Strategic planning likely occupies a fair amount of your time right now, particularly in the fourth quarter of an unusual year. As 2019 nears, so does talk of a possible recession, a renewed presidential election cycle and other issues that may be driving an urgent sense of a need for change at your company or organization.

As one with several years in C-level executive positions, I’ve been brought in to help ignite and lead change in organizations and help collaboratively create opportunities for retention of market share and growth. I’ve had the privilege of working with many talented thinkers and achievers.

Ironically, one life experience from an unusual source has provided some valuable insight. Allow me to share it with you. It comes from a unique experience with our former family feline: Murray the cat.

A number of years ago my wife and daughter made a vacation jaunt out west, leaving me with the responsibility of caring for our beloved tiger tabby, Murray. That seemed like an easy task. Murray had a set routine. When I arose, Murray wanted out. Things needed exploring. By the time I was ready to go to work, Murray wanted back in, where there was food and a place to nap.

On Day One of my wife’s absence, I dutifully let Murray out for his morning’s explorations. But when I got home, no Murray. Cats being cats, I wasn’t terribly worried. That is, until a number of days with no Murray began to add up. So naturally, given Murray’s prominent position of importance in our family, I started overthinking things. I realized that I had removed Murray’s collar. That was not a good thing.

Each evening, my wife and nine-year-old daughter would call home. They would always ask about Murray. I would clench my teeth and say that Murray’s fine, but he’s not here at the moment.

By Day Three of no Murray, my overthinking mind lurched into high gear. In the absence of facts, I feared the worst-case scenario: Murray had been hit by a car. That was too much. I left for work early to check out a nearby busy street.

To my dismay, my perceived fears seemed confirmed. There, on the roadside, was a lifeless tiger cat. I hastily collected the remains and buried the cat in a nearby meadow that we owned.

A major decision loomed. What would I tell my wife and daughter? Distraught, I consulted my sister-in-law. After much discussion, we came up with a joint decision. I would not disclose the demise of Murray until they returned.

The dreaded moment finally arrived. I picked up my wife and daughter at the airport and told them of Murray’s sad demise. Tears flowed like rain. My daughter wanted to visit the meadow where I had buried Murray and say goodbye. It was emotional. When we finally returned home, my daughter ran upstairs crying.

A few moments later, she called out to me, “Dad, I hear Murray! He’s at the back door!” Very gently, I replied, “No dear, I think you’re imagining things.” But she insisted. So, just to humor her, I went to the back door.

There was Murray, alive and well, and staring me in the face.

What did I learn from this?

  • In the absence of verified facts and information, it’s easy to arrive at a conclusion that seems to fit the situation, but has little basis in reality and may actually be counter-productive.
  • What seems to be evidence of a need for action can be deceiving.
  • Outside counselors, however well-meaning, don’t always have a clear perspective.
  • Concealing information and delaying things is probably not the best course of action.
  • What you think might be impossible might actually be possible, if not probable.

A takeaway? If your company or organization presently is contemplating major change in how you do business, it might be good to ask a few questions and answer them honestly.

Change can be good – even vital. But honestly, are we considering change (particularly the scope of a planned change) simply for the sake of change? Is a change initiative a well-meaning substitute for perceived leadership to address market changes? I have found that a simple compelling desire for change cannot be the overarching reason for change.

The delicate difference between driving strategic change (and true innovation) and championing the illusion of change can be a challenge to perceive.

Sometimes the true keys for your company’s success isn’t change at all. Conversely, in those situations success may lie in trusting (or refining) what has been established and what is working. In this case, unfounded perception is not reality.

And you can take it from me, if you go looking for a dead cat, you’ll likely find one.

Still thinking that a change initiative is needed for your company? You may be right. But remember that organizational and process change generally is disruptive and, in many cases, costly in both financial resources and productivity. Accordingly, undertake change initiatives after careful research, consultation and expert guidance. When the first urge hits that change is necessary, exercise a little patience. Murray may be waiting for you at the back door.

John Patten is managing partner or Patten Consulting Group LLC.

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