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Moving Forward Requires Making Changes

Moving Forward Requires Making Changes

There are a couple of adages that highlight the need to keep changing.  One that comes to mind is “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you have always gotten.”  Einstein defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” In my last post, I highlighted the need to keep learning as an individual and as a business.  For the learning to be really valuable, we must apply it to our lives and our businesses.

In many cases, our businesses exist in a rut.  We keep doing the same things over and over because that is the easy and safe course.  The problem with a rut is that dug deeply enough it can become a grave. The corporate landscape is littered with the decaying hulks of business that thought it was enough to keep doing what they had been doing.

We will discuss how companies can avoid this result and some of the necessary steps in the process.  I would encourage you to ask yourselves is my company making the important changes necessary to ensure it’s survival?

What Should Change

That is the key question, and the answer lies somewhere between everything and nothing.  To begin to answer the question, you need to look at several areas.

Your Customers and Their Needs

As a company, the main focus of your business is caring for your customer’s needs.  Focus attention on what your customers currently need and what those needs will look like in the next decade.  In some cases, the needs will be very similar, and in others wildly different.

Your customers will continue to evolve, and as a result, their needs will change.  The office equipment industry is a great example of how industries can change. Many of the longtime dealers in our industry started out selling and servicing typewriters.  When we look around for typewriters today, most of them are gone or on display in the office showing the history of a company.

Dealers that recognized change was going to happen moved into the copier business.  Dealers that thought nothing was going to replace the typewriter and stayed married to that industry are gone.  

How Will the Industry Change

I owned a Toshiba dealership in the early ’90s, and I can remember seeing my first digital copier at a Toshiba dealer meeting.  At that time, I never imagined that analog copiers would become a thing of the past as quickly as they did. When you look around today, every copier is a digital device.

Dealers that saw how these devices would become ubiquitous started training their technicians, and acquiring the computer and network skills and positioned themselves for those changes.  Most of those dealers were very successful and wound up acquiring dealers that didn’t look at where the future would take them.

As I look at the industry today, I see signs that our future may be wet.  Inkjet technology is showing up in high-end and in low-end products. Looking at reports from recent industry events, it seems that the manufacturers are focusing a lot of their resources on production and industrial print.  

How Can Your Company Improve

Henry Ford was a great example of taking existing ideas and improving them.  He didn’t invent mass production, the assembly line, or the automobile. What he did do was to take all of those concepts and combine them in a very efficient way.  The result was a hugely successful company that transformed transportation.

 

Every company has ways that they can become more efficient.  As a company then, look for those opportunities and make changes in ways that improve your customer’s experience.  Avoid improvements for you that will annoy and inconvenience your customers.

 

Creating a Culture of Change

Steve Jobs once said, "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."  In so many companies and especially big companies, people are being told what to do, and even think, and this stifles change.  In some companies, people are afraid to make waves, yet waves often lead to change.

Examine your company and ask yourself, How many times has someone approached me with a suggestion on how we could improve?  The answer will tell you how innovative your company is.

Encourage Suggestions and even Dissent

If your employees are not providing feedback on ways to make your company better, they feel one of two ways:  

First:  There is no point in making the suggestion.  For employees to want to make suggestions, they must sense that senior management is wanting to improve the company, and they must feel that senior management is interested in the employee's view.  If they do not share both of those beliefs, they will typically not share their ideas. It is not that they don’t have ideas and suggestions, they just don’t share them.

Second:  They feel that there is no value in making suggestions.  If employees make suggestions that help the company, and they don’t receive acknowledgment or recognition they may decide it is not worth the effort.  

Ask your Customers

Your customers are the reason for your company’s existence.  Ask them what you could do better, what additional products and services they would purchase from you.  There are several ways to get this information from your customers, including surveys and customer roundtables.  Customer involvement will go up when there is an incentive for them to help. Reward the customers that participate, and make sure the reward is personal, not for their company.

Build a Management Team

As you work on getting suggestions and ideas for improvement, your workload will increase.  One key is developing your department managers’ skills so they can evaluate opportunities and assess the potential for success and the impact on the company.  A strong management team is a factor in allowing a company to reach its full potential. Your available time limits your company’s growth without a strong team.

Business Plan Opportunities

After the initial evaluation of ideas for a new product or a change to your current process, you need to create a business plan for the new product or service.  In many cases, companies fail to plan and then suffer the consequences. As an example, an owner goes to a product showcase and falls in love with the latest and greatest device from his vendor.  He buys several and when he gets back to the office doesn’t have a plan to sell the product or understand how to make money supporting the product.

Successful companies will take the time to create a business plan and examine how the product or service will affect all of the departments involved.  The plan needs to address questions like these

  • What are the training requirements?
  • How much inventory is required?
  • What does the support model look like?
  • How do we make money on support?
  • How many potential customers are there?
  • What percentage will want this product or service?
  • How much capital will it require?
  • What will the Return on Investment be?

Once you know the answers to those types of questions, then you have a good basis to make the decision.

Reward Innovation

When employees bring suggestions to the table that are adopted by the company, reward the employee.  Make a big deal of acknowledging their idea and make the reward commensurate with the savings or increased profitability.  Don’t reward a million-dollar idea with a $25 bonus. If you do that, you will kill any future ideas and suggestions from the employees.  

However, if you openly acknowledge the individual who originated the idea, and rewards them generously, you may open the floodgate to an abundance of beneficial ideas.

You want people to be constantly looking at the work process they use and finding ways to improve the results.  The workers that are performing tasks are the people best positioned to see areas for improvement.

Enjoy the Results

Business owners that succeed in creating a culture of innovation are positioning their companies for the changes needed in the future.  It is the constant process of improving, reimagining and updating your business that will bring about lasting success.

 

Once you build the culture of change and unleash it’s potential, you can look forward to continued success on into an everchanging future.

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