The Way Things Are

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 business. Many business leaders feel that the way things are stinks, but aside from expressing anger and frustration they can’t or won’t do much else.

A book I read recently, 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. In my opinion, we can also 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.

A Case in point –

A client that we worked with was experiencing high attrition in their customer service department. This had been going on for some time, but when asked about this problem, the client felt that it was the nature of the job, that all of his competitors where experiencing the same rate of turnover, some even greater than his. It was the way things are, and like Ferdinand, the duck, he felt that it stinks but could do nothing to change it.

We suggested that he develop a profile of the job based on the success attributes of his best customer service reps. We suggested recruiting and hiring against that profile. We suggested new training, new compensation package, a sense of ownership and team building exercises. Despite the fact that the rest of his industry was experiencing high attrition, his turnover went from 85% in the first three months to less than 10% the same period with better than 80% of new hires still employed after 1 year.

We helped the client see what we saw 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 was able to deal with the way things are and make changes.

Isn’t this the attitude we look for in our business 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!

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