The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang

 

Bringing in a consultant should create a "window of opportunity" to make improvements in your organization. Recently, I had the chance to turn that metaphor into a reality.

My client company had had a great year -- so the Division I was working with got to treat themselves to new offices.

Previously, the managers had been ensconced in Dilbert-type carels. Now, suddenly, each manager had a self-contained office with four walls and a door that could be closed.

It LOOKED great -- but they soon discovered the downside. Previously, they'd spent much of their time conferring with each other -- over the walls, around the corners, in the hall.

Now, to talk with one another they had to get up, open the door, walk down the hall, knock on the door, and sit down.

The decibel level was down by 15 points. And they hated it.

"We're out of touch," said one. "We're not catching each others enthusiasm. We just plain miss TALKING all the time."

When I asked, as part of my needs-assessment, what would upgrade their performance, one manager and his assistant said, jokingly: "Punch a hall in that wall between our offices."

I took the suggestion seriously. I wanted to demonstrate that they could really ask for what they needed, and that we could work together to get it. Partly because it made sense -- and partly to show that my little consultancy was indeed a "window of opportunity."

What a kick in the pants it would be, I fantasized in the downstairs to visit with the chief of facilities and maintainance, if, when my crew came in Monday morning, there was a hole in the wall!

"No way!" said the Chief. He explained to me gruffly that there was no budget for punching holes in the wall, that other people might want the same special treatment, that if they made the change and the next occupatants didn't want the window..., etc. All good reasons.

But not good enough.

The purpose of my consultancy was to upgrade performance and profitability. A hole in the wall was what these managers needed, right now. It would immediately restore their level of collaboration. And, from my point of view, it would be vitally important in demonstrating the company's commitment to our improvement process.

I changed direction, and headed upstairs, to "Corporate."The higher I got, the more they saw the point. (This is almost always the case. At the lower levels, you find functionaries who see only their turf. The higher you go in a healthy company or association, the more you find a willingness to break the rules if they are getting in the way of productivity, profits, or the accomplishment of the mission.)

When the managers came in on Monday, there was no window.

But there was a black square on the wall where it was going to be, by the end of the week.

When I visited later in the day, people were still coming from other departments to see the "window of opportunity."

Clearly, they were getting the message: Top management is committed to change -- change that WE know will enable us to produce more, better, faster.

Two weeks later, after the window was in place, the decibel level was up to "normal" again.

"We're in constant contact again, we're re-excited, and we're coming up with productive ideas, the way we used to," said one of the managers who had made the original suggestion.

Copyright © 1999 Ronald Gross