"I took in so much, I think my head is about to explode," began one information-overloaded contractor. This made Michael Moore, director of training and business development for HVAC Learning Solutions, smile. The fact that this comment came after the completion of Day 2, and there were still two more days of learning to go, only made his smile more prominent.
Moore was responsible for spearheading the four-day conference, which was designed to explore the changing dynamics of the HVACR industry and to discuss, in detail, how Lennox dealers could grow in revenue and increase profitability. In addition to Moore, speakers included consultants Vicki La Plant and Gary Oetker, Drew Cameron of HVAC Sellutions; Alicia Bradshaw, marketing program manager for Lennox Industries; and "intellectual fitness" instructor Ginger Owens.
"Throughout the week you will learn powerful techniques for managing your business and your people," promised Moore. "Hands-on exercises and interactive sessions will help you apply this knowledge to your own company. ... When we adjourn, you will have an action plan to take your company to the next level."
Provided, of course, one's head does not explode.
EXPLORING PARADIGMSMoore was the initial speaker. He discussed author Joel Barker's favorite subject: paradigms. A paradigm is defined as an overall concept accepted by most people because of its effectiveness in explaining a complex process. Barker is the author of the book Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future. Moore emphasized that knowing and realizing paradigms and paradigm shifts can help a contractor be a successful businessperson.
"Paradigm definitions or synonyms will include words that convey a belief system that is fairly open and flexible, such as â€˜theory' or â€˜model,' " said Moore. "At the other end of the spectrum are words that imply a rigid, authoritarian view, such as â€˜dogma' or â€˜orthodoxy.'
"The wide range of terms show that paradigms, in and of themselves, are neither inherently good nor bad. It is how we use them that matters."
In Moore's estimation, paradigms can be useful tools. They can help navigate contractors in their day-to-day lives and make sense of the barrage of information that comes their way each day.
"For instance, most of us know how to get to a certain destination, like a neighborhood restaurant. However, we might be hard pressed to explain our route in a way that would be understandable to someone unfamiliar with the area. We just know when to make a left or right and when to go straight.
"Being able to navigate almost instinctively allows us to get where we're going without a lot of time and effort. That's why Barker calls paradigms â€˜problem-solving systems.' "
According to Moore, paradigms help do the following:
"We see this at holidays and religious services. People feel an innate connection with others participating in the same celebration or service."
THE BAD SIDEThat's not to say there is not a harmful side to paradigms.
"Rigidly holding onto them can limit our thinking," cautioned Moore. "We overlook or dismiss ideas and facts that fall outside the paradigms to which we've become accustomed."
As an example, Moore pointed out that the folks in the sales department may believe that they need to be able to match competitors' promises to ship all products within 24 hours. The executive team, on the other hand, might be convinced that a certain percent of sales must come from new products in order for the company to remain competitive. Meanwhile, the marketing department may believe that it should only place ads in glossy, higher-end print publications in order to maintain the company's image.
"If different groups have different paradigms, the paradigms will conflict at some point," said Moore. "We continually see this on a larger scale, when leaders of countries don't see eye to eye on issues like human rights, immigration and emigration, the environment, and trade."
The key, he said, is to keep one's mind open to other paradigms.
"We get so used to our own perception of the world, that it can be hard to step back and realize how much we let our own paradigms limit our thinking," he said.
Moore pointed out Michael Dell of Dell Computer. He started as a college kid selling computers from his dorm room. He took on a powerful industry with no experience, no money, and no brand name. His model of building computers to order and managing inventory with extraordinary efficiency, however, changed the way the computer industry operated. Along the way, he built a $32 billion company by the year 2000.
"By now, it should be plain that many people, as well as the organizations that employ them, would benefit from doing a better job at anticipating and understanding changing paradigms," said Moore.
"Still, it is not surprising that people resist change. After all, even the most benign shift entails some disruption and loss, and raises the question of â€˜What's next?'"
COMMUNICATION IS KEYThe challenge, said Moore, is to determine when we've discarded an idea based on its lack of merit and when we've discarded it because it falls outside of our established paradigms.
"For example, many people grumble about having to learn new expense reporting systems. Once they've begun the task, however, they often find that it is easier than they thought, and that the program simplifies their job."
According to Moore, a person's tendency to resist change often has little to do with merits of the new idea, but sometimes springs from emotions like fear or envy.
"When a new paradigm takes on the status quo, we feel threatened, scared, resentful, or worried."
Moore warned that navigating through "good" changes can take an emotional toll. In the end, a contractor may face criticism from others who weren't involved in the change and are fearful. Even more challenging is facing the fact that rules can change mid-way through the game. For instance, Moore pointed out that prior to the 1980s, many people thought that if they did a good job, they'd always be employed.
"They were understandably distraught to find that they could be laid off," he said. "Unfortunately, change rarely happens on our own terms."
This is why it is important to communicate during periods of great change, "especially in the workplace," he said.
"Employees expect and deserve no less than clear, up-to-date, honest reports about what is going on," said Moore. "Honesty is critical, as well as timing."
This does not mean managers must respond to every question that's put to them, cautioned Moore. They need to acknowledge, however, what they don't know or can't answer, he said. When possible, employees deserve enough notice to plan for upcoming changes, such as restructuring or plant closing.
Publication date: 01/09/2006