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Why Leaders Should Never Get Comfortable

Your customers want change, and your business demands it. Here's how to embrace the unknown.
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Most people don't like change and prefer to stay in their comfort zone. But no matter how much they squirm at the idea of change, be it in the office or their personal lives change is inevitable. And depending on how you approach it, it can be disruptive or extremely rewarding.

One such change sweeping business is the demand for more cloud-based and mobile-friendly experiences across almost all industries. Whether it's insurance, automotive, or in my case, real estate, consumers expect more collaborative, digitally-driven interactions.

Some organizations may dismiss new technologies as fads and carry on with their fax machines, but in the people economy, that's not a sustainable strategy. In fact, it's a surefire way to lose customers, and your employees. In the people economy, experience is king.

There's no silver bullet for adapting your business. However, there is a great framework--based loosely on an analogy shared in Chip and Dan Heath's book, Switch--that many entrepreneurs, including myself, have used to anticipate disruption and drive meaningful, long-lasting change.

Accept That Change Is a Constant

Humans are creatures of habit, so changing the way we work can be tough. But it's crucial to accept changes, both big and small, that are happening beyond your control. As an entrepreneur, it's your job to embrace change and help your employees do the same by nudging them toward your goal and outlining a path to achieve it. Make sure to explain how you're going to implement change and why. If your customers want it, that's exactly what you have to give them in order to succeed. 

Let's take the example of an office trying to go paperless. In reality, you're not trying to go paperless per se; you're just trying to eliminate the paperwork tied to running your business. Identify the members of your team who can accept that change and drive it with a clear understanding of your mission. If you merely send an email announcing you're removing the fax machines, for example, then your team won't know what to do. Change needs a blueprint. Without one, the process will be disruptive, lengthy, and frustrating. Lay out the entire plan from start to finish and clearly explain how each person can help. 

Out With the Old ...

The first step should be removing the triggers that make people revert to old ways. Keeping with the paperless example, you need to remove the fax machines, filing cabinets, and all those pesky paper clips that end up scattered around your desk to drive home the message. 

It's also essential to engage your employees in the process. Have open conversations and explain how their everyday process may begin to look different. Extol the benefits, take input, and answer questions. Addressing concerns while outlining your vision won't be easy, but it is crucial to earning and maintaining trust. It also shows you're serious about this change--and the impact it can have on your business.

... And In With the New

Once you've got everyone on board and ditched the fax machines, offer new tools to help ease the transition and keep employees productive. Just as it's easier to stick to a resolution to eat healthier healthier when there are vegetables in your fridge, it's essential to get rid of the old tools and empower employees to use the new ones. 

I've seen many companies adopt applications like GoogleApps to encourage more real-time collaboration. Likewise, I've seen others use Box to store documents and Evernote to jot down ideas. Others have adopted bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies to ease their workers into the wide world of tech. Some companies even provide their own iPads. Across all these initiatives, the common denominator is that when the tools are readily available, the training sessions are plentiful, and the goals are clearly understood by the whole company, everyone succeeds.

Keep Adapting to Stay Ahead

No matter how you embrace change, remember to be proactive. You can get ahead by evolving early on in the process instead of playing catch-up and perhaps losing out. Jeff Bezos is a prime example of an entrepreneur who anticipated the phenomenon of online shopping and created a behemoth e-commerce store in Amazon. Conversely, Blockbuster allowed Netflix to gain market share, all because it failed to keep up with advances in online streaming.

It's no coincidence, then, that in the case of Amazon and Netflix, consumers drove the change and helped them become market leaders. No matter how big the looming change might be, being proactive, passionate, and people-minded trump everything else.

In the people economy, if you treat change as a core pillar of your business, you'll never have to fear being left behind. You'll create opportunities to grow as a business as well. 

Last updated: Jan 22, 2014

AUSTIN ALLISON | Columnist | founder and CEO of dotloop

Austin Allison is founder and CEO of dotloop, the fastest-growing technology company in real estate, and the co-author of Peoplework: How to Run a People-First Business in a Digital-First World.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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