01/30/2013 03:18 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2013

Congress, Colonoscopies and Change: Improving Your Approval Rating

co-written by Melissa Mead

Dear Congress,

It's (unfortunately) official. You're less popular and have a much lower approval rating than more than just a handful of unpleasantly disliked things. Traffic jams, NFL replacement referees, root canals. Even colonoscopies! You know this. It has been tweeted, blogged about, and hit the front pages of traditional newspapers.

What do you have to say for yourself?

It's noted that Congress is now infused with a set of newbies who seemingly have the opportunity to reinvent or stick to the old ways. But regardless, the public remains convinced that not only is Congress not doing a decent job, but that they're not doing their job, period.

Why do organizations (and by organizations, I mean you, Congress) fail? Can we possibly apply the basics of change management to help you?

So let's go to the work of John Kotter, the father of modern era change management. Back in school, you might have all read his seminal work Leading Change. In honoring his work (and thank you Dr. Kotter) -- we can see if a little re-education can help you accomplish the change that is critically necessary for your organizational credibility and your individual member survival -- improving your approval rating!


Remarkably, you do establish quite a sense of urgency, but does there need to be so many crises? Fiscal cliff, debt ceiling, loss of unemployment benefits, the sequester, and we can go on and on and on... But, is creating a crisis the only mode you have for sparking motivation and gaining collaboration to get things moving? It is quite draining...

In a "regular" company it creates fatigue and burnout.

Yes, it's important to get people to buy into the crisis you've created to ignite a change, but perhaps your end goals shouldn't simply be short-term ones. Don't get me wrong. Short-term goals are great, and they are essential to success. But perhaps having long-term goals will rekindle trust in the people of this country... and re-engage them in helping you be successful.


Cooperate. Collaborate. Compromise. Consensus. Collective. Lots of "c" words can be used to describe a coalition that can actually drive change. Without effective change leaders and leadership commitment from both parties, you've found yourself failing to create what should be a sufficiently and powerful guiding coalition.

It's similar to the inner teamwork of the leg and foot. Without the connection of the two, it is hard to move forward. To put it rather bluntly, Congress, your absence of these "c" words is quite frankly your Achilles heel.


So what does it look like when we get there? Is this more happy talk about the American Dream or is your collective vision of where we are going (if you have one) more realistic and practical? People want to know. They will jump on board with you if you can produce the movie, the streaming video, the DVD, of what we are heading towards. Give us a picture... the good, bad and the possibilities. We are smart. We can handle it. But don't give us bifurcated, divisive pictures -- they just confuse us.

And by the way, that messaging needs to appeal to a Co-generational Workplace® of voters from 18-80. Absent a compelling vision, your approval rating won't move with anyone -- old or young! And that isn't where you want to be.


If vision is what it looks like, then communication is what it should sound like. This is key. We hear it time and time again. If communication is nonexistent, then no one is listening, no one is being heard, and thus there really can't be a "common" vision, now can there?

You're more than capable of over-communicating when it comes to fear. But you should know that your tendency of under-communicating solutions is only hurting you (and your approval rating!). So what if a roadblock pops up unexpectedly. Talk about the roadblock. Listen to what the roadblock is trying to tell you. Be the roadblock. Consume the roadblock before it consumes you!

Grind down the roadblock to the point in which it is a tiny bump in the road and can be driven over and we can move on. Then we can hear you.


Perhaps the playing field needs to be leveled. It's only natural for different sides to celebrate their individual victories and reflect on staying true and pertinent to their values. But it comes to a point in which it's a Ping-Pong match. One side gets the point, then the other side, and the never-ending cycle continues... until you reach deuce... again and again and again.

Wins on each side are great, but you are failing to remember about those in the middle, and the fact is that a win for either side means nothing when your country is split right down the middle.

So what do you do about those stranded in the middle? How can you spark an inspiration at your core that will not only give yourself empowerment, but also empower others to act on your vision?

What if you more frequently engaged and empowered us (We The People)? We'd certainly feel more willing to step up and take action of sorts. Maybe we'd even be motivated to simply be more compassionate and caring, rather than always our normal divided, complacent selves.


Unmistakably, you know how to create and achieve short-term wins. Sure, small stepping-stone accomplishments may be considered 'wins' in your book, and an achievement is an achievement no matter the size. But to the naked eye, your short-term wins are merely "Band-Aid solutions."

While it's important to be able to solve problems in the heat of the moment, or grind down road blocks in order to keep moving forward, it's also important to show that you have strong hopes and ambition for greater future wins that reflect more towards long-term effects.

Fact: No one ever received a medal for winning the first lap of the mile, or for solving the first few steps of an equation. There's a reason why they only hand out medals at the end of the race. Maybe all you need is a push. "Finish the race!" There might just even be a golden carrot waiting for you at the finish line (i.e. the result of actually getting stuff done).

Change and More Change

Here's the thing about change. You are a work in progress, and will always be. (I mean, who, or what organization isn't?). That's the beauty of it.

You want to ensure that change is seen and reflected in your legacy, when it already undoubtedly will. Changes feeds off of figuring out what happened. What went right, what went wrong, and what needs more improvement? We've heard it all before. Change is good. But in order for you to make this country a great place to be, you must consistently generate a powerful yet collaborative vision.

But why not be proactive about change? Correct me if I'm wrong, but change is always and inevitably on its way. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being ahead of the curve when it comes to continuous improvement. After all, don't change and improvement go hand in hand? And isn't improvement always a possibility?

One thing's for sure. You are highly mistaken if you think the only thing to do (in concern with your fiscal cliff and raising the debt ceiling) is to sit and wait for results to just appear out of thin air. You sit and think, "What's next?" when you ought to be engaging in proactivity. Don't wait for change. Beat the change to the punch.

"Change is the only constant" -- Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher


Culture itself is notorious for being hard to develop. We know this, and we know that you know this. Instituting something that will be the literal fabric of our lives takes time. It's kind of like a patchwork blanket. Piecing it together is difficult at first, but once there's a pattern, you're set. But what is YOUR definition of culture? Of OUR culture?

Operating amongst a people who are literally parted like the Red Sea, it's no easy task to pull the country together as one. Not to sound pretentious, but people are easier than you think. They don't always like change, but they love reaping the benefits. They don't always like the ways you solve problems, but they love knowing that you're moving forward.

Most of all, they appreciate your engagement with them. Maybe culture doesn't always have to be about the legacy or strict values of each side. Perhaps culture means something more. Perhaps it can be as simple as a way of life, where everyone is working toward a common goal. The only question is whether or not you're willing to work for it!

Thank you, John Kotter

So Congress, can you self-manage yourselves to embrace these 8 steps of change management? Can you move above cockroaches in your approval rating? Do you want to? Do you care about what we think?

If you need some help, reach out and call us. We stand ready to help you get ready for some real change - which you desperately need. And which this country wants. If your approval rating goes up, it is truly a win-win. Onward and upward!

Jim Finkelstein is the President and CEO of FutureSense, Inc. He is a life long student of people and now is an Adjunct Faculty member at Sonoma State University in the Executive MBA program. @futuresense

Melissa Mead is the Social Media Coordinator for FutureSense and qualified to run the Boston Marathon in April 2013. @mlives2run