Meet "Al"

“Al” could be anyone, working in any shop. But what sets Al apart is his embrace of change as a way of doing work and business. Are there Als in your shop?


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A number of years ago, I wrote a “Competing Ideas” column called “Sooner or Later We All Run Into ‘Ed.’” The point of that column was that in almost any business, we are likely to encounter people who may not be as open-minded as they ought to be. I chose the fictitious “Ed” as a symbol for such a person.

Al nametag

All these years later, I feel the need to give equal time to those people who are open-minded and often responsible for many of the improvements that help companies grow and prosper. Let’s call this person “Al.” 

Similar to Ed, Al could be anyone, working anywhere, with work experience ranging anywhere from a few days to many years. Al exhibits traits that we like and respect, including open-mindedness. Al believes anything can be improved and is willing to listen to the ideas of others, especially when they relate to change. Al truly believes that change can make things better by making tasks safer and easier for people, by eliminating wasteful steps in a process, by incorporating new technology when the opportunity arises, or even by changing an entire process if quality and consistency can be improved. Al is truly focused on the business and the people who run it and wants both to be the best they can be.

Unlike Ed, Al is a positive person and is happy to befriend people and organizations who share his beliefs. Al is a proud member of the group known as HOPE (Holding Onto Positive Energy). He also meets with members of FAIR (Finding Any Idea Reasonable). Al is actually a past president of the group called AGREE (Achieving Great Results Everywhere Everyday) and has served on the boards of ACTION (Always Chasing The Improved Outcome Needed), SUCCESS (Seeking Unimagined Changes Can Ensure Sustained Solutions) and UPBEAT (Understanding Perseverance Beats Excuses at All Times). “Al” also contributes a monthly column to MERIT (Most Excellent Results Incorporate Teamwork) in which he highlights companies that have really embraced the philosophy of team-based initiatives for continuous improvement. Finally, Al’s newest venture is an organization he formed himself, known as OPEN (Optimistic, Perceptive, Encouraging, Noble). The organization is doing great work in helping companies recognize the benefits of operating their businesses the “right way”.

Fortunately, there are many Als in the business world. As change has become a way of life in so many organizations, the number of Als seems to have grown, and I think you will agree that this is a good thing. Yet, I think you would also agree that we need more of them. So how do we grow the Als of tomorrow?

There is much we can do, such as creating workplaces that encourage doing things differently, adopting “try-storming” techniques throughout the organization, saying “maybe” and “yes” more instead of “no,” recognizing people’s effort in trying new things (even if the results are not what we would have hoped for), and continually emphasizing the positives that can come from change rather than dwelling on the negatives. Ultimately, we all need to act like Al and work with as many other Als as we can find.

If we are buying from Al, we should make sure the relationship remains strong, since Al can be a very good source of supply.

If we are selling to Al, we should do everything we can to keep him happy, because Al will be a strong foundation for our business growth plans.

If Al works for us, we must keep him challenged, since he will thrive in such an environment and accomplish much.

If we work for Al, we should learn as much from him as we can.

Al’s wisdom, which he is always willing to share, will help us to be better. And his unwavering willingness to listen to our ideas will motivate us to keep looking for better ways to do things.

I hope the Als out there are as open-minded as this column portrays them to be. I do recognize how important they are. In fact, without them, there would be no Alexas, Alberts, Malcolms, Allisons, Calvins, Alanas, Dales, Alicias, Alexanders, Halseys or Calebs. For those of you who dislike the use of acronyms, I can only offer a heartfelt SORRY, since smiles often reveal the real you.