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How to Change Your Company's Direction

These days, if you can't lead your company through rapid, continual change, you can't lead.
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            It is easy to change things.  It is hard to change people.  And let me state what should be obvious to any business owner in today's economy: Resistance to change is the biggest threat your business faces.

                  My industry, to pick one, has seen seismic change since I founded it.  The idea that communication was something mailed in a crisp new envelope now seems almost prehistoric. But every successful startup today has had to learn to change, too—quickly and constantly—in response to shifts in customer taste, competition and new technology. Facebook, Zipcar, and Inc’s company of the year, Evernote—not to mention MackayMitchell Envelope Co.—would all be dead and buried by now but for one key skill: resilience.

            And I’m not talking so much about your resilience. I'm talking about your company's ability to change at the speed demanded today. And that depends on your employees.  Memos and new mission statements won’t produce results on their own.  Change has to come from within your workforce.

As the boss, you need to set the stage for change by letting employees know what’s happening in your company and in your industry. Otherwise, they won’t see any reason to do things differently.  Share as much as you can about your finances, the problems your organization is facing, and what’s likely to happen if you all do nothing. 

Remind your staff that change takes time.  To be successful people will have to look to the future, not to short-term gains and losses.  Performance won’t be transformed overnight.  Once you’ve restructured, implemented new systems and launched new strategies, give the learning curve time to achieve the progress you’re looking for.  Don’t be so impatient for results that you sabotage your efforts and those of your work force.

 Change works best when it’s a collaborative, interactive process.  Keep everyone in the loop: your leadership team, line employees, customers, vendors, funders and other stakeholders.  Provide them with updates on your progress.  Ask them how it’s going in their view and what could speed things along.  If you’ve done a good job of selling the change and giving them the facts they need to bring it to life, their insights and opinions will prove invaluable.

Susan Dunn, a clinical psychologist, has observed that people who can bounce back after failure and figure out what needs to change to confront new obstacles without losing their nerve generally do these essential things:

  • Learn from experience.  Resilient people reflect on what happens to them – good and bad – so they can move forward without illusion.
  • Accept setbacks and losses.  Face the reality of what happened in order to get past it.
  • Recognize emotions.  Resilient people identify what they’re feeling and express their emotions appropriately.
  • Keep time in perspective.  Past, present, and future are separate.  Don’t mix them up, by letting what’s in the past determine your choices in the here and now.
  • Think creatively and flexibly.  Look for new ways to solve problems and face challenges.
  • Take care of yourself.  Resilience is based on good physical and mental health.  Get enough rest, eat sensibly, and spend time with people who support you.
  • Ask for help.  Resilient people don’t try to do everything themselves.  Ask others for assistance, and learn how to do so graciously and effectively.

Mackay’s Moral:  If you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you might as well roll over and play dead.

Last updated: Feb 16, 2012

HARVEY MACKAY | Columnist | Founder, MackayMitchell Envelope Co.

Harvey Mackay, author of The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World, is founder of the MackayMitchell Envelope Co. He has written six bestsellers, including Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.

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



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