From the film Babe
The scene: Christmas day on the farm. The pig, the cow, hens, and Ferdinand the duck crowd by the kitchen window, craning their necks to see which unfortunate one of their kind has been chosen to become the main course at dinner. On the plate is Roseanna the duck dressed with sauce l’orange.
Ferdinand, the Duck: Why Roseanna? She had such a beautiful nature. I can’t take it anymore! It is too much for a duck. It eats away at the soul.
Cow: The only way to find happiness is to accept that the way things are is the way things are.
Ferdinand: The way things are stinks!
I was thinking about the above scene and how often it is played out in real life as leaders of businesses accept the status quo and are reluctant to change or look for alternatives to running their businesses. Some leaders may feel the way things are stinks, but aside from expressing anger and frustration they can’t or won’t do much else.
The book, The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, evaluates this scene as it relates to the acceptance or denial of “Possibility” and encourages an alternative “to initiate a new approach to current conditions, based on uncommon assumptions about the nature of the world.”
The Zanders suggest that the Cow’s acceptance attitude and the Duck’s accepting but complaining attitude are not the only choices available. They suggest that a third and more realistic attitude exists. From my experience as an executive, entrepreneur, and executive coach, I’ve come to appreciate that we can parallel this concept to business, and it is precisely this attitude that should exist in every company and business leader. Let me explain.
This alternative attitude says that while you understand the way things are you ask yourself if there are there other ways that things could be, or is the way things are the only way. In other words, focus on a solution, a better way, instead of the problem. The problem belongs to the “issues” and yesterday. A keen eye on a desired future state and the solution is what will separate us from the rest of the herd. I think the Cow would’ve been better served, in the long run, with this attitude. No pun intended.
A Case in point
A client we worked with was experiencing high attrition in their customer service department. This had been going on for some time, but when I asked about this problem, the client felt that it was the nature of the job and that all his competitors were experiencing the same rate of turnover, some even greater than theirs. It was the way things are, and like Ferdinand, the duck, they felt that it stinks, but could do nothing to change it.
After a series of individual and team coaching sessions focusing on the desired outcome (a fantastic future state), rather than the problems, the client and team gained a different perspective of the situation. Instead of focusing on what needs fixing, they began to envision what success looks like for themselves, in support of company goals. This gave rise to new awareness.
What did success look like for this client?
- The customer service department wanted to feel like a team, not several cliques within a team.
- They wanted to feel they were making a difference.
- Enjoy their work environment.
- Be part of something bigger.
- A culture that truly valued their department.
- Opportunities for career growth.
- Last, but not least, the leadership wanted to see higher retention (they decided it was possible) and increased profits.
In a coaching capacity, we partnered with the client to identify individual and team experiments designed to move the needle in the right direction. Some of these included:
- Developed a profile of the job based on the success attributes of his best customer service reps.
- Recruited and hire against that profile.
- Introduced an onboarding training and process.
- Changed corporate and client-facing messaging around the job function.
- Leadership and team development functions.
- Revamped training and compensation packages.
Within months you could see the team began to exhibit a sense of ownership and pride. Within six months, the company’s attrition improved from 85% to less than 20%, with better than 80% of new hires still employed after 1 year. The recruiting costs sank to an all-time low, which carried to the bottom line. I’ll eventually write a full case study on this, but seemingly small changes in attitudes and actions ended up leading to significant improvements across the board.
The coaching process allowed the client to see what was already there, hiding in plain sight and that the way things are is not the only way things can be. Instead of accepting things as they are (the Cow) or accepting things, but being angry and frustrated (Ferdinand, the Duck) the client could deal with the way things are and make changes.
Isn’t this the attitude we look for in our leaders? Don’t we want to follow someone who is willing to look for another way? Don’t we admire a leader with a vision of what is possible despite the difficult times and the number of people who would accept things as being the way they are? Where there is a will, there is a way, right? If you are one of these leaders, or you work for one, count your blessings and then pass the duck l’orange. Bon Appetite!
Written by Nick Tubach, MBA, PCC