Gov. Mark ” I found my soul mate in Agentina” Sanford and Leading Change

Friday, February 5th, 2010

You remember Jenny Sanford. She’s the wife of Gov. Mark “I found my soul mate in Argentina” Sanford. She’s just written a tell-all book. No, I didn’t read it, but The Washington Post just ran an article about it. And it reminded me of an important aspect of organizational change.

There were signs that this was going to be a bad marriage from the time they were dating. Many things ranging from refusing to promise fidelity to just shake-your-head items that make you wonder why she didn’t see him for what he was.

Organizations have those same blind spots.

Harley Davidson had huge quality problems. Loyal riders would joke that if you were going to ride a Harley you needed to buy two, one to ride and the other for parts. So, if Harley owners saw the problem, why didn’t the company see the problem? I heard an executive from the company talk about those days before they made a dramatic and hugely successful turnaround. He said, “The writing was on the wall, but we thought it was a forgery.”

The signs of trouble are usually there and written in large print, if we’d only look at them. But leaders wait too long before acting on “bad” news.

How to avoid the Jenny Sanford problem: Listen to the people who ask, “What do you see in that guy?” Listen to the customers who make cynical jokes about quality. Listen to the blogs. I just did a Google search on the phrase “Dell Hell” and I got 28,700 responses. To Dell’s credit, they started to listen to the Dell Hell chats and started engaging those customers. But they waited a long time to do it. They could have addressed the customer service problems years before Dell Hell became a catch phrase. (I recall writing an actual put-it-in-an-envelope-letter to the CEO about a recurring problem I was having. I didn’t expect anything big, but I did expect a response. Apparently mail service from the fourth ring of hell is slow. So they lost a customer.)