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Posted: April 24, 2013

Flu-like symptoms in the C-suite

No pain, no gain

Todd Ordal


To prepare for a trip to Peru and the Amazon, my wife and I headed over to Passport Health in Boulder for shots and pills to avoid as many ailments as possible. (Great service at Passport, by the way!)

My wife was recently in Indonesia, so she got off relatively easy. I was turned into a pincushion. I’m not sure whether it was the yellow fever, hepatitis or tetanus vaccine, but the nurse said one of them was “live.” I don’t recall seeing critters swimming in the vial before she plunged the needle into my shoulder, but as I jumped on an airplane that night for a business trip, I experienced flu-like symptoms (a pleasant way of saying that I felt like road kill).

Live vaccines put just enough bad stuff into your system to make you stronger, not enough to kill you. Sort of like the green pork chili at my favorite Mexican restaurant.

I find that as organizations mature, they often refuse to introduce live vaccines into their culture. The quest for a “good fit” goes beyond values and starts to look like sameness. Sometimes you need an active change agent on board to shake things up — even if it induces flu-like symptoms.

A client of mine is making a dramatic strategic shift in part of his business. His industry has a long history of only hiring from within. However, my client wanted to shake things up, so he hired someone from a similar industry that had more in common with where they want to go rather than where they’ve been.

Just like my vaccine, this caused some pain. In fact, in the short-term, it has sometimes looked like a bad decision when using yesterday’s lens. Many people in the organization have been extremely critical of the new hire, saying, “He doesn’t know our industry!” Exactly … In the long run, I believe it’ll pay off.

New ideas and directions aren’t always easy to come by. You often need to introduce a live vaccine into an organization to get the change to occur. It’s great to hire those who share your values. But if you need to change, you need a change agent — and you should expect some flu-like symptoms!

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Thanks Stephen. You're right; it is usually someone experiencing or about to experience significant pain that makes significant change. We all need truth talkers around us... By Todd Ordal on 2013 04 24
Great analogy - it made me think that as organizations grow they often need consultants to move to the next level. Yet as they become mature they need insultants that will help them see where they need to change. An example we can see on television is the TV show Restaurant Impossible on the food channel. Robert is often insulting to quickly get the owners attention on why things are not working. By Stephen Moulton on 2013 04 24
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