The Purple Pen Story | Leadership and Processes in Organizations

leadership words Every organization has purple pen stories. 

I was recently talking to a colleague who previously worked for McKinsey Consulting.  He told the story of the Purple Pen (this story was another organization’s story, not Mckinsey).  The brief summary is that a woman that signed documents used her purple pen and had initially requested, for her own quality reasons, that those specific documents were signed with a purple pen.  It was not any type of business necessity, just something she had initially done.  She left the organization and came back a couple years later.  A woman she worked with told her she “had to use a purple pen” and that “that was such an inconvenience as she could hardly ever find a purple pen”.   This individual promptly went to the manager to inform them that there was no business reason any longer for using the “purple pen”.

When I consult in organizations I see that so many processes are outdated or really not necessary, however they have just always been done. 

The truth  is that it can be a challenge to get employees to change patterns of behavior they have always been used to.  Change can elicit fear in employees.  The key for leaders is to first clearly identify (through their own analysis and by asking the employees) what processes are no longer adding any value.  They must get their team to question each process and procedure to ensure it adds value and is not just a holdover from an earlier time.  Leaders must also be clear that the change they want to implement is for good reasons, show the employees WIFM for the situation, how they will benefit or how the organization will benefit.
Truly this can be the benefit of bringing external employees into management level roles (from other organizations), the purple pens can stand out like sore thumbs in some cases.  The approach that the new leader takes to change these old processes is crucial, however.

The truth is if you try to change too much too quick, employees will resist and the change will not occur.  

When organizations bring others in from other organizations, these new leaders can be met with a lot of resistance from tenured employees.  I work with a lot of leaders on their approach of building trust in the new organization.  As a leadership coach, I also believe that organizations could also do more to tell existing employees why new people are important to the overall success of the organizations.  Top leadership can set expectations that new employees thoughts and ideas are crucial.  They need to set the expectation that new people will be listened to and trusted.  There still is room for top leadership to instill the understanding that new employees should be embraced.  Of course, there has to be a balance because existing employees can help new employees understand the actual working of the business.  Top leaders also have to let new employees know that they must look to existing employees to best understand the business.  Certain changes may look easy to new leaders but in reality it can cause a lot of stress for existing employees.  Again, this a balancing act.  However, I do believe that new employees in organizations can be a very good thing and actually part of an organizations competitive advantage.
I work with organizations to identify the purple pens.  I also work with leaders to make that transition into new organizations so they can successfully assimilate and add value in a much quicker timeline for the organization.   We create strategies for building trust and building relationships.

Shannon Rios MS LMFT is a high performance coach with leaders and executives. She also focuses on 360 feedback with leaders and managers to create high performing teams.


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