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The Realities of Reinvention

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” should be replaced by a new saying: “If it ain’t broke, it soon will be.”

Reinvention is on the minds of every business leader for good reason.  It’s no longer heretical to think about making major, systemic changes even when things are running smoothly.  In our volatile era where it’s not unheard of for significant market changes to happen overnight, it’s almost guaranteed that today’s breakthrough strategy, product or process will soon seem like a relic of the horse-and-buggy era.

But reinvention is a problem for many business leaders.  They’re often brilliant at re-conceptualizing some aspect of their organization.  Putting that brilliant concept into practice, however, is far more challenging than it might appear.

It’s not just the nitty-gritty details of execution that thwart leaders.  It’s the fear that grips the implementers.

When you turn a hierarchical company into one with a flattened structure or when you shift from a reliance on personal selling to one that prioritizes e-commerce, you’re asking your people to take a leap of faith.   Invariably, they must take risks, test new approaches and be flexible to make a reinvention work.

They’re going to be scared of making mistakes.  They’re going to be anxious about doing something in a way that feels uncomfortable or unfamiliar.

That’s why reinvention requires a strong foundation to be effective.  As much as things change, certain things must remain the same—values and culture and mission.  These organizational constants are the North Star—they provide direction and confidence even in unexplored areas.

A number of years ago, our ad agency made a major change in our media buying process, switching to a new software system of our own design.  It was a radical departure from the system that had been in place for over 30 years, and some people were understandably worried and questioning: What happens when the inevitable new system glitches surface; won’t our clients be upset when a glitch happens and it messes up a buy; how can we explain all this to our clients?

While we had specific answers to these and other questions, what really helped was reminding our people that we were reinventing a system, not the entire ad agency.  We explained that we’ve always been a company that values straight talk, and that if problems surface, be honest with clients.  We said that we’ve always prioritized building great relationships with stations reps—they’ll still be as willing to provide assistance as they were when the old system was in place.

Expressing and reinforcing foundational values and beliefs can work wonders during times of reinvention.  It’s not just they offer practical advice in times of uncertainty but they provide much needed reassurance.  In times of significant change, people need the security of knowing that some things remain the same.

Therefore, if you’re contemplating reinventing some aspect of your business, consider implementing these three “Re” tactics:

  • Remember the qualities and values that are timeless—the core strengths that define the company.  It’s not that you’ve forgotten them, but you’re probably thinking a lot more about the reinvented organizational structure or system than these defining qualities.  If you are conscious of these qualities, you’re more likely to talk about them.
  • Remind your people about the company’s history, growth and achievements.  It’s not you want to mire them in the past as you reinvent; it’s that you want them to recognize the themes and assets that have always been in place and always will be.
  • Recognize how a given reinvention dovetails with the company’s core beliefs.  Connecting the dots between the past and reinvented present can go a long way to diminishing the fear that some employees feel.  For instance, the new team structure will foster the open communication that has always been part of the culture.

Just as reinvention requires an act of leadership imagination, implementation requires facing some tough realities.  Your people are going to be anxious about doing something new and unfamiliar, and by rooting them in some key organizational truths, you’ll ease that anxiety and make the reinvention that much more effective.

This is the guest post by Bill McCabe, President/CEO, A. Eicoff & Co. He is CEO of Chicago-based direct response TV advertising agency, A. Eicoff & Co.

About Gresham Harkless Jr.

Profile photo of Gresham Harkless Jr.
Gresham Harkless is a Media Consultant for Blue 16 Media and the Blogger-in-Chief for CEO Blog Nation. CEO Blog Nation is a community of blogs for entrepreneurs and business owners. Started in much the same way as most small businesses, CEO Blog Nation captures the essence of entrepreneurship by allowing entrepreneurs and business owners to have a voice. CEO Blog Nation provides news, information, events and even startup business tips for entrepreneurs, startups and business owners to succeed.
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