“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often” — Winston Churchill.
Change from where you are to where you want to be is tough. If you are trying to change an entire company it gets a lot tougher. It involves people, processes, motivation and commitment. The most important ingredients are patience and having a realistic timeframe for measureable results. Change may challenge the loyalty you have with trusted employees that have helped you grow your business.
Companies that want to move the needle of revenue growth or adapt to changing market conditions must make some difficult decisions. The drive that propelled you to start your company and made you successful may not be enough to fuel your next phase of growth. The default thinking often becomes rationalization of past decisions based on core beliefs that may not be as relevant as they once were in this market.
4 Steps for Leading Your Troops
So what changes are we talking about? The changing demands of technology, customer demand and the demands of your employees can stress or limit your growth potential. I don’t advocate growth simply for growth’s sake. I do stress recognizing changes in market demand, new competitive threats and the impact of recruiting and retaining top talent for your company. The voice of strategic leadership (owners) must be heard by all the troops when change is in the air. Here are four steps I recommend you consider:
- Determine where you want your company to grow, why and what challenges you are likely to face in the next two- to three-year timeframe. Do it alone or with your equity partners. Write it down in two paragraphs.
- Gather your lieutenants and explain your strategic vision and business objectives. Ask for their input on strengths and weaknesses they will face carrying out your plan. After they have had their say, digest their input, consider where investments will need to be made and in what timeframe. Then do what all leaders must do … make a decision.
- Brief your trusted lieutenants on the business mission/objective and ask them to draw up their tactical plans to accomplish the mission during the next six to 24 months.
- Prepare for and deliver a company briefing. Brief the company troops on the change in the mission, why it is necessary, your faith in their abilities, and the “big picture” message with a timeframe. Then introduce your lieutenants (sales, installation, operations) to brief the troops on the tactical changes necessary to accomplish the mission. Close the briefing by asking for their commitment to support this change in the mission. Then execute, execute, execute the plan.
Being Both Decisive and Swift
I learned those leadership steps in the U.S. Marine Corps, which has mastered dealing with changes in its missions since Nov. 10, 1775. The organization has stood the test of time. What are the underlying reasons for its success? Metrics is the short answer. What are the processes that need the discipline of measurement? Speed of decision-making when problems are identified is crucial to delivering on your mission of improvements to the “customer’s experience” or gaining market share.
The best laid plans often can’t anticipate “ground truth,” which is Marine lingo for rapidly changing situations in the field, like an upset customer, a new competitor’s pricing tactics or new programming requirements for an IP system. Want a concrete example of ground truth? Try social media and customer reviews of your company’s performance posted on the Internet, yesterday.
How is that for rapid changes in your market? Do these posts become a determining factor in your prospect’s buying decisions? Are you sure? Do you monitor the fast-moving and influential social media factor? Do you have a plan to respond to them quickly and effectively? While you can’t control these social communication phenomena, be prepared to respond effectively.
What other metrics are worth measuring? Sales efficiency. Sales effectiveness and time management in a fast-moving business environment often determine actual closing ratios and not the tired excuse of “our price was too high.” The ability to qualify sales opportunities and the subsequent investment of sales and technical support time is a business metric you must understand to survive. Marines “range” their targets before they engage to improve their efficiency. Don’t waste time, energy or ammunition on targets that are out of range. Go around them or maneuver in close enough to be effective. Discipline = results.
Enable Communication Channels
Consider these critical concepts to get a better handle on this whole change thing! Recognize that the speed of change, both externally (can’t control) and internally (can control) is a game-changer. Some changes happen faster than others. External changes like technology, supplier relations and customer demands can happen very quickly. Internal company responses to those external changes may often come about much more slowly.
Pick up the pace of how change is recognized and communicated by your troops so customer experience response tactics can be adjusted quickly. This could be real-time text-based alerts around certain parameters, or weekly meetings. Regardless of how you choose to implement it, have a process in place to communicate effectively. Here are a couple of tips:
- Recognize that a change can get compartmentalized within different departments such as sales, installation or operations. Everybody is busy with their job responsibilities. We have different department goals, priorities and bosses. Change happens when nobody is looking. The main culprit can often be poor communication processes and myopic vision. We all get caught up in the “tornado” of our business responsibilities and miss subtle changes in the barometer that indicate a pending weather change is coming.
- Pay closer attention to your weather station data streams. Enable weather communication channels with your departments with structured purpose and high priority. There is always natural friction between sales, installation, support teams and operations. Establish a forum with ground rules to facilitate how and why teams need to communicate effectively. Having a common enemy at the door is helpful to build cohesive teamwork. So is preservation. All darkness aside, if you can make this fun and stimulate creativity, you will build better teamwork with better communication paths. You can accomplish this even with a diverse client base.
Team Building Builds Business
In my consultancy, we often use a graphical mapping process with our clients to guide them on their journey of improving communication, building teamwork and proactively recognizing change. This map process is part of Matterhorn’s MAPP that translates policies, procedures and workflow into a graphical flowchart. People like pictures. Pictures tell stories. People relate and talk about stories. This is a start to better communication as a company.
Here’s a consulting secret: Companies that improve their internal communication processes adapt, innovate and prevail when change comes knocking on their door or meets them in a dark alley at night! The communication skills learned internally working as a team will translate to better relationships with your prospects and customers.
When installation and operation teams improve communications with the sales teams, it improves trust and cooperation. When sales teams have stronger confidence in their installation and support teams, the results can be astounding. Salespeople ask questions with a specific intent, as do technical and support staff. This can be too narrow of an approach to discover changes your customer has or is experiencing. Asking more thoughtful questions from more than one perspective will help gain more insight to your customer’s changing needs.
Paul Boucherle, Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and Certified Sherpa Coach (CSC), is principal of Canfield, Ohio-based Matterhorn Consulting (matterhornconsulting.com). He has more than 35 years of diverse security and safety industry experience and can be followed on Twitter at email@example.com.