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Take the gloves off to push change

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in Leaders & Managers

This is the story of a manager who saw a problem in his company’s purchasing process.

He saw money being wasted, but he knew the company could fix the problem. He also knew a change that dramatic wouldn’t come about unless many people—especially top managers— saw the opportunity in it. And most didn’t.

“To get a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” says the manager, “I asked one of our summer students to do a small study of how much we pay for the different kinds of gloves used in our factories and how many different gloves we buy.” The student found that the company’s factories bought 424 different kinds of gloves, some costing as little as $5 a pair and as much as $17. “Every factory had its own supplier and its own negotiated price,” the manager says.

Under the manager’s direction, the student collected one sample of each glove and marked on it the price and the factory that made it. Then, the manager displayed the gloves to all the division presidents. Each executive walked around the table, staring silently at the gloves.

“It’s a rare event when these people don’t have anything to say,” says the manager. “But that day, they just stood with their mouths gaping.”

The gloves became part of a company road show … and the purchasing process soon underwent a change.

— “Putting the Gloves On,” John P. Kotter and Dan S. Cohen, Across the Board.

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