New year, new starts

January 9, 2013
in Leadership
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4 ways leaders can help people embrace change

So here we are—it’s 2013, the world didn’t end with the last stroke on the Mayan calendar and U.S. legislators continue to wrestle their economy off the brink of the so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’ Whether it’s preparing for the end of the world or looking ahead to what 2013 holds for the global economy, it seems that change is what’s on the menu.

For those working on personal resolutions at this time of year, failure to make permanent change may not have terribly negative effects, but for businesses, failure to change in today’s marketplace has the potential to be disastrous.

That was demonstrated last year by the folding of a number of high-profile companies, one of the most noted being Hostess, the creator of the Twinkie and Wonder Bread. This 82-year-old business that was once a household name in North America was gone in the blink of an eye and along with it more than 18,500 jobs. Although there are many reasons behind Hostess’s demise, the primary mistake is that it failed to adapt to a changing marketplace. A recent story in Forbes magazine states it perfectly:

“The company should have sensed emerging changes in consumer eating habits many years ago and begun reinventing its product line with new offerings that appealed to health-conscious consumers.”*

Add to the Hostess story Kodak shutting its doors in 2012 and embattled major players like RIM and Nokia and the message is clear: quickly adapt to the changing marketplace or risk becoming irrelevant.

The trouble is, change is tough. Everyone wants things to be better, to experience change that improves their situation. But not everyone has the courage to make it happen because change is uncomfortable and unsettling for a time.

If we credit union leaders can take away something from 2012 it’s that our organizations must change with the times, even anticipate where things are going. To do that, leaders need their teams onside and not just ready for change, but causing it. At Envision and First West, I’m encouraging people to own the change—simply put, I want them to take initiative.

But to make this happen, leaders need to help people own the change. Here’s four actions I’ve encouraged them to take:

  • Encourage questions about changes and be ready and willing to answer them.
  • Share the reason for a particular change to help people bear with the bumps along the road. This will broaden their perspective to include the benefits of the change.
  • Give people the freedom and support to initiate improvements for broken or inefficient processes. (this is a Lean business approach—see our Lean articles and videos to learn more about Lean at First West).
  • Encourage progress, improvement, and execution rather than perfection. It’s tempting to aim for perfection when introducing a change, but that can slow implementation, if not bog it down indefinitely.  But the marketplace demands—and rewards—agility and timeliness. Seeking perfection can become a game of diminishing returns.

There is no ignoring the fact that to be sustainable, we must change—and change fast. Enabling leaders and teams to be part of change is vital to becoming more nimble in our ever-changing marketplace.


*Forbes Leadership Forum, “Mediation Could Never Have Saved Hostess: Its Problems Ran Much Deeper”, Nov. 21, 2012.

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