JEFFREY TOBIN: First, the good news
Traveling at 560 miles per hour at 36,000 feet above Oklahoma, our flight suddenly jolted and tilted hard, down and to the right. I clearly remember the pilot’s voice crackling over the speaker system as the plane shook: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem.”
There was an audible gasp among the passengers, many of us involuntarily clenching our armrests. The long pause that followed his announcement seemed as frozen as our limbs. The plane’s rapid descent continued. We waited impatiently for the next announcement.
The pilot’s voice buzzed again. “We do not have enough fuel to make it to Dallas.”
Paralyzing fear wafted throughout the cabin. It was a sure sign that our collective times had come. I remember fixating on the vast and empty distance between my feet and the state of Oklahoma. Agonized thoughts turned toward loved ones and unrequited goodbyes. Our fate was sealed.
“Air traffic is backed up in Dallas, so we’ll just make a quick pit stop in Lawton, Okla., to refuel. We’ll have you back in the air in a jiffy!”
A “jiffy?” Really? Relief. Rapture. Joy. Anger. And still, echoes of sweat and fear hung thick in the cabin. The unthinking pilot, in his own carefree knowledge of the ultimate outcome, had made a terrible error of omission. Rather than beginning by telling us all would be fine, he’d shocked us with fear and uncertainty — seven miles in the air.
In business, change and uncertainty are people killers. When new processes are introduced, we can react just like the passengers on my plane: We freeze and envision the worst.
Let’s consider the challenge of a new workplace diversity program. When a formal diversity program is foisted upon employees, the alarms of a projected calamity can ring in the air. Employees brace. But there’s an easy way to limit the impact and even create real interest.
What if my pilot had started by announcing a quick fuel stop because of an abnormally long holding pattern in Dallas? Describing this positive outcome, he’d have had a lot more supporters.
So don’t start with an announcement of a problem. Start with positive outcomes. Some positive outcomes of diversity programs might be increased team creativity, unique perspectives, inclusivity, personal growth and enrichment, greater productivity and employee engagement. These are the encouraging, expected outcomes.
Who wants an institutionalized diversity program? Few. But who might enjoy the outcomes of such a program? Yep. Everyone.
When you fly into unavoidable corporate change, don’t start with a captain’s dark pronouncement about problems; start with a declaration of what will help everyone to fly.
The idea that change will always bring pain is simply “inevita-bull.” Spirits soar when we focus on positive outcomes, not a prevailing problem. After all, it’s your exciting destination, not the flight plan, that makes a trip really worthwhile.