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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Three Critical Elements to Address Today's Business Challenges

Change is hard. It is natural for people to resist change; status-quo is familiar and comfortable. Of the 8 steps to a successful change process the first three are absolutely critical.

1. Establish a sense of urgency

2. Identify a common problem

3. Create a shared vision of the future 

It's strange that most people think that during these times the best course is to hunker down, wait it out until things get better, yet the contrary is true. We need to address the changing economy with action, and with a positive, can do change program. 

The most critical element to a successful change process is a sense of urgency; it breaks down resistance to change and rally's people to a common purpose. Times like these are when fears and uncertainty can be redirected to address real problems. These basic elements (1and 2) when matched with a shared vision of how to make things better, pulls people to accomplish results that would not be possible under different times.  

Clearly most businesses understand items one and two, they are the primary drivers for cost reductions, layoffs, reductions in service, etc., but they lack moving to step three "a shared vision of the future". Could it be lack of understanding of the changes that are underway? Or maybe there is a belief that the business has become too complex, too hard to know how to change in an evolving, complex economy? Or, is it that they believe that there is lack of alignment, or lack of band width within their management team to be able to change the business? Worse, could it be that fear of failure prevents management from leading a course of action that is supported by a shared vision of the future? 

Whichever is the cause the result is the same, no real action towards any positive results are taken. Still why do so many executives feel the logical choice is to hunker down, riding it out as the best and safest form of action? 

There seems to be a group (maybe even a herd) consensus that shedding excess cost, waiting out the slump in the economy is the thing to do. In a war time this is called bunker mentality. But like in a war people that come out of a bunker have trouble dealing with reality, are sensitive to light and general suffer from and syndrome called being "shell shocked". Chances are most companies that survive by using a bunker approach will be ill prepared to address the challenges of a new economy.

So what is the alternative? With reduced income, scarce resources, taking on additional costs is not good fiscal management. Sounds almost like a job for Mission Impossible. The answer still lies in creating a shared vision of the future, recognizing and being honest about the challenge, and shedding old thoughts about how your business works is key. Challenge every paradigm, look for opportunities to create meaningful short term wins. A good example can be found in an article published by the Denver Better Business Bureau and written by Jim Rohrer of Customer Care Partners ( http://denver.bbb.org/challengingeconomy/ ). In this article Jim address how to grow your business by recognizing that the best customer is the one we keep, and addresses an age old focus on customer satisfaction and customer surveys and points to a different standard "customer loyalty". The reality that Jim draws us to is that satisfaction is easily replaced by another product or company, but loyalty not only keep customers with us, but can persuades others to come join them as your customer. 

With this as an example, you may begin to see how leadership can take that third critical step, create an honest, compelling vision. A vision, that can draw management and staff into action. A vision, that is founded upon a series of wins that will allow a business to successfully navigate this tough economy. 

Too many strategist and business leaders believe that building a successful, positive strategy requires days or weeks of planning, big meetings and a grand plan that has answers to every imaginable question. In contrast, to launch a successful change program, the opposite true. Real successful change programs are not hatched in some dark back conference room, but are founded on leadership and vision that engages broad participation around a common vision that is based on addressing a common problem with a real sense of urgency. Then, the next step in a successful change program is to build success on a series of wins.

Start with focusing on a few key initiatives; make sure they are powerful and visible and share the results. The excitement and power of a positive message will empower your organization to take on more and more challenges and rise to the occasion. 

So here is the challenge, what's holding you back? Fear of the unknown? Fear of failure? Lack of resources? When you think about it, the only difference between being stuck in waiting and creating a powerful program that meet today's challenges head on is a decision, a choice. Make it your Mission Possible!


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