Making corporate reinvention a constant

Bill Wallace, The Daily Record Newswire

You’ve heard it said before: the one constant in life is change.

From Benjamin Disraeli (”Change is inevitable”) to Isaac Asimov (”It is change that is the dominant factor in society today”), people have waxed philosophical on the inevitability of change.

Perhaps author Mason Cooley hit the nail on the head, though, when he wrote, “I resist change even as I call for it.”

Resistance to change is a very human response. Most people get very comfortable in their daily routines, and breaking out of them is something that we naturally tend to fight.

But as we’ve heard over and over again, change is inevitable and nowhere is this statement more accurate than in the business world.

The economy changes. Technology changes. Needs change.

The bottom line is that we live in a progressive, ever-evolving society, and if you’re not ready to change or even reinvent your business to keep up with shifting market demand, you will find yourself left behind.

Don’t think so? Just consider the fact that the people who will be entering college as freshmen next fall never owned a record player, were five or six when the Soviet Union collapsed, and don’t remember a time when answering machines, cable TV and microwave popcorn weren’t the norm.

That’s not to make you feel old, but to emphasize how quickly things change. And for exactly that reason, it is critical to anticipate change and how it will affect your organization.

Smart business executives know that their businesses essentially have two choices: constantly reinvent themselves or face extinction.

As a result, business executives must periodically re-purpose lines of business or aspects of the organization in order to maximize future opportunities. Examples of such corporate reinvention abound, particularly in the wake of the dot-com implosion a few years back.
Yahoo!, for example, offers a good case in point. When Yahoo brought on a new chairman and CEO in May 2001, the company was a struggling dot-com. Yahoo’s business strategy at that time was to be everything to everyone.

A year later, the new leadership had reduced the number of business units from 44 to six and narrowed the company’s focus, positioning the company for future growth.

Savvy business people will tell you that a company probably should reinvent itself every five or six years.

If your company has been moving in the same direction with the same strategies for what seems like an eternity, it usually means one of two things.

Either the company is doing extremely well or it is missing out on some tremendous opportunities.

Reinvention can take several forms, from a total overhaul of a company’s business plan to a subtle change in an organization’s culture.

Experts agree, however, that when a company embarks on a major refocus, it is usually accompanied by a need to recruit different managers, retrain the sales force, or bring on an entirely new sales team.

The company also may need to refocus business development efforts and rethink its partnerships.

Are these initiatives contributing positively to your company’s bottom line or simply maintained out of force of habit?

For each of these considerations, buy-in from the entire management team and spot training of existing company leaders should be a priority.

The first step in this process is to take a good, hard — and objective, not emotional — look at your company and what is on the horizon for your industry.

Don’t get caught up in the hype.

Instead, try to objectively evaluate your organization’s true strengths and weaknesses, and how those strengths and weaknesses impact the way in which it is perceived in the marketplace, particularly when compared to major competitors.

That evaluation may lead you in a number of new directions. Is now the right time, for example, to go head-to-head with existing, well-established competitors or would it be more lucrative to redirect your company’s efforts in order to focus on becoming a niche player?
Being a niche player, particularly at a time when market segmentation abounds, potentially can be a differentiating factor that can play to your strengths and diminish your weaknesses.

Many companies chose to reinvent themselves through mergers and acquisitions. Buying new companies may add lines of business, add new depth of experience, or change a company’s culture — all of which can be positive or a negative, depending on how they are handled.

The bottom line in all of these considerations is don’t reinvent yourself just to reinvent yourself.

In today’s marketplace, where funding is tough to come by and the patience of investors tends to be a little shorter than it was just a few years ago, you need to think very carefully about what you’re doing — and why you’re doing it – before embarking on any course of action.

At the same time, keep in mind that the biggest challenge you may face is in getting the process moving in time to make a difference.

If you spend months pondering the direction of the company, you may have missed the boat by the time implementation roles around.

Finally, recognize that reinvention does not mean transforming your business from a bakery to a fast-food chain.

The essence of reinventing yourself is found in continuously evaluating and understanding your industry. It means breaking out of the day-to-day to focus on how things look down the road and being flexible enough to accept, and then implement, that often feared c-word: change.

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Bill Wallace is the president of Action Business Systems, the Baltimore-Washington area distributor for Toshiba copiers, facsimile and digital products. To reach Wallace, call 410-933-3333.

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