Getting Rid of “Rusty”: The Key to Change Management

Change is good, try a new way of thinking and you can improve your business….

By Jim Sullivan

Quote:We do not always see things as they are; we usually see things as we are.

Twenty years ago one of my friends had a very challenging sales position. He worked for a company in the Chicago-land area that sold smoke alarms and burglar alarms…door-to-door. Being the new, but determined sales person that he was, he naturally began by canvassing the bigger suburbs with the largest houses. He’d walk the neighborhoods daily, counting doors and windows, estimating numbers of rooms and hallways and salivating at the opportunity to sell an alarm for each room and point of entry.

Sure, he caught the watchful eye of the occasional police cruiser who suspected baser motives, but that too, was part of the job. Michael’s second-stage plan-of-attack was methodical. He would mail brochures, distribute flyers, make cold calls at front doors and gently pester the affluent residents for the opportunity to agree to a weeknight or weekend formal presentation in their homes on the features and benefits of his state-of-the-art smoke and burglar alarms. Yes, this was tough gig by any standard.

And unfortunately, many of his hard-wrung face-to-face presentations followed a strikingly similar trajectory: The husband, wife (or both) would nod thoughtfully in their living rooms or kitchens at the benefits and features of his professional sales pitch. They certainly understood the advantages of what he was selling. They could see its cost-effectiveness. They even liked him as a salesperson. But more often than not, there seemed to be one consistent furry obstacle.

Their dog, “Rusty.”

A cranky canine combination-smoke-detector-and-burglar-alarm with fangs, Rusty was their pet, and Michael’s nemesis. Rusty (or whatever the dog’s name would be from household to household) could certainly be counted upon to relieve an uninvited burglar of a body part or two, the potential customers explained, but that was not his only talent. He was also well known to the local firemen. Smelling smoke in the kitchen late one night, Rusty woke up the entire household and gently dragged two toddlers safely out of the house (“Here, read this clipping from the paper,” the owners would say).

Michael was initially speechless. Rusty was a certified-sure-sale-stopper. No other “door-to-door” sales person had been able to conquer this canine Everest of Objections in the neighborhood. But finally, the young salesman tired of rejection, and soon resolved that he had only one option if he was ever going to realistically close the sale:

He had to get rid of Rusty.

Not literally of course. It had to be done tactfully, verbally, gracefully, by playing the Mortality Card when the objection to his sales pitch was raised. Michael had to simultaneously sell the reality of no Rusty along with the benefit of an electronic replacement watch-dog and smoke detector. “I notice some gray on Rusty’s snout, how old is he getting to be? Ten?! Really? Wow. What’s that, like, seventy, in dog-years?” After exchanging nervous glances, the couples began re-reading the brochure, eventually signing on the dotted line nearly every time. Brutal tactic to be certain, but it worked.

Now please understand that I am a dog lover. I like dogs; we have dogs. I bring up Rusty’s story not to suggest that you hurt an animal, nor do I condone or suggest that salespeople use fear and uncertainty when trying to sell anything, but rather to make a simple point about change in an organization:

People resist it. Your team members and managers have internal “Rusty’s” that balk and bark at new ways of thinking, acting, and doing. These mind-dogs resist change, and growl at new ideas, concepts, and behavior. So I’d like to suggest that the performance-driven manager or trainer must first learn to uncover and then muzzle your team’s “mental” Rustys before introducing new concepts, menus, systems, policies or procedures.

Beginner’s Mind

The Japanese have a great word called shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” Author Shunryu Suzuki describes it this way: “This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind,” he says. “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything. It is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” So I encourage you to practice shoshin as you consider and introduce change into your organization. Think like a beginner, not an expert, suspend what you know and open your mind to both the possibilities and pitfalls of the people who will be affected by the change. Stress the benefits and features of the change as it relates to your customers, and anticipate ways to chain the mental “Rusty”.

What is greater in your company? The urge to grow, or your resistance to change?