Enduring companies evolve over time. Some transitions happen gradually and are almost undetectable. Others, however, happen as if someone shook the ant farm: chaos and panic rule.
Whether your firm is shifting from R&D to commercial activity or acquiring a competitor or launching an uncustomary product line, every transition requires a plan of attack. “If we don’t have a planned way to change, we will always replicate what we achieved in the past,” says Paul Britton of Crossford Consulting Group in Toronto, who for 25 years has helped companies transform from one state to another. Transforming your company is analogous to crossing a river, notes Britton. “The other side is the vision of what’s been created and the question becomes how you’re going to get over there.”
Ready to cross that river? Here are some navigation tools:
Brush up on your leadership. Every business leader should possess three qualities, says Britton. The first is conviction in purpose. The second is constancy. The third is the courage to lead. “If the leader doesn’t have the conviction or the courage to show that they’re the first one going across,” says Britton, “then it’s hard for everyone to follow.”
Communicate the plan. Naturally, you need a plan for your crossing. However, you must also communicate that strategy, as people need to understand that this transition is not happening by accident. “If that’s not clear there will be chaos,” says Britton, “and people will jump ship.”
Highlight the benefits. Says Britton: “If I don’t think that it’s a better deal to be on the other side of the river, why would I go?” This message should be communicated not only to employees, but to suppliers and customers as well. Make sure these people know the transition impacts them positively.
Erase the past. Once you’ve crossed the river, Britton says, get rid of the boat that got you across. Meaning? Get rid of all the unnecessary vestiges that were part of the ‘old’ company, such as past practices, processes and traditions. “That will reinforce the fact that you’ve moved on to someplace else,” says Britton. By changing the nature of how things are done, you change what is accomplished.
Celebrate change — big or small. A smooth transition doesn’t happen overnight. It’s about reaching and celebrating the milestones that were set out in the plan. A new supplier relationship, a promotion within the ranks or even a change in process is reason to toot the company horn. All these are indications the transformation is well underway and will keep the momentum going. “It’s like in any sporting game,” says Britton. “If we didn’t keep score to tell us who’s winning and we just found out in the end, how would we know who to root for?”
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© 2003 Karen Kelly