The most dangerous move in business is the failure to make a move at all. The history of business is filled with companies that are no more because their leaders refused to enact change when the writing was on the wall. Fear. Apathy. Lack of personal responsibility. These simple human flaws can turn a good company into a dead company.
Just look at the changes in marketing in the last 10 years. The Internet, social media, mobile — they’ve all had a major impact in how we market. As we step into a new year and prepare to drive change and grow our business, here are a few essential core concepts to keep top of mind.
If we’ve learned anything in business and life it’s that change is constant. Just when we get comfortable things change. And change is uncomfortable; it even makes people afraid.
Principles mean something only when they are inconvenient. Prepare to live your brand promise in bad times and good.
In my first bestselling book The Mirror Test, I talked about avoiding quick-fix “solutions” that are really Trojan horses (beware of Greeks bearing gifts), sales plans that generate buzz rather than revenue (remember: buzz is not sales), and big marketing and expansion plans that destroy your mood, strain your people, drain your resources, and have a negative impact on the quality of your products and services.
Much harder to challenge are the accepted ways of doing things in a company. Harder still is standing firm in your challenge when you feel uncomfortable, hate the way something is being done, or know that you shouldn’t be doing that thing at all. It’s easiest just to ignore these feelings and not act.
Standing by your principles in these situations — when it is the risky and unpopular thing to do — is the test of a change agent’s mettle.
I was at Kodak and we were launching this massive offset-class, knock-your-socks- off-with-its-quality-speed-reliability-and-price printer. Few of you will ever see printers like these. Basically, they look like gray boxes the size of semi-tractor-trailers. You put trees in one side and thousands of pages a minute come flying out the other. They cost millions.
These printers were very important to Kodak, so we planned to launch them at a huge, important trade show. We reserved a stage and sent invitations for the press conference with the CEO and me. And then I saw the printer and it looked like . . . a gray box the size of a semi. No.
“What happens when we pull back the curtain and it looks like this?” I told everyone involved in the launch. “I want people to be blown away. I want this to look like a Ferrari — like it’s so fast it has fire coming out its ass.”
Then I told them if we couldn’t do this we would cancel the launch. People told me I could not be serious. But I was. This was not a game of chicken to see who blinked first. I was standing up for the brand. I was standing up for our principles, which were really inconvenient to stand up for at this moment — and expensive: my decision would cost money and time.
Now no decree — be it a new project or a change in something already planned — ever aligns everyone in agreement. There will always be people who think your way is the wrong way even if they don’t have another way. You can have input from some of those people some of the time. You can weigh some — and not others. But in the end, someone has to make a decision. That is usually left in cases like these to the ones least afraid of change. If I didn’t say it, who would? And how would my team know they could trust me to have their backs if they tried to stand for something like this down the road. Sure it was risky but change agents can’t hold back. No one ever has to guess what a change agent is thinking. We tell you right up front. In this case, I put a stake in the ground to make an essential point: namely that I was willing to stop this launch unless we could do it right. I knew we were going way beyond some people’s limits. But I was doing what change agents do best: causing tension to push the brand.
Change the mood; change the culture, then move on to people and processes. Remember: you can’t be cool and look like Elmer Fudd!
What can you do to perfect the mood of your company? Bad mood can ruin a company faster than bad business.
I hear leaders talk about changing the culture of a business, and I say fine, but the most important thing you can do is start by changing the mood.
Yahoo!s “Big Idea Chair” is a great example of a company using their brand power to reward the members of their community for great achievements.
Patrizio Spagnoletto, VP Marketing Yahoo!, and driver of awareness of Yahoo! Services in the US, Canada and Latin America, told me, "For Yahoo! The Big Idea Chair has helped us be part of the conversation around creativity but more importantly given advertisers a top of mind choice to show their (creativity) on Yahoo! itself."
When you change the mood, you change the attitude and take the right steps toward changing the culture. Whether it is a big purple chair or something else, mood makes your place and your people feel that the business' best days are in front of it.
Make your business look and feel ALIVE!
Work across the seams of the company. Stick your nose into everything. Be a cheerleader and a white buffalo. Cause tension at every turn.
The gauntlet of change is cruel, and change agents are exposed to all of its dastardly personnel.
Since this is the case, leaders need to be seam operators — they operate across the seams of the company.
Two things seam operators don’t do:
- We don’t get involved in day-to-day processes outside of setting the operating principles.
- We don’t need to know too many details; we’ve already been through a lot of this before, and we don’t need it explained again.
I tell my team all the time, “I don’t want to know or hear about how sausage is made unless someone died. I get it. It’s sausage. Tell me what I need to know to get things moving.”
Find out what is breaking down within the seams of your company. Change agents identify problems and then find ways to fix them or bring in people who can.
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Jeffrey W. Hayzlett
Bestselling Author, Maverick Marketer and Sometime Cowboy
The Hayzlett Group
101 South Main Avenue
Security Building, Fourth Floor
Sioux Falls, SD 57104