazed at the viewpoints you did not consider. This is because we often see the business world through different frames or lenses. All of these unique viewpoints will prevent you from only solving issues using only your experience and expertise. Now you have a variety of viewpoints and suggestions with which to form an optimal solution. In time, you will know when this third-level investment is worthwhile.

Classroom Note: At this point, we walk through a relevant business issue using these three steps, so students can experience the greater level of clarity experienced as they expand their view and understanding of a business problem. Often, my online students working in career positions use this clarity exercise at work with positive results. 

Problem solving is seldom taken to this (pardon me) level. Further, business problem solving often fails and some businesses face the same issues for years. Level-three clarity is scarce, but it is worth the investment every time.