Leaving Groundhog Day Behind

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray, you know it has less to do with the calendar date and Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) than it does with the concept of changing non-productive habits one small step at a time. In the movie, Murray (a curmudgeon and a cad) wakes up to the same day repeatedly and eventually learns that he can change the results of his life by making small daily changes in his behavior. By the end of the movie, he is transformed and moves forward into a new day as a better and happier man.

Albert Einstein says it best: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If people in general, and people in business/leadership positions, in particular, kept this in mind and seized opportunities for improvement, the world and workplace would be a much more productive and positive environment.

Sadly, many businesses seem to be stuck in the “we-don’t-do-it-that-way-here” rut, even when the way of doing things is no longer or never has been that successful. Change is difficult, especially when a bureaucracy of paperwork, sometimes senseless procedures and inflexible people are involved. However, even successful organizations can only remain successful via continual change, not just for the sake of change, but for the sake of improvement.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, some will say, but the only way anything with movable parts stays “fixed” is through maintenance and fine-tuning, so something that may have worked well one year may not fly the next. Businesses must respond to an ever-changing world, even when they think they are doing just fine. With the lightning speed of technology, consumer’s needs, interests and wants change quicker than can be anticipated. If business leaders become too confident that a product or service is fulfilling customer needs, then that’s when the organization will begin to decline. What if IBM had stuck with the typewriter as its primary product? Business leaders need to remember a less-than-behavioral phrase: You can’t nail down Jell-O! (However, you can shape it.)

Neither can you nail down company methods, services, policies and products and consider them good to go for eternity. So what should every business leader do?

  • Ask for ideas and suggestions from the people doing the job. They can give you insights about the rights and wrongs of your business and share ideas that a think tank could never provide.
  • Actually make some changes. If all the ideas people suggest never lead to any change, you won’t get them anymore, or maybe the people who have them will take them elsewhere.
  • Let the people who made the suggestions help implement them. They will have a vested interest in making them work for the organization.
  • Listen, listen, listen to your customers’ complaints and suggestions and respond by making changes.
  • Make changes visible. Some changes are subtle but significant. Use a chart to track all changes and show progress so all can see even the smallest of changes that have taken place.
  • Examine the data and determine what your sales, customer polls, employee turnover and so on are really telling you. Many companies and business leaders became obsolete via denial.
  • Make a short list of leadership skills that you would like to develop; determine one behavior you can start or improve upon. Track it, count it, chart it and practice the skill until it becomes a habit. Then move on to the next item on your list.
  • Understand that innovative behavior can apply to all aspects of your business and reinforce any behavior that might help you change policies, procedures and products for the better.

Remember, in “Groundhog Day,” Murray changes his and others’ lives by simply starting with a very small tweak in his behavior — saying “Good morning.” It was a fresh start that led to tremendous success in the days ahead.