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How to Successfully Navigate Change

Buying habits are changing

Our tagline at Rosewood Marketing is “Are You Growing?” Every day, we work to help our clients grow. But growth means change, and change can be difficult.

Sometimes change pushes us out of our comfort zone, and into new frontiers. We encounter change everywhere—at home, at work, at church. Maybe you have wished things would stop changing. Or maybe you have wished something would change and it didn’t!

Like other areas in your business, marketing has changed a lot and is facing even more changes.

In his book, Marketing Rebellion, Mark Schaefer writes, “A feeling of helplessness about the pace of change leads to uncertainty about the direction, effectiveness, and even personal relevance as a leader. I’ve been in marketing for more than 30 years, and I contend the field has changed more in the last two years than in the last 20.”

Even if your business has not changed much recently, your customers are changing. If you lose touch with them, your business will be in trouble.

This article helps you understand how people relate to change and provides you with healthy ways to navigate through change in your business.

Examples of change

In many ways, the world God created is unchanging. The laws of nature governing our world have stayed constant for millennia. If these things fluctuated, we would be in dire straits.

On the other hand, change constantly cycles around us: day and night, the four seasons, life and death. But even these cycles are predictable. Time is consistent.

Speaking of time - what do we mean when we say, “Times have changed”? Maybe something in our environment or society has changed: the type of work we do, the culture we live in, the tools we use, others’ expectations of us, the resources at our disposal, or our stage of life.

Here are some examples of change:

  • Generational buying habits: baby boomer furniture buyers look for quality and functionality, while convenience and style are important to millennial furniture buyers.
  • The shift from brick-and-mortar stores to online buying.
  • Farming as a vocation to farming as a business.

Buying habits are changing

In the 1900s, Kodak was an iconic brand like Nike or McDonald’s is today. But Kodak found it hard to adapt to changes spurred by digital technologies. Perhaps Kodak thought of itself as being in the photography business, rather than understanding it was in the business of sharing memories. The company was 124 years old when it filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

Another company that faced massive change was Blackberry, the dominant smartphone until Apple released the iPhone in 2007. The iPhone’s stunningly innovative design and features enchanted the world, and Blackberry’s market share went from over 50% at its peak, to less than 1% today.

The basis for change (or not)

Some of us love change. Some of us fear it. Some of us like most, but not all change, and vice versa.

One reason we feel hesitant about change is because issues related to it often bring conflict in our relationships. Can you think of any times when you experienced conflict due to change?

Maybe you have faced conflict at work because of change. When you campaign for change in your business, how do you know when to back off and let things stay the same? If you are on the other side of the fence, how do you know when to give in and accept some changes?

Let’s consider ways to evaluate change.

Good reasons for keeping things the same:

  1. Change is costly.
  2. Change is risky.
  3. Change for change’s sake is unnecessary.
  4. Things are working well now.
  5. “Joe” (insert name of influential or vocal person) won’t like the change.

Poor excuses for keeping things the same:

  1. This is the way we have always done it.
  2. I don’t feel like changing. (We usually don’t admit this.)
  3. It’s too much work to change.
  4. You can’t prove that it will work.
  5. “Joe” won’t like the change.

Good reasons to pursue change:

  1. It costs too much to stay the same.
  2. It is too risky to stay the same.
  3. Change for change’s sake is necessary.
  4. Things are not working well or could be working better.
  5. “Joe” will like the change.

Poor excuses for pursuing change:

  1. You should do it my way.
  2. I’m tired of doing it this way.
  3. It’s easier this way.
  4. “Joe” will like the change.
  5. Everyone else is doing it this way now.

How to successfully navigate change

Because we live in a changing world, a certain amount of change is necessary for your business to survive. If customers no longer want your product, you will need to change. If new regulations governing your industry come into effect, you will need to change.

Here are five steps that you can follow to guide the process of change in your business.

1. Evaluate the potential of change.

All of us face the challenge of discerning when change is wise. Sometimes we don’t have a choice. Other times the choice is not clear. In these cases, we need to begin by evaluating the potential of change.

  • Assess the value of the proposed improvements. Will we decrease overhead? Lower our costs? Increase employee satisfaction and reduce turnover?
  • Assess the cost. What are the components, and how many expenses will we incur? Is there a spiritual or moral cost?
  • Assess the risks of changing. Are we opening ourselves to added risk? What are unintended or unforeseen consequences and effects?
  • Assess the risks of not changing. Where does the status quo lead us in the next year? The next five?

2. Solicit viewpoints and hear everyone out.

As you begin to discuss a change in your business, a variety of opinions will surface. In a well-rounded team, there is healthy diversity surrounding the issue of change. Make sure you have at least one visionary thinker on your leadership team. You can also hire an outside person to help.

Both visionary and pragmatic people have something valuable to offer that complement each other:

  • Visionary people excel at identifying potential improvements.
  • Pragmatic people excel at identifying the difficulties of making the changes to accomplish the improvements.

Both visionary and pragmatic people have weaknesses that counterbalance each other:

  • Visionary people tend to underestimate the cost of change.
  • Pragmatic people tend to underestimate the extent of change possible.

Get all the ideas, concerns, and pros and cons on the table. Be open-minded. If you are a visionary, truly listen to the practical challenges pragmatic people see. If you are pragmatic, ask questions until you begin to grasp the new reality the visionary is picturing.

There can be a communication chasm between the visionary thinker and the pragmatic thinker. Make a concerted effort to bridge that gap. Discuss concrete, everyday examples, not just theory and lofty, aspiring language. Draw charts and diagrams. Maintain respect for the other’s viewpoint. Healthy collaboration can lead to amazing results.

3. Define the purpose and scope of the change.

Sometimes we don’t understand our own motives for seeking changes. Others may seek the same change that we want, but with a different motive. You or your team should answer questions like these:

  • Why are we embarking on this change?
  • What is the goal/end result?
  • What aspects/departments/people does this affect?
  • What is our timeline for the change?
  • What is our budget?

The first of the five steps (Evaluating the potential of the change), included assessing the cost. While not all costs are necessarily monetary, you need to have a handle on the financial cost. As best you can at this point, budget time and dollars for all aspects of the impending change.

4. Minimize risks through planning and research.

Nearly all change has some element of risk, but not necessarily more than the status quo. Proper research and development minimizes your risks and increases your chances of success.

Research the topic. You’ve already gotten feedback from people in your business, but don’t stop there. Here are some other ways to dig deeper: interview others in the industry, run a customer survey, talk with your lawyer, accountant or other professionals.

Start small. Tackle the process in well-planned steps. If there is a way, do a small test sample before rolling the change out globally.

Test early and often. If something is not working, back up, evaluate, and chart a better path forward.

The amount of planning you do should be proportionate to the amount of risk in the change. How much research and development you need depends on many factors. Here are a few big ones:

  • The speed at which your industry is changing.
  • The amount of growth you want.
  • Your level of competitive strength in your target market.
  • The satisfaction level of your stakeholders: owners, employees, and customers.

5. Communicate the purpose, outcome, and expectations to all involved.

Sometimes the challenge isn’t so much in the change itself, but in communicating it to those affected by it. The rationale behind the change, the benefits, the process, and roles all need to be communicated.

If you are a leader, remember the gap between what you know and understand based on your experiences and research, and what others know and understand. You may have been engaging with the idea of a change for months, but others around you were not. It may take time for them to adjust and grasp the vision, and some may never embrace it.

This gap can only be closed with patient, clear, and comprehensive communication; usually a combination of written documents, charts, and in-person conversations or presentations.

The sixth step

I told you there were five steps to this process, but I really should add a sixth step: ongoing monitoring of your business environment.

To maintain a healthy and dependable business, you need to keep pace with the changing needs and values in your customers’ world. Be vigilant in observing the changes in your customers, your industry, and inside your company.

Consider what affect external changes may have on your business (remember Kodak and Blackberry?). Think about how you can proactively take advantage of those changes before they take advantage of you.

Conclusion

Guard against negative change. Promote positive change. Don’t let external changes leave you in the dust. Be alert, be resourceful, and embrace changes that lead to real improvement for yourself and others.

About the Author: Roy Herr is the senior marketing consultant at Rosewood Marketing. The Rosewood team guides business owners through marketing challenges into sustainable growth.