Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Constant Change and Success

I thought the following guest post by my friend Kenneth McCall might interest:

Is Constant Change Stagnating Your Success?

We're all after the thrill that comes with new ideas for our business, but if growing a business were all thrills, well, there'd be a lot more successful entrepreneurs out there. The energizing high that comes with change and brainstorming new ideas is fleeting. It's what comes after the honeymoon phase of an idea for change that really determines how successful you or your business will be.

The other day I sat in on a committee meeting of a charitable foundation. A friend had invited me to see if I might want to join at some point. One of the members was known in the community for her bubbly personality and association with a wide network of business people and philanthropists. After the meeting I told my friend how impressed I was with this woman.

What a dynamo! She'd had the whole room rapt by her energy. Everyone's eyes were on her. They laughed at her jokes and jotted down the ideas that spontaneously erupted from her mouth. No one else got much of a chance to speak, but no one seemed to care. When the meeting adjourned, everyone left energized and seemingly feeling the meeting had been a runaway success. My friend listened while I recounted how impressed I'd been. Then he rolled his eyes.

Apparently, this dynamo was a fabulous energizer and brainstorm genius, but she often missed meetings, she never sought to detail how her fantastic ideas could be carried out, never suggested specific objectives or tasks, and for every meeting she attended she had an all-new list of ideas unrelated to discussions from previous meetings. Since her personality was so charismatic and the thrill of ever-more-wonderful changes in direction intoxicating, no one ever questioned her. Instead, board members would scrap what little planning or related tasks they'd completed since the last meeting and start from scratch all over again. No one ever attempted to break the cycle or give a sincere try at following through on any one idea.

The committee was a revolving door of ideas and change without giving any one idea a chance to succeed. The positive effects of this dynamo board member were temporary, like a drug that wore off to reveal reality pounding at the door until the dynamo stirred up the troops again and the cycle started over. The committee was stagnant and making no measurable impact on the charity they were charged with improving.

All of the above is not to say change, freshness, and brainstorming is bad. But, there is a fine line between change for the sake of change and adjusting your business with a well-planned strategy in place, and that line is the difference between stagnation and success.

On the one hand, you don't want to be like the ideas-only woman who never sees anything through, but on the other, you don't want to be so stringent and pig-headed about your business that you let your business go down the tubes swearing all along that your idea is sound and no change is needed.

Below are some ideas for making sure change moves your business in a positive direction rather than keeping your business from going anywhere good.

  1. Constant change shows timidity rather than strength. If you quickly change direction every time something goes wrong, you appear as if you have no belief in your business. How does it look to clients and investors if you have worked to promote your business only to go back on your own convictions? Why should they believe in your business if you abandon its tenets so nonchalantly? Be aware of how your planned degree of change will impact perception of you and your brand.

  2. Don't make large-scale business changes while you're still in panic-mode. Change mindfully based on evidence and data. Before you jump into a change of direction, make a strategic plan with steps, goals, deadlines, and financial projections. It's good to brainstorm, but pick a few good ideas and analyze the implications of each one. Make calculated change with a level head. Don't get seduced by the thrill of the "ideas" or the novelty of change.

  3. Empower your company with concrete measurable goals and milestones with scheduled deadlines so campaigns are given time to work and be evaluated before they are abandoned. Break goals into small tasks with deadlines.

  4. Flexibility is good. Identify what is working in your business and develop that stream. Going after all ideas in all directions may work in the beginning when financially you have to take on whatever comes your way, but as your strengths become more clear, you have to focus more, not less, on the kind of business you want to be and the kind of projects and clients you should target.

  5. Keep records and regularly analyze for trends. See if large-scale change is called for or whether small adjustments in process or focus might surgically make a positive impact without changing the overall essence of your business. Also take note of what is working, some of which may surprise you. If you've spent thousands advertising printing logos on pens for your promotional products business and yet after analyzing your orders most of the new accounts are water bottles and travel mugs, then be ready to devote resources to what's working rather than sinking more money into promoting your losing product.

  6. Another point about record-keeping: numbers don't lie. When you panic and get the itch to bolt into another direction, look to the numbers for guidance. Not only will they tell you where you should be going, they can also show you what you're doing right. And if whatever changes are called for - big or small - require additional capital, you're going to need those numbers to convince investors that your plans are not change for change's sake, but strategic adjustments for which you have a detailed plan.

Change is easy and fun. Smart change is hard but satisfying. Are you going after the quick high of change that leads nowhere or the hard-won success that comes with painstaking analysis, planning, and execution? Choose your change with care.

Kenneth McCall is an avid ski, boater and bicyclist. When he is not engaged in outdoor activities he directs the IT operations at storage.com, building systems and tools for homeowners and businesses needing storage.com in places like San Francisco, and many other cities, including self storage in San Francisco.


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