• Boiling frog theory: When gradual change is better

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    THERE’S the story of a hunter who raised his rifle and took a careful aim at a large brown bear. When he was about to pull the trigger, the bear spoke in a soft, soothing, and pleading voice: “Isn’t it better to talk than to shoot? What do you want? Let’s talk and negotiate this matter.”

    Lowering his rifle, the hunter replied: “I want a fur coat.”

    “Good,” said the bear. “That’s a negotiable position. I only want a full stomach, so let’s agree on a compromise.” The two sat down to negotiate, and after some time, they both walked away with a smile on their face. The negotiations had been successful. The bear had a full stomach, and the hunter had his fur coat.

    Compromise is such a wonderful word among peacemakers. Definitely, it has full merit and many advantages. There’s no such a thing as black or white. It can be gray, too. Call it a win-win proposition for all concerned. But what if some people want a zero-sum game or want to take it all?

    That’s why, at times, you have take a back seat to reflect on a six-million dollar question: “What is my ROT (return-on-time)?” You volunteered your time, effort, and some gas money but you’re not appreciated by people. So what do you do next? One solution is to leave them alone. Then come back at an appropriate time to ask and audit the results. Then prepare to have the last laugh.

    Encouraging a healthy exchange of ideas is the foundation in any democratic system. We hate dictators. That’s why we stone them to death, if not banish them to where they belong. But still, many of us are peace lovers. We abhor violence.

    Depending on your situation, you create another route to hit back at the right time. In the workplace, if you’re a manager who wants to establish durable change, what do you do so that your workers would accept a new policy? There are many answers. They include mutual agreement on performance standards and employee empowerment, among others.

    But many of us often forget the “boiling frog” theory as a change management strategy. It is premised on a situation that when you place a frog in boiling water, it will surely jump out, long before you cover the pot. However, it the frog is put in cold water in an uncovered pot that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

    That also applies to people who are subject to many changes. The boiling frog metaphor explains our passive reaction to changes that occur gradually, such as climate change. It’s easy to understand this in many local contexts. For instance, when utility companies increase their rates, they do it piecemeal so that you don’t realize that you’re slowly being cooked in boiling water.

    Also, it explains the rationale for our sachet economy that’s propping up the success of Coke Litro, Nescafe 3-in-1 coffee mix, Head and Shoulders shampoo in a one-time use pack and many more, including the mobile phone load for text, voice, and internet use for P20 a day.

    The same thing can happen when you buy a major home appliance or office equipment for small businesses. It becomes easy when consumers are allowed to buy them in installments than pay for it in one big drop.

    Frequently, I have asked corporate executives who attend my seminars on problem-solving: “How do you make your workers become actively involved in defining the real problem and generating as many solutions?” Almost invariably, they quickly talk about cash rewards. Then I ask them to close their eyes to concentrate for about three minutes to form a picture in their mind.

    When they have done it, I then ask another question: “Do cash rewards really work?” Almost 90 percent of the seminar participants would tell me their stories about manipulation and control resulting in the creation of unmotivated employees in the long term.

    People negatively respond to manipulation and control. This leads the workers to form unions, sabotage business operations, and arouse distrust in management. All too often, the problem is not that the cash reward is inadequate or the communication process is done the wrong way.

    When the workers are viewed as robots, they will see management’s agenda as manipulative. And they will resist them, no matter how comfortable it is to enjoy a sauna bath with frogs.

    Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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