The lingering scent of … problems

Drifting cloud of smoke on a black background.I bought a new-to-me used car about five years ago. It’s a good car. I like it, it’s got plenty of space for the dog, it drives well, and it gets decent gas mileage.

The previous owner clearly loved her perfume. After five years, the car still stinks has a distinctly perfumey scent. Even my husband, who’s (yay for him) much less sensitive to smells than I, notices it.

I was reminded of this when someone on LinkedIn mentioned that he’d once worked for a company which had undergone a merger eight or nine years before. The merger hadn’t gone well: communication was poor, employees were confused and uncertain about job security, and … the scent of the problems lingered, even after many of the then-employees had left the company, replaced by new people who hadn’t been part of the effort.

Every subsequent change introduced in this company received more than its share of skepticism, cynicism, and resistance.

We often hear about so-called “origin stories” for companies: how they started, what their founders believed in, and so on. We know these origin stories are an important foundation of a company’s vision, mission, and purpose.

But what we don’t always recognize is that failure stories also become part of a company’s mythology. They get passed down, they become traditional, talked about off the record, part of the fabric of “how we do things around here.” Or, rather, “how things go badly around here.” And even years later, there’s a lingering scent of problem in the air.

Obviously it’s important to lead your change initiatives well in the moment so they can succeed, not struggle.

But the importance of good change leadership doesn’t end when the initiative ends. The problematic technology implementation, the difficult merger experience, whatever it might be, it doesn’t fade from memory after it’s over. It lingers, even after those involved have moved on.

Like the perfume in my car.

Technology consultants and vendors get caught in this when a customer chooses not to engage in repeat business. How can a tech consultant prevent this from happening?  Contact me and we’ll set a time to talk.