Why managers don't listen LO11255

Rol Fessenden (76234.3636@CompuServe.COM)
03 Dec 96 23:52:46 EST

RE Ben's TQM & LOs LO11228

At described the development of a complete theory of how trees survive and
grow through a mutual symbiosis with a root fungus. Ben then asks "how do
we get managers and executives to learn from such an example?"

I do not mean to be simple about this, but I think the answer lies in At's
story as well. first scientists developed a theory of how to reforest
denuded land. They tested it, and It didn't work. The theory was wrong,
and they investigated more deeply. They developed a new theory. It
didn't work, either, and they investigated even more deeply. Eventually
through deeper investigation, through understanding root causes -- no pun
intended -- they developed enough of an understanding to restart trees on
the denuded land. They did not fully understand all of what it takes to
make a tree grow and thrive, but they found a few keys -- phosphate and
root fungus.

All of my experience in systems and management, universities, government,
and industry has paralleled this process. A manager will be so fragmented
into different directions, that they will not be able to ferret out the
theory themselves. But they will love and respect (possibly promote)
people who come to them with facts that bring insight into the problem.
People who develop theories (underline the next part) _based on
well-documented facts, tested against alternative hypotheses_ that can be
tested in small, low-risk ways without 'betting the farm' can eventually
get an audience.

Now, you say perhaps, that's not the way it is here. Maybe not, I cannot
tell. Certainly not all organizations and not all managers (maybe not
most) are like this. Maybe it really is the wrong organization for that
to happen.

But there is an art form to this process for the person who has the ideas.
The ideas need to be cast in terms that make sense to the manager.
Experiments need to be developed that minimize the risks, or cause them to
be well-defined. Someone needs to BE responsible and accountable. Ideas
need to be fully fleshed out in terms of the impact (not vastly
overstated). Costs need to be fully understood. Time to completion needs
to be well-defined. But of all these, the most important is the
willingness to experiment on small scales, and learn from the experiments.
This is where most people do not make it. Too much of a hurry, too
confident of the results, too sure of the costs, unable to see the need or
the value to the experiments.

The second area of breakdown is an inability to really listen to what
people say when they object. Some objection is hard to overcome, some of
it is superficial, some of it is legitimate. Both the first and the third
need to be dealt with, even though it is not easy to do. If the person
with the ideas really can listen, they can develop very effective little
demonstrations that will respond to people's concerns. It's not easy, and
it doesn't happen instantly, but that's the fun of the game, to figure out
how to demonstrate or communicate things that will overcome objections.

Of course, I don't mean to say that ALL managers are just sitting out
there waiting for the right person with the right approach to come along.
They are not. They are just like the rest of us with warts and all. But
some are looking, and are interested.


Rol Fessenden
LL Bean, Inc


Rol Fessenden <76234.3636@CompuServe.COM>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>