in·dif·fer·ent: adj. (1) having or showing no interest, concern or feeling; (2) uninterested, apathetic, or unmoved; (3) detached; (4) lacking emotional involvement.
Indifference. We are all indifferent about one thing or another. I enjoy going to Barnes & Noble every chance I get to check out the latest books and CD’s. My wife Sue is indifferent to all that. On the other hand, I’m indifferent to visiting Dollar General, but Sue enjoys shopping there weekly for its $1 bargains.
You’ve got your own personal list of things that fall into this category: things you don’t love, but you don’t hate them — you’re just indifferent to them. Your personal list might include the color mauve, accountants, any movie starring Madonna, black-eyed peas or even Activity Based Cost Management (ABM/ABC).
Signs of indifference abound in our culture. Americans have become numb to 300-point swings in the stock market. Color-coded national security alerts are shrugged off. According to the U.S. Treasury, Americans exhibit a great indifference to retirement planning … 93% of Americans that reach age 65 have absolutely no savings. Millions of Americans, who ran to church the weekend following September 11, 2001, soon became indifferent to God and stayed home. Kids skip meals with the family. Dads repeatedly flip through TV channels. Parents contribute to the church or charity only when asked. Examples of indifference abound. Need I say more?
Some times, indifference doesn’t matter. With certain things, however, your personal and professional life can be adversely affected by indifference. For example, you are headed for trouble if you are indifferent about your health, your job, your family, or your finances. And if you are an owner or manager that doesn’t know with certainty the cost and profitability of your products, services and customers, the health of the business will be adversely affected.
Indifference is subtle. It develops gradually. One is not diligent and enthusiastic one day and indifferent the next. As a result, indifference is hard to self-diagnosis. I recently met with the leadership of a large organization that had invested several years and dollars in a multi-site Activity Based Cost system. Management’s basic question was, “Why should we continue to fund ABC?” Even though it was evident they were confident ABC is theoretically sound, their heart wasn’t in it.
That’s where indifference strikes first … the heart. Then it manifests itself in inactivity. Because it is difficult to see what a person or organization is not doing, it is much harder to detect indifference than if overt errors are being performed. It’s hard to see that I don’t care as much as I ought to, that I’m not involved as much as I ought to or that I should have grown more by now. This is especially true with a person or organization whose indifference has not caused them to quit altogether.
What’s worse, being lost or being indifferent? I say the latter.
A lost person will either keep searching or eventually ask for help. But someone indifferent sits, ignores information and disregards advice. Lost are destined to be found. Indifferent people and organizations, however, are destined to be lost forever. They’re not interested in anything, including being found. The reasons for indifference are many. I’ve narrowed the list to ten primary causes and proposed solutions.
Indifference: Causes & Solutions
Cause: FORTUNE magazine’s Alan Farnham reports, “A battery of recent studies by a host of management consulting firms reveals an alarming split between what employees really want and what top management think they want.” (1) When a communication gap exists, employees become indifferent to the leader, the company and their job.
Solution: Management must regularly communicate with employees. Ask what they want. While paychecks are important, today’s workers also place priorities on family time, trust, facts, a meaningful mission and security. When needs are asked for and met, employees are rarely indifferent.
Sharing of information closes the communication gap. To eliminate the indifference that often arises during or after the creation of an Activity Based Cost Management (ABM/ABC) system, ICMS is introducing this week ABM E-Mail, a new, easy method of getting ABM/ABC reports to more employees.
Cause: An attitude of “anything goes” leads to indifference. Without a fixed point of reference and absence of absolute truths, indifference takes over. Tolerance was originally based on “love the sinner but hate the sin”. Tolerance has been redefined by today’s society to mean unconditional condoning of any behavior, even if it is morally wrong. Without limits, indifference abounds.
Solution: Accept the fact that there are absolute truths. If you’re struggling with indifference caused by tolerance, search out absolute truths. You don’t have to accept and condone other people’s beliefs to show your respect. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t take a stand, you’ll fall for anything.” To eliminate indifference, create a list of the things you will no longer tolerate. That will get you fired up!
Cause: People are indifferent to things they think can be put off until tomorrow. USA Today reports “64.5% of Americans are overweight, 31% of which are obese, 30 or more pounds over healthy body weight.” (2) Cemeteries, bankruptcy court, hospitals and unemployment lines are full of people and organizations that waited too long to start a diet, exercise or implement new and improved methods.
Solution: Americans want to be indifferent without a consequence. Wake up! Everything we do or say has a consequence. Continuous improvement consultant Patty Bender (www.rplusmore.com) created consequences charts for her children, i.e. If you make your bed today, you get to go outside and play. If you don’t, no going outside. It’s your choice. Because there were both positive and negative consequences, the charts in their rooms eliminated indifference. If you’re a procrastinator, get an accountability partner and create some consequences charts.
Cause: If a person is told what to do but not shown how to do it, indifference occurs. Thousands of organizations have implemented Activity Based Cost systems during the past fifteen years. Only a handful, however, have taught non-financial employees how to read, interpret and use the ABM/ABC reports. As a result, most managers are indifferent about ABM.
Solution: Teach people how not to be indifferent. My wife and I visited a local McDonald’s for breakfast. The adult who waited on us was friendly, fast and focused. After completing our transaction, she used the next 45 seconds to straighten chairs and clean trays before rushing back to serve the next customer. Nothing indifferent about her behavior. The teenager standing at the next register learned a life lesson as he watched her be different about her job. The employer noticed too. Don’t assume people will figure things out. Teach them. Train them. Show them.
Cause: The Bible says in Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Without a vision, mission or meaningful purpose, people perish into indifference. In the absence of a vision and well-defined goal delivered by a trusted leader, people begin to not care about their job and their lives. Vision… seeing something that no one else sees … cannot be bought. Leaders with vision are rare. As a result, many organizations today are indifferent about the future.
Solution: Defining or redefining an organization’s vision, mission or purpose is one of the best ways to eliminate indifference. A meaningful mission provides motivation, purpose, and direction. People, for example, are indifferent to a goal of filling 1,000 sandbags. But people are energized when the mission is to build a dike to save their city. People are indifferent to “filling” an ABC system with data, but they’re energized if the mission is to save the company. If you’re organization is indifferent about ABM, search out people who have a passion for ABM, bring in a controversial ABM expert, visit an organization that successfully sustains ABM or re-energize staff with hands-on ABM training.
Cause: In the absence of celebration, indifference takes hold. It is so easy to get caught in a rut of hurrying from one activity to the next, marking off tasks on our to-do list, that we don’t schedule some joy in our Day-Timer. Life becomes a rut of indifference. John Ortberg says, “I realized that I tend to divide my minutes into two categories: living, and waiting to live. Most of my life is spent in transit: trying to get somewhere, waiting to begin, driving someplace, standing in line, waiting for a meeting to end, trying to get a task completed, worrying about something bad that might happen, or being angry about something that did happen.” (3)
Solution: If you’re like me, you may not be good at celebrating the small and big good things that take place. John Ortberg’s children broke him from indifference with their “Dee Dah Day Dance”. When they’re happy, the kids jump up and down yelling “dee dah day, dee dah day”. While its not necessary do the Dee Dah Day Dance to eliminate indifference, search out a “joy mentor”, set aside time for pleasant things, unplug the TV, or hold an onsite motivational seminar. Joy lifts people and organizations out of the funk of indifference.
Cause: Soft words, soft preaching, soft messages, soft budgets, soft performance measures, soft leaders and soft parents comfort those who are indifferent. Positive words certainly have their place, but messages that omit the negative simply make indifferent people and organizations feel good about themselves. Soft sustains indifference.
Solution: To drive my car straight to its destination, I have to correct the steering every few seconds. Conditions cause the wheels to go left or right without my doing. I have to correct the steering wheel. The same holds true with a person’s life or an entire organization. Hard and soft words and actions are needed to break out of a rut of indifference. Encouragement must be balanced with correcting, rebuking, accountability and discipline.
Cause: A person that becomes self-centered becomes indifferent to the needs of those around them. And if an organization becomes self-centered, they become indifferent to the needs of their customers and suppliers. Inward focus insulates people and organizations, resulting in indifference and insolvency.
Solution: People who are depressed can help themselves by helping someone else.When a person helps someone in need, they immediately feel better about themselves. Picking someone else up gives you a lift as well. A great source to learn solutions to self-centeredness can be found in the new book titled, “The Generosity Factor” by Ken Blanchard and S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-Fil-A restaurants. Even though Mr. Cathy closes his restaurants every Sunday, his sales per store equal or exceed most seven-day a week competitors. As a result, employees are not indifferent about working at Chick-Fil-A. Their 95% retention rate is one of the highest in the food industry.
Cause: Repeated frustration with a situation, no end in sight, often leads to indifference. In that situation, people often give up, not caring if things change. They become indifferent about the problem, not even searching for a solution. Doing the same thing over and over yet while hoping for different results is not only stupid, it’s frustrating. When a person or organization gives up, they become indifferent to living.
Solution: When frustrated, use one of the proven Total Quality Management (TQM) techniques called the Five Whys method. Ask yourself why five times, i.e. Q #1: Why am I frustrated? A: No one is helping me. Q #2: Why isn’t anyone helping me?, etc. A problem defined is a problem half-solved. List your frustrations. Get at the root causes. Ask people to help you define solutions. When other people begin to provide their insights, your indifference will begin to fade.
Cause: “Too often people think about their ‘spiritual lives’ as just one more aspect of theirexistence, alongside and largely separate from their ‘financial lives’” (3) says teaching pastor John Ortberg. Compartmentalizing spirituality leads to an attitude of indifference in every other aspect of your personal or professional life.
Solution: Make prayer and Bible study a daily activity, not just an occasional Sunday morning activity. As the recently popular phrase recommends, ask yourself WWJD … What would Jesus do? One thing for sure … Jesus was never indifferent!
Conclusion I am indifferent to shopping at Dollar General, but I am certainly not indifferent to my wife. Sue is indifferent to bookstores, but thank God, she’s not indifferent to me. Don’t waste your personal or professional life being unconsciously indifferent. Make a conscious decision to eliminate indifference. Don’t give up and surrender to repetitive poor results. Eliminate indifference. The results can be outstanding.
Our church administrator recently asked for sixty men to show up to set up 3,000 chairs for our church groundbreaking. One hundred twenty men showed up! These men may have been indifferent to the task of setting up chairs but they were certainly not indifferent to serving God and the people who would be sitting in the seats.
Take time to do what these men did … exchange your indifference for inspiration. Indifferent about your cost system? Indifferent about Activity Based Management? Indifferent about your life? Give up on your indifference. Convert negative thoughts into positive action. Both you and those around you will benefit.