Thursday, October 23, 2008

Auburn Football - A "Change" Lesson for Business Owners

“Life will teach you the lessons, it is up to you to learn them.”

A lesson about implementing transformational “change” in your organization.

Two weeks ago Auburn’s head football coach (CEO) Tommy Tuberville fired his offensive coordinator (VP)Tony Franklin in a dramatic mid-season move most will argue was done to save his own job. The firing followed what could only be described as a dismal year for Auburn football where they started the season ranked 9th in the nation and after losses to LSU, Vanderbilt and Arkansas no longer show up in the polls.

For those who don’t follow Auburn football it is important to know that historically they have run a conservative offense relying heavily on running up the middle and the use of the option. The CEO (Head Coach) felt this offense hasn’t been producing the results needed to achieve the goal his Board of Directors (Auburn Trustees) or shareholders (fans) expect - a national title. As a result, the CEO made the bold decision to adopt an entirely new offensive strategy called “the Spread”. Considered by most to be a very dynamic and complex - no huddle/shotgun - offense this style is a vast departure from anything the Auburn “company” has done before.

Like any good CEO introducing “change”, Tommy Tuberville researched and hired one of the guru’s of “the Spread” offense, Tony Franklin, and named him his new Offensive Coordinator (Vice President). He would not let Tony Franklin hire his own assistance but was told instead to use existing assistants - loyal to the CEO.

So what went wrong?

An insightful radio interview with Tony Franklin revealed classic mistakes made by the CEO in implementing change in his organization. The VP stated there was little communication between him and the CEO after he was hired. There was no social contact whatsoever. The VP also stated there was little if any attempt by the CEO’s assistant (long standing employees and managers) to befriend him let alone embrace the new guy. Though the CEO would speak publicly of his support and commitment to this new offense, even when things were not going well, the interview left one with the distinct impression he did little else in the way of actions to make this transformation successful. And on game days, the CEO would not hesitate to make public (over the headphones) critical observations of his new VP’s play calling.

Let’s explore how the CEO’s action or lack thereof undermined and in fact directly contributed towards the failure of this transformation. First, he believed that simply communicating his intention to change was all that was necessary to have his employees and leaders embrace the change. What he failed to understand is from an employees perspective, the kind of communication that impacts behavior is 10 percent “traditional” vehicles (speeches, email, etc...), 45 percent organizational structure (whatever punishes or rewards) and 45 percent management behavior. The last 45 percent includes “off the record remarks”, and daily activities. In the words of Sue Swenson, CEO of Cricket Communications, “What you do in the hallway is more powerful than any thing you say in the meeting room.”

Secondly, he mistakenly believed that you can manage a transformation strategy in the same manner as you would an incremental changes and past success will assure future success with this venture. Incremental change - continuous improvement - is linear, predictable and logical. Transformational change, on the other hand, is a redefinition of who we are and what we do. It is often unpredictable (responding to unforeseen circumstances, challenges and opportunities), and illogical (demanding people and organizations change when they are the most successful). Most importantly, past success is not a valid indicator of future success. In fact, past success may be the greatest obstacle.

In closing, organizations don’t change. People do - or they don’t. If they don’t trust leadership, don’t share the organization’s vision, don’t buy into the reason for change, and aren’t included in the planning - there will be no successful change - regardless of how brilliant the strategy.

Tony Franklin was noble for accepting responsible for the failure - however, those who know about implementing significant change in an organization recognize this failure was caused by the tone and manner in which the CEO, Tommy Tuberville, improperly introduced, embraced and supported the change.

P.S. Tommy Tuberville was fired at the end of the season after a dismal 5-7 record. The new coach, Gene Chizik, reintroduced "the Spread" offense and ended his first year with a respectable 8-5 record and a perfect 14-0 season and National Championship title in his second year.

* Italicized text taken from The Biggest Mistakes in Managing Change by Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

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Have a great day.

About the author: Mike Gomez is the President of Allegro Consulting, an Atlanta-based business growth specialty firm. Allegro provides operating advice to businesses and organizations on a wide range of management issues that effect growth, such as strategic and organizational planning, marketing, sales and business process improvement.