We’re in the midst of a business transformation fuelled by fear, experience, and hope. It’s working out far better than I could have expected (or perhaps deserved). The story isn’t over yet, and so I can’t share all the details to preserve business confidentiality, but the experience reminds me of some lessons about risk and change.
The weakest link may cause the greatest angst, but often isn’t the greatest significance.
I’ll have a potentially difficult meeting with an organization we’ve been doing business with for more than two decades. More than a year ago, when our staff discussed the possible transition we are implementing, we saw the relationship with the association as a lynch pin for changing our processes. If we could test out the changes with them, we would be on the track to pulling off the larger change. However, the client’s leadership said: “No way — things must remain as they have been” and so we put our transition plans on hold.
Faced with overwhelming urgency (and a planned gap in the product for this client), I decided two months ago to pull the plug and make the change anyways. Tomorrow I’ll see if the customer accepts the change or bails. If it bails, it will be a loss, but not an overwhelming defeat, and there are good separate reasons for us to have good relationships ongoing with the organization even if the loss occurs. We will persevere.
Turnarounds take time, and there is an uncomfortable period when, even though the fix is working, you don’t see the results.
There is a corollary of course when things are going well, and they are turning south. You might well see the warning signs and troubles ahead, but for the moment all seems okay. On the other side (where we are), it looks rocky enough. The difference is the forward data and experience. I can see how we were heading to the cliff and pulled back in time. Now we must ride through the stormy period to emerge on the other side and achieve the longer-range vision.
Enduring values allow us to push through the fear and enable the changes that need to be made.
When we remember the “why” behind our businesses; and focus on conducting our affairs with a mixture of street-smarts, resourcefulness and integrity, we can generally get through the tough times intact. Much is changing in the world today (and so is our business, as will yours), but you will find the basic rules and principles are enduring. As futurist David Zachs asserted at the SMPS conference in Indianapolis, principles are permanent and foundational, yet can have ebbs and flows and sometimes conflict.
“Two very strong themes run through American society — freedom and equality — and they are opposites,” he said. “When you have more freedom and less equality, you would have more of one than the other.”
He said most people attending the conference would want more freedom, but that is because they are doing well; they are not suffering or deprived. (Clearly you need money and opportunity to attend a national convention.) “If you made it into this room, freedom has been very, very good to you.”
The “dance” between conflicting principles creates the opportunity — perhaps the metaphor is learning how to dance. “The paradox to think about within the construction world is art and science, strengths and beauty, and taking two truths and teaching them to dance.”
Sooner or later, you may need to take a tough decision. Your rational testing and evaluation process and risk management may cause you to hesitate, rightfully. But if you keep things in perspective and remember the basic principles and your “line in the sand” beyond which you will not cross, you can reach the point where you will make the decisions you need to make, and generally, if your foresight and circumstances are in order, you’ll come out okay. And if, for some reason, you stumble, you’ll have to the ability to pick yourself up and carry on with intelligent perseverance.