Nobody likes admitting that they are struggling, can’t keep up, or are falling short. It can be painful to admit, especially as a business leader, that you don’t have all the answers. You think inserting a new hire here or a technology integration there will plug the leak in your slowly sinking ship, but conditions fail to improve and you can’t seem to figure it out and start grasping at straws.
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The problem isn’t that you chose the wrong hire or inferior technology integration. The problem is that your focus is misdirected. You’re fixating on the “HOW” before ever identifying the “WHY”. You’re trying to implement new tools and techniques to improve the firm without pinpointing what actually needs improvement. Proverbially, you’re putting the cart before the horse, going nowhere fast, and probably wasting a pretty penny doing so.
When it comes to a business that is struggling to profit and grow, change is not only inevitable, but also imperative for survival. However extemporaneous, “Band-Aid” solutions will not ameliorate the overall wellness of a business. Why? They only address symptoms rather than problems. They seek to cure internal problems with external remedies.
The only way to effectively tackle change management and truly transform a business is by taking a look at the overall wellness of the firm, and the overall wellness of the firm is determined and propagated by mindset.
Mindset Catalyzes Big-Picture Change
Mindset is the central nervous system of any business. It affects all aspects of operations from office culture to the client experience and every critical process in between. When you operate with the wrong mindset, you’re likely to encounter troubles popping up all over the place in your business, making it feel as if you’re constantly taking one step forward and two steps back or plugging one leak in the boat while three more leaks spring up behind you. Small solutions here and there can’t keep pace with the rate of change needed to keep things afloat, let alone moving in a positive direction.
An adjustment in mindset helps to get to the heart of the bigger picture issues affecting your firm’s everyday operations. How do I improve profitability? How much growth do I want? What is the price of that growth? Can my firm handle the impact of those changes? If not, what do I need to do to create the capacity for that change?
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It is only once you can identify these goals and align your mindset and vision to achieving them–aka the “why”—that you will be ready to tackle the techniques—the “how.” While your firm will undergo many changes during the business transformation process, I have found the following techniques to be critical in maintaining a healthy, profitable pace throughout the transition period.
Five Techniques for Maintaining a Healthy Rate of Change
1) Collaboration: Collaboration can be more difficult than it appears on paper as it can be perceived as a threat to an employee’s autonomous value. However, involving the staff in decision-making and working together to achieve a common goal will allow you to:
Collaboration will be the first step in implementing change. Without the support of your staff, the rate of change can be significantly decelerated, eventually affecting the overall success of your transformation and injuring your bottom line.
2) Essentialism: Not all of your current operational practices are going to be compatible with your new mindset, goals, and vision. In this case, you’ll need to accept that trade-offs will likely be necessary to reach your higher goals.
Making a trade-off means strategically eliminating or replacing activities, staff, or other aspects of your current “status quo” in order to necessitate positive change. The Harvard Business School article, “Making Strategic Trade-Offs,” provides an excellent example: “An airline can choose to serve meals—adding cost and slowing turnaround time at the gate—or it can choose not to, but it cannot do both without bearing major inefficiencies.” Each action has an equal and opposite reaction. We can’t expect to change if we continue doing the same things.
Trade-offs are often tough decisions to make, as many times they put us in a position to make changes that cause us discomfort such as phasing out ill-fitting clients, replacing old vendors, or even laying off employees. However, the alternative to these trade-offs is the same stagnation causing your firm to currently struggle—a convincing argument for embracing the temporary discomfort for the payoff of profitability and growth.
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3) Organizing Your Team: In order to propel your business into a direction of positive change, you’ll need to find a way to keep the team (and yourself) organized to avoid chaos and burnout. Find an online tool (such as Asana pictured below) that helps you identify, document, assign the “What, Why, Who, and When” of each new or existing initiative.
These tools grant each member of the team access to the tasks assigned to them and hold them accountable for their portion of the collaborative process. The open forum reinforces that each member has a personal stake in the success of the firm, propelling increased adoption, quicker buy-in, and seamless collaboration. The visual reinforcement these tools provide also helps to build and sustain the momentum needed to launch the business in a positive direction.
4) Learning to Value Your Time: In reality, most of us undervalue our time. We give it away too freely and lament when it is gone. Whether it is because we are afraid to say “no” or aren’t actually taking into account the monetary value of our time, most of us don’t manage this most precious resource in a way that optimizes our efficiency and honors our worth.
Think of time as your ability to achieve your goals. What are those goals worth to you? Are you willing to risk them by honoring someone else’s time more than your own? Hopefully, you answered “no” and are ready to take the first step in re-gaining control.
You need a visual representation of your day, which will be time blocked according to your priorities. You will allocate a certain number of hours each day, or each week, to client calls and meetings, personal development, answering emails, breaking for lunch, doing research, and performing business development related tasks.
Having a predictable schedule will ensure you are diverting enough time to each of your competing priorities at work and not allowing one client, one staff member, or one initiative to rob your other goals of their chance for success. This also helps you to maintain a clear, calm mindset as you enter each day and each workweek, confident that you have allocated enough time to each area of interest.
5) Embracing Vulnerability as a Leader: Renowned researcher-storyteller and author, Brené Brown, spent decades researching hundreds of individuals and listening to their stories, only to find that we all struggle with the same thing: opening up to one another and being vulnerable. We, as humans, will do whatever it takes not to share ourselves with those around us for fear of judgment or discomfort. In the workplace, this looks like pretending that we have it all together and trying to please those around us at the expense of productivity and progress. However, this charade is exhausting and a clear roadblock to advancement. It can cause us to resent our jobs and those around us.
The remedy? Embrace the discomfort of being open about what you need, what you want, and what you expect. Allow others to support you in areas that you need help or times when you are overwhelmed. By allowing others to support us, we are giving our business goals the highest probability of success. After all, what is more beneficial: asking for help and completing the task well and on-time, or completing the task sub par or late because you were too afraid to be vulnerable and ask for assistance? While this may be one of the most difficult changes to grasp at first, it can also be the most liberating once adopted.
At the end of the day, a business in decline needs more than Band-Aids. No matter how many extemporaneous changes are made here and there, a true transformation cannot occur without an overhaul in the business’s central nervous system. Only when the mindset is aligned to accept change will any of the above techniques be able to support evolution towards growth. It begins with you.