August 27, 2015 Anil Saxena

Forest For The Trees – Successful Change Blocker #401

One of the biggest impediments to successful change in any organization is the belief that there is no real need to change. This phenomenon is called “forest for the trees.” It is the incorrect belief that there may very well be issues going on around you, but you don’t need to do anything about them.
It stems from the belief that the practices of the past led to the successes of the past.
However, it was usually either by mere coincidence or lucky timing that success has occurred. This is true in many industries (e.g. homebuilding, higher education), all with the incorrect notion that it was somehow their doing that success occurred, when, in fact, it was the alignment of many factors.
When those factors (like the economy) shifted, they were unable to shift with them. They were so unwilling to update their practices, that even in the face of altering landscapes, they march forward as if nothing had changed. Hence, “forest for the trees.”
More specifically – not being able to “see the forest for the trees” is the inability to view the big picture. It happens when people fixate on details, or let their emotions prevent them from seeing a decision or action in a larger context.
1.    Show Reality
It is nearly impossible to argue with facts. Although facts can be interpreted many different ways, their certainty is hard to question. When there are fewer customers, smaller market share, or declining sales, it is difficult to argue that those things are not happening. In order for those afflicted by “forest for the trees,” it is imperative that they are bombarded with statistics that show them the reality of the situation, and not be allowed to make assumptions that contradict the data.
2.    Make Them Responsible For The Success of The Change
Nothing makes people more accountable for the success of a change as when they become personally responsible for its implementation. Sometimes the best way to get individuals on board is to have them “in the trenches” of making changes. With hands-on experience, they will begin to grasp the full scope of the change, and more importantly, see the problems of the “old way” first hand. Ideally, this experience will help them understand the necessities of the change, make them all the more likely to get on board.
3.    Let Them Prove You Wrong

The mark of a true leader is a willingness to be incorrect.
To truly test the necessity of a particular change, invite those opposed to it to prove you wrong. In exploring for evidence on why a change does not need to be implemented, it is likely that the “naysayers” will uncover the very evidence supporting the need for change.
In the worst case scenario, your employees will prove you wrong, finding solid evidence that a change does not need to happen, and by doing so, they will have saved your company time and money, shown their value and independence as employees, and given you an opportunity to show your commitment to the team by relinquishing your opinion in the face of compelling evidence.
Difference of opinion is not necessarily a bad thing at all – especially when we are willing to go the extra mile to collect information and present a case for consideration. Part of maintaining quality leadership is being willing to have an open dialogue with your team about changes – and why some people may be opposed to them. If opposition is strong, it will be to everyone’s advantage to explore the reasons presented, and let the evidence (not the opinions of individuals) do the talking.

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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