When it comes to getting things done in many organizations, more is said than done. Some people can talk a good talk, but many do not walk the talk. It is this discrepancy that can cause many of the problems that surface during transformation.
Many years ago, I remember an executive who invited me to speak to his entire staff one morning at dawn. "A breakfast seminar for champions, " he called this training opportunity, and I was delighted to participate.
With the sun barely over the horizon, we gathered, and I began. During my presentation, I was impressed with the focus and attention of those gathered. But over the course of the morning, I couldn't help but notice that they seemed to be very reserved, rather than fully participating in it. They were courteous, but cautious.
Afterwards, members of the management team approached me and asked if I had a few minutes to visit with them before going up to meet with the CEO. Not pressured for time, I agreed to sit down for a 10 to 15 minute visit. Together we walked down the nicely carpeted hallways to the executive wing and into the boardroom, a room that was dominated by a table in the shape of a "T".
"This is where we meet as a team to discuss change and leadership," said the vice-president. "We sit down here as a group, and he sits at the top of the 'T' with a table all to himself. Change is great, but it begins at the top. He thinks he walks the talk, but this T-shaped table sends a different message. If we are going to work together as a team, we all need to sit at the same table with the same kind of space. It's that simple." We visited for a while, and then I went on to the CEO's office.
As part of my conversation with the CEO, I mentioned the table issue. "Huh! I guess I never thought about it," he replied. “But when I look at it from their angle, they are absolutely right. What a crazy mixed-up message I’ve been sending! I’ve been talking about commitment, mission, and values -- but the table says authority, control, and command. That table doesn’t need to be moved, it needs to be removed.'"
Weeks later, I learned that the management team had initiated a progressive and successful movement to a new level of growth. Removing the table had become a catalyst for aligning commitments and reality in a new way.
Remember: Walking the talk means not sending mixed messages about what is most important.