Back to Marketing Class
In a recent marketing class, we discussed a case of a startup company segmenting its customers. The startup had two primary customer types that were beginning to require different solutions. The company had to decide which segment to focus on and which one to let go.
Running through the numbers, we came to a clear conclusion that customer segment A would be more profitable with the largest growth potential. The class wrapped up, and we all felt good about successfully using our marketing tools. Marketing lesson accomplished.
After class, I asked the teacher what actually happened to the company. She replied that even though segment A was more profitable, the company went after segment B. The founders and investors all felt better about Segment B, so they decided to take the riskier option and drop A.
I joked to the professor, “Oh, so it really wasn’t a marketing case – it was an organizational behavior and change management case.”
With a smile, she quickly responded, “Every case is a change management case.”
Everything is a Change Management Problem
My teacher’s response has stuck with me. On one hand, it seems so obvious and something I already knew. On the other, it seems like a deep insight – words a wise, gray-haired sage would whisper from the shadows. Everything we try to do within our own team, across the company, or personally depends on changing current behavior. The hardest goals of all require us to change ourselves so that we can then change others.
Change Management in Supply Chain
When skilled change management leaders enter supply chain and operations, companies tend to do quite well. Toyota, for example, rose to prominence through its culture of embracing constant change toward improvement. The Toyota Production System (TPS) is a systematic way to enact change on a recurring basis. Just as McDonald’s realized in the 1950s that their main product is a franchises rather than food, Toyota realized its product isn’t just cars but an improvement system.
As I’ve tried to make changes, I’ve looked to Toyota as an example. The temptation I’ve faced is to take Toyota’s tools and copy their processes completely. When changes weren’t implemented as quickly as I’d like (or not at all), I would get frustrated and wonder if Toyota’s tools really held the answer.
Eventually, I realized they don’t.
Toyota’s problem-solving tools work at Toyota because of its culture of embracing changes TPS suggests. Those tools are great if you’re in that type of environment, but most companies’ cultures are very different.
In fact, the actual tools, numbers, or improvements often become much less important than how you manage the proposed change.
The best ideas, implemented poorly, will always lose to decent ideas implemented well.
How to Change
So how do you effectively lead change? The right answer varies by situation and personal style. Here’s five suggestions to help you find what works for you.
(1) Remember the Primary Issue is Always Managing Change
No matter what type of problem you think you’re trying to solve, there is always a bigger question of “what will I do to get to enact this idea.” Figuring out the right segment to target is one thing, convincing the company that it’s the right thing to do is the real issue.
(2) Spend a Ton of Time Getting Buy-in
I’m an ‘act now, fix it later’ kind of guy. I’m constantly running experiments to improve processes. When I see an improvement, I jump on it and move forward. Why waste time with a less-efficient process? This is often a common mentality within groups of operationally minded people. It’s a skill that helps reduce costs and improve efficiency. But this can also be a weakness when working with others.
Change management often requires a much different approach. People take a lot of time to prepare of major changes. Communicating all the knowledge you’ve gained to the rest of your organization on why the change needs to happen is very challenging. Resistors, supporters, and bystanders emerge, and it takes a lot of work to convince others to change their behavior.
A common thread throughout change management literature is the time it takes to get buy-in. Getting buy-in from your own team of five may take a five-minute conversation, but an organization of just fifty people can take five months of meetings. Bigger companies can take five years. Investing in buy-in upfront can be a frustratingly slow change of pace, but it’s the best way to enact significant changes in larger organizations.
(3) Give Others Credit
If you really care about the change, don’t care about who gets credit. Make others look good, especially superiors, and you have a better chance of your mission moving forward. Even if you’re name is never mentioned, most people will recognize your role if you repeatedly bring others success.
(4) Show Leadership by Following
My favorite TED talk is only three minutes long, and it’s called How to Start a Movement. It shows how a lone dancer at a concert creates a movement to get everyone at the concert dancing. With that dancing movement happening in the background, Derek Sivers explains the characteristics the video exemplifies of how to make change happen.
It’s a fantastic video – take three minutes watch it here: TED Talk – Derek Sivers, How to Start a Movement
My favorite insight from the video is, “The first follower turns a lone nut into a leader.” There’s lots of people trying to enact changes. By becoming their first follower, you can make those changes happen. You can pick which “lone nut” to follow and pick which change succeeds.
(5) Read Switch
Finally, read my favorite business book:
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
This book is simply fantastic in every way. It’s entertaining, easy to read, and the advice applies to changes of all types. Whether you want to change your personal diet, change how we address world hunger, or change your company’s procurement policies, Switch has real-life advice you can use right after you read each chapter. I can’t recommend this book enough.
If you’ve already read Switch, Decisive is an excellent follow-up about how to make better decisions.
As you tackle your problems this week, choosing between A and B, remember that the biggest issue is how you manage that change.