The Yellow Brick Road and Managing Change
“‘It is a long journey, through a country that is sometimes pleasant and sometimes dark and terrible. …The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick,’ said the [good] witch.” —L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz
We are living (and managing change) in unsure and in many ways unknown times; by my metaphor, we are in “The Land of Oz.” “Kansas” symbolizes what we know. It consists of the paradigms that we take for granted and live by without reflection. It is the accumulation of all our assumptions, as about how to grow a business, structure our company, sell our products and services, and lead our employees. But every once in a while a very big “tornado” comes along and picks up our organizational house and drops it into a strange and mostly uncharted land. This is either very bad news or very good news: It depends on how you respond — not react — to the challenge.
The key to a successful journey through The Land of Oz is not what you do but what you don’t do. Don’t panic, don’t react, and don’t exit. Although Dorothy wanted to get out of Oz, she chose to stay in the Oz experience; and so she acquired all the benefits of staying — she melted one pesky witch; got rid of a deceivingly destructive wizard; and integrated courage, heart, and wisdom — she grew up. Most individuals and organizations when they are thrown into a Land of Oz react with old Kansas (default) behavior patterns. (E.g. If a hammer does not work, they use a bigger hammer.) However, if you see the Oz experience and the journey down the Yellow Brick Road as an opportunity to grow and manage change, you have a fighting chance. Here are a few reflections from my book:
- Oz happens. Instability is just as much part of life as stability. We get both. Many people would like to believe that if they do everything right, the Land of Oz can and should be avoided. This is not true. Oz happens! Life is difficult; we need to accept it. If we resist — or worse, ignore Oz — we will end up like the dinosaurs, who were not ready for their tornado (or should I say, meteor?).
- Use your Scarecrow. One of the aspects of being Scarecrow is being calm in the storm. Don’t panic. Fear unchecked makes us react, not act. Another aspect of Scarecrow is creative thinking. Step back; think out of the box (There was a way to get into the Witch’s Castle after all). Use the creative people in your organization to come up with innovative ideas and approaches.
- Use your Lion. After you have Scarecrow think and imagine, you have to decide and pull the trigger. It takes courage to go out into the unknown without a map; but if you stay the same, you will at best stay the same and at worst become extinct (cf. the dinosaurs).
- Use your Tin Man. Whatever you do, do it with heart. For example, if you have to let people go, do it with sensitivity and understanding. If you have a choice, over-communicate, rather than under-communicate. Treat employees and clients with care and respect.
- Face your Witches. Witches can stay hidden in good times. (For example, you can make bad loans while housing prices are soaring.) However, an organization’s (and its leader’s) weaknesses become evident when things get shaken up in The Land of Oz. Don’t run away from, but instead walk cautiously along the Yellow Brick Road toward the weaknesses in your organization (and yourself) with a “bucket of water” (truth and grace) in your hand. If you face your weaknesses, honestly and with purpose, they usually melt away … and won’t trouble your organization any longer.
- Get rid of your Fraudulent Wizards. Wizards represent those things, ideas, or people who we’ve believed were going to make it all effortlessly, “magically” better. Truth is, there are no Wizards, only hard-working, smart people with eventually good ideas. Use your sojourn in The Land of Oz to clean house. Get the wrong people out and the right people in. Dispense with all the cherished programs that have not produced. Question the philosophies that have guided you and see if they are really pointing you in the right direction.
I’ll end with a quote from the last paragraph in the chapter of my book on “Staying in Oz”:
When we can endure the difficult or painful parts of the Land of Oz, we are then able to enjoy the wonderful aspects of Oz! … The Land of Oz can be a place of creativity, invention, and spirituality. People who can stay on this road less traveled can often think of a solution that no one else thought. … While in Oz we naturally say the right thing at the right time to our boss, spouse, child, or client. While in Oz we write the lyric, we paint the work of art, love the beloved, and sing with passion. In the Land of Oz we find Our Self, the Beloved, and God. For those of us who can endure, the Land of Oz is a truly wonderful place.
(By the way, if that reminds you of Complexity Theory, it should!)
Sam Alibrando, Ph.D. is president of APC, Inc. his own consulting firm that works with organizations and senior executives coping with critical business and change management challenges, interpersonal challenges and transitions. He is the author of Follow the Yellow Brick Road: How to Change for the Better When Life Gives You Its Worst. Find out more at his website.