Five Ogres and an Angel: Guarding the Gates of Organizational Improvement

“Ogres” in the form of fear, comfort, broken promises, language, and drift are blocking true organizational improvement and change.

There is a plethora of business literature about “change” and an equal number of accompanying terms such as “change agents,” “change initiatives,” “transformational change,” etc. Clearly, a lot is changing in business. Yet is it?

Many organizations still struggle after all this changing. This begs the question: What is really happening? What eludes us? What is blocking true organizational improvement and change? Who are the ogres guarding the gates organizational improvement? By “ogre,” we are referring to obstacles.

In formulating this article, author Miles Kierson considered his experiences working with organizations and resistance that he faced. Based on his experiences, Miles created seven assertions. Co-author Bruce Hodes got rid of one assertion and renamed the remaining assertions five ogres and an angel—it has a ring to it, don’t you think? These five drooling and slimy ogres impede organizational improvement. Once you, a fellow executive, or CEO, know of and are aware of the ogres, you can improve your organization’s performance. You also know what awaits you…

We request that you read this article and be honest with yourself. We are addressing you, the beloved executive or CEO reading this article. See where and to what degree these ogres exist for you and your organization. Actively read the article and get personal value from it. If you find yourself getting defensive, just let it go and face the facts and reality. Be in the moment. Very Zen…

Ogre #1: Fear

People who have never been held accountable are scared of being held accountable. In most organizations, people are assigned accountability for activities or to oversee activities rather than being assigned accountability for results. Additionally, most people hold themselves accountable for activities not results.

When people are accountable for results, they have to deliver. If they do not, they are failing at their job, and there are consequences, real or perceived. Only a small percentage of people who comprise the workforce have this kind of accountability. For example, commissioned salespeople cannot feed their families if they do not sell and attain their quotas.

We assert that people, ourselves included, resist accountability because they fear not being able to produce the desired results. They fear they will fail, look bad, and have to deal with the consequences. Fear of accountability causes real obstacles for an organization’s ability to improve performance.

Accountability causes terror. However on the other side of terror is freedom. If you are accountable, you do not spend time blaming or justifying. You can focus and engage in creating results by looking at what steps you need to take to produce the desired result.

Ogre #2: Comfort

Above all, most people just want to be comfortable. People like things to stay the same, even for the things they do not much care for (an astounding phenomenon). Now, imagine how it is at work. You get use to your job; you have a certain routine and you feel good about what you do. Then along comes somebody who states something like, “we are going to do things differently around here. We are going to ensure that everybody has measurable goals that they will be accountable to accomplish.” It is a double hit: This change agent threatens your world and your ability to succeed. Many people at work just wish to be left alone to do the job they know how to do.

Resistance to change comes from simply not wanting to adjust to something new. This resistance often blocks willingness to listen to why the change needs to happen. For many people, their first reaction to any change, big or small, is to be annoyed.

The way out of the box is to first understand that you are in this comfort box. Being comfortable with a routine is a very human phenomenon. We resist being uncomfortable. The way out is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Again very Zen. We like it!

Ogre #3: Broken Promises

People do not keep their promises. Do you find yourself responding, “I keep my promises”? Then you are typical and part of the majority who think that. We challenge you to spend a week recording all the promises you make, big and small, and see if, in fact, you keep them all. You do not have to say, “I promise,” for it to be a promise; just say, “I will,” or “OK” to a request. If you say you are going to do something, it is a promise.

Most of us really believe we are “good” people and we keep our promises. The problem is, as long as we believe we keep our promises, we do not recognize that we do not. And if we do not recognize that we do not keep our promises, then the chance of getting better at keeping promises and doing what we said we were going to do are slim and limited. Getting better at making and keeping our promises is essential in improving organizational performance.

Ogre#4: Language

The language of improving organization performance gets in the way. Almost all of the words associated with performance improvement have negative connotations. We already addressed accountability, which to many people means “somebody is going to beat me over the head if I do not do what I was told to do.” Even worse is the phrase “hold people accountable,” which, for many, means “we are not going to be able to easily get away with stuff.”

We do not need to change the actual words; rather, we need to redefine their context. The language of performance improvement needs to relate to accomplishing the organizations’ vision, initiatives, and goals. The opportunity is to shift the context of being a victim and powerless in an organization to one of being a partner and empowered in the organization. We assert that organizations such as Southwest Airlines, Google, Apple, and Zappos have done this.

Ogre #5: Drift

Organizational drift aids in avoiding discomfort and repeating history. Most people call it “culture,” but we call it “drift.” What is “drift”? Imagine that you are swimming in a river and stop to float, what direction your body will move in? The direction of the current, of course! You will “drift” away. It is the same with an organization—they all have their own drift—it is “how things work around here.”

The tendency in organizations is to maintain the status quo; drift maintains the status quo. In most organizations, drift is very strong. There is a “no change here” attitude. If you try to change things, it helps to know that this ogre will rear its ugly head and, if it can, eat you. Now there is a visual.

Handle the drift as if you were trapped in a canoe grabbed by a rip tide and being pulled out to sea. Grab a paddle and then begin to paddle at an angle, not directly against the tide, so that eventually you can break free.

When dealing with the drift of an organization, adopt a similar strategy. Honor the drift and at the same time introduce strong corporate initiatives that will allow the organization to lay new track and move in a new direction. Examples of these kinds of initiatives would be serious adoption of Lean manufacturing, breakthrough business planning, or adoption of the Keyne Method of dramatically improving organizational performance.

Five Ogres—Now What?

When you take on improving organizational performance, you have to know that these drooling, slobbering ogres are at work. If you do not, you will run into unanticipated resistance. Consider this example: A CEO who wants to improve organizational performance decides to run her decision by her leadership team. We can pretty much guarantee that will be the end of it.

Why? Because at least some people on her leadership team are going to nix the idea. These people have sway and credibility. They will say something that sounds intelligent, like, “Our way works. We have tried these kinds of change and improvement interventions before and they do not stick.” Or, “We have enough to do without getting into another initiative that supposedly improves performance but only worsen the situation because it is one more thing to do. I do not know about anybody else, but I, for one, do not have the time for this.”

If you, fellow executive and CEO, are aware that you will disturb the sleeping ogres, you must decide not to run the idea by your team first. At the very least, trust your intuition and be convinced that, even in the face of resistance, this is the way forward. You as leader need the vision, intuition, courage, and commitment to make the decision alone and to move forward. Then you can figure out how to get your team on board.

Improving and transforming the performance of your organization is not for the faint of heart. The type of organizational transformation we are describing requires a senior leader who understands he or she is ultimately accountable for the success of the enterprise.

It is a terrific idea to empower your team and to involve them as much as you can in the decisions you make. There are just some decisions that you cannot make by going to the team and discussing them. The decision to go forward with implementing real gut-wrenching transformational organizational improvement is one of them. Responsibility, comfort, language, broken promises, and drift—all of these ogres will stand in your way.

The Angel: Performance Improvement

But there is good news. Here are some of Bruce’s ideas. The age of performance improvement is upon us! Intelligent and systematic performance improvement plans are being created and implemented with real results. The signs are there. “Three Laws of Performance” by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan, “Great by Choice” by Jim Collins, and “Switch” by the Heath brothers outline some of these ideas and possibilities.

In the past, when speaking to an executive and/or CEO about dramatically transforming organizational performance, one might just as well have been talking about space aliens. Now, organizational change gets people’s attention. More and more performance improvement and transformation systems are appearing.

We are reading the writing on the wall here—this age is upon us. This angel will trump the ogres every time! Mark our words. Knowing about the ogres gives you power in dealing with the Ogres. Being in the age of organizational change empowers. Organizational change, game on…

Miles Kierson, a leadership and management consultant, executive coach, CEO confidante, and thought partner, has 35-plus years of experience working with companies ranging from $25 million to $180 billion in revenues. His work focuses on creating a foundation for long-term extraordinary success and helping organizations accomplish their visions. As a coach and confidante, he brings the possibility of clarity, courage, and centeredness to leadership. He is the author of “The Transformational Power of Executive Team Alignment” and a soon-to-be published “Execution Mastery: A Manual for People Who Work.” Kierson has a Master’s Degree in Psychology. For more information, e-mail; visit; or call 732.759.8365.

From growing up in his family’s boating business to founding his company, CMI, Bruce Hodes has dedicated himself to helping companies grow by developing executive leadership teams, business leaders, and executives into powerful performers. Hodes’ adaptable Breakthrough Strategic Business Planning methodology was specifically designed for small to mid-sized companies and is especially valuable for family company challenges. In February 2012, Hodes published his first book, “Front-Line Heroes: How to Battle the Business Tsunami by Developing Performance-Oriented Cultures.” With a background in psychotherapy, Hodes also has an MBA from Northwestern University and a Master’s in Clinical Social Work. For more information, e-mail; call 800.883.7995; or visit


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