The source of change is very delicate, immensely powerful, freely available, elusive, yet getting closer and closer to modern humanity. What follows is first an outward description of what played out, followed by what was actually placing us in the situations that we found ourselves in. Towards the end, your attention will be drawn to what the source of the change actually was.
Within our Group of Companies, we have a small entity. It has been unable to pay its way for a long time. We moved from one premise where we built infrastructure to be able to produce specific products that the market wanted, to another premise that we had that was not being utilised. The original premise, or body, had value in the market that we needed to convert into cash to save us from liquidation. The new premise was something that we could not sell and needed tenants for. The original premises had high exposure to road frontage while the new one had none and was in fact hidden away in a low-class area far from the market. It did have a large undercover industrial type shed and some office-like space that was some distance from the shed. The yard stock area was hard but not paved. We could make do with this we thought. In the original layout that was sold, we had the offices attached to the production area. The production area was specifically laid out for our purposes and made production flows simple and effective, was easy to supervise, and had what was required to simplify quality management. We had a paved outside yard stock area.
The manager of the operation at the time moved the operation from the original premises to the new premises and most of the staff went with. The same people, therefore, managed and worked in the business before and after the relocation. The problem of exposure to the market was addressed by renting a central location of shop frontage in an appropriately specific retail park.
During the time at the original premises, the business had been both efficient and relevant to the market and, therefore, made profits. Following the relocation, the business suffered trickling losses for many years. Eventually, we had to either downsize the business and retrench staff or close it. We decided to retrench and see if we could survive on this basis. Shortly after the downsizing, we landed some big, long term orders, our smaller orders started to roll in more consistently, we discovered that we could keep the plant running without all kinds of people that we previously took as essential, and downtime and maintenance reduced. The reduced staff were said to be picking up the slack, participating more, taking ownership. The future looks much brighter for everyone there they say. So, what really happened?
In the attempt that is now going to be taken to distil out the source of change, other articles on this website are relevant to this one. They include An Aspirational Business model, the Lens Concept, and Effective Management. Content in these articles is relevant here.
- The care and detail around the production layout in the old premises was detailed. The way that the product was batched, how it was moved, and the infrastructure to where it was placed and cured was quite specific. It was built in brick and mortar, to accurate standards, in a specific alignment, and in a practical relationship to the overall process. Handling had to take place in a specific way that required care and accuracy. Spillage and waste could be easily identified because of the design and selection of the equipment used.
- In the new premises, this was not as the same. The batching was similar but there was nowhere near as much care and consideration given to the handling, storage and curing. A cheap and simple design was taken. The operators were not squeezed into a designed structure and process of things as specific as the original one. They could be less careful and less attentive. The mineral element, the body of the process, was less detailed and required less human attention. The processes were looser as a consequence and an instinct or behavioural norm of the staff could develop from this.
- The original premise was built new and for purpose.
- The new premise was an old building needing significant repairs. The roof leaked in places, electrical infrastructure was old and patched where required, floors were not level and cracked, water reticulation was exposed and patched where necessary. Windows were broken, doors did not close properly, and more. This ‘state of affairs’ set the tone for the standards that people accepted. It dictated, to the extent this was allowed, the value system of maintenance, productivity, quality and waste. Because the new premise was much larger than the original and required area, space was not a problem and junk could find a home quite easily. These spaces started to fill up at an alarming rate. A little more rust fitted in quite well with the rust that was there when we arrived. Tools and spares went missing from an untidy workshop.
The business started to shrink in relevance. We continued to think that it was the market and tried to save wherever we could. We also spent time trying to be more relevant in our marketing approach and product designs. We hung onto the idea that the market would come back. We, therefore, kept the same number of staff that we had needed in the past. They became ever more attuned to the same old, same old, to the growing ‘stillness’, to the gradual decaying of the mineral, the weakening systems, rhythms and routines. There was always someone else to do things that I did not want to do. A culture of opaqueness developed. The shareholders in a far-off place will continue to pay. The sense of purpose slowly evaporated from the ‘character’ of the business. Other branches from around the country were not suffering the same afflictions. The business became an image of a succulent that survives in harsh conditions, does not grow, does not die, does not change despite many attempts to bring this to it from outside.
Then we retrenched to the bone and had some resignations as well. One positive manager remained. He was prepared to do any task, in whatever area, to keep things going. Things that started not to happen were noticed and picked up by anyone and everyone. An inner awakening started to happen from the shock of what was going on. The status quo was no more. The wrapped in itself succulent had been shaken. The open eyes and ears of the remaining staff that previously saw the same environment but never let the impressions into their consciences started to see and respond appropriately. The menial tasks of cleaning their own toilets, washing their own dishes, carrying out their own rubbish, awakened something in them, tore away the opaqueness of their vision, asked them to be conscious and to care. Their inner slumbering became an inner understanding. Suddenly the stock levels became something that they had to see, count, organise themselves. The time the people came to work and what they did became their issue to resolve and agree with. They all had to collectively take ownership. They could all see what was not going to happen if they themselves did not make it happen. Both understanding and care became essential. When there is a breakdown the staff are sent home while outside people came in to repair the problem. The staff realised that they needed to keep the plant running by understanding and care or they would go home without pay. The sales people were now not just driving from one address to another while keeping an eye out for the next fast-food outlet, but were being attentive to all opportunities for us along the way. They were being forced to go to sites to collect pallets with the company bakkie and trailer themselves. They could then make contact with the customer and see what we were offering in terms of value or not. In all examples above, the people were being asked to slow down, be in touch with themselves, take ownership. They had to find their own courage to press on. They pulled themselves together inwardly. Their physical bodies remained the same as before, it was inwardly that things changed. They had to seek the positive in their circumstances and days or they would simply jump ship. As a consequence of the above, the orders have come, the product and quality is being made, the stock levels are right, the plant and machinery is being noticed and cared for by all.
The source of change was the awakening, the drawing towards themselves of the human qualities in the people of our business. This is patently clear as the factory remained the same, the process and contents of the product remained the same, the design of the product remained the same, their physical bodies remained the same. The strategy remained the same. The market remained as it was. What changed was that:
- haste became patience in our staff,
- fantasy became objectivity,
- doubt became clarity,
- negativity became positivity,
- self-indulgence became selflessness,
- blame became ownership of self,
- laziness became diligence,
- prejudice became openness,
- fear became courage.
This is what changed what came to us. This is what changes everything. It is what we choose to live in us that changes the world around us. The test for the correctness of this is whether we could return to our old situation if we went back to fear, fantasy, doubt, negativity, laziness, self-indulgence and so on. It must be clear that this is what would happen – we would find ourselves back where we were.
Note also the impact that the influence of the physical environment has, and can have. Where it is in a form and layout that requires a certain inner orientation, it can draw people towards themselves rather than allowing entropy and chaos as a possibility. All well designed assembly lines have this element in them – the physical environment asks for a certain inner orientation to the process and next step. In the great buildings, of humanity, especially those with a spiritual connection, this is also present.
In closing though, while outside influences such as shock can lead to this sort of positive change by drawing people to be within themselves, sustainable businesses and organisations need to find ways to encourage and enhance this awareness so that what lives in people is what will manifest as their product or service to others. It needs to be an act of free will in our individual desire to bring the Good in us to the fore because this is the source of change.