Friday 28 March 2014

Change Begins When Someone Does Something Differently

Have you noticed that change doesn't start until someone changes his or her behaviour? There can be many pronouncements about the need for change and how things will be better when they do, but if no one does anything differently, nothing will change. 

This is why leaders' behaviour is so important. They need to demonstrate the new ways of working. People are watching to assess their personal commitment to the change. They must prove their words by their actions. If the organization must be more fiscally responsible, so must they. If a culture of collaboration is needed then they must be collaborative. Leaders set direction.

Although leaders' behaviour is a 'must-have' success factor, they don't have to be the first people to do things differently to start a change.  It is best if they do, but change can begin by the behaviours of others.

This recently happened in our family. Our son Sam announced that he was no longer eating junk food. I know, what? He also started working out daily. Barb and I were supportive of his good habits. We complimented his good eating choices and his ever growing muscular physique. We are proud parents.

Almost immediately, Sam's behaviour affected ours. We cut down on buying sweets and sugary drinks - Charlie was still enjoying them ("Thanks Sam, more for me.") but was eating less. We were also upping our protein intake (a muscle builder's friend) and eating more fresh food. Sam's behaviour was changing what we ate. 
Daily Arm Dips

Sam's fitness regimen was also affecting mine. My daily exercises became easier to start after I heard his weights hit the floor over my office. It has become a trigger for my work out.

Fitness has become a family activity too. Sam and I have started a daily arm dip exercise in our kitchen. We can't go to sleep without doing our set, which is fun to do and talk about. In fact, every change our family has made has been fun to talk about. Change doesn't have to be miserable.

This experience has reinforced that although leader support and behaviour modeling is essential to successful change, it doesn't have to come first. Others' examples may even help them to learn what they need to do. Just like Sam did for us.


Friday 21 March 2014

How to Honour the Past to Make Room for the Future

The World's Biggest Bookstore opened in downtown Toronto in 1980. It was a sight to be seen: three stories, 64,000 square feet, 20 kilometres of shelves and lots and lots of books. 

It was the go-to place for books and magazines. Before the days of internet shopping, this was the place to go for selection. They seemed to stock everything.

It was also the place for finding gift ideas. I remember the store being packed on December Saturdays as people feverishly hunted for holiday presents. There were even lineups to get on the escalator.

Last November, it was announced that Chapters Indigo Books was not renewing the lease and the store would be closing. The property would be redeveloped and leased to four new restaurants. 

The news was received as another example of change in the publishing industry and the Toronto landscape. I don't recall anyone saying that it was wrong and should be stopped. It was a sign of the times.

On Tuesday, I visited the World's Biggest Book Store with a friend before it closes next week. It was exactly how I remembered it. The same signs, the same shelves and the same escalator. What had changed was that most of the books had either been sold or transferred to another store. Many of the shelves were empty.

My experience is similar to what happens in most successful change projects. The past is honoured before people transition to the future. They need to pay tribute to what they know and love before they can let go of it to make room for something new. 

That night, I visited my Dad. When I showed my pictures of the store, his friend remarked with a smile, "It served its purpose." I thought, what a dignified way of honouring the past.


Friday 14 March 2014

When a Step Back is the Way Forward

Organizations going through big changes often fall prey to their original change plan because following it suggests that leaders and their project teams have everything worked out. The longer the team stays on track, the greater the confidence that it is the right plan. Conversely, adjusting the plan can make it look flawed and raises doubts about the path forward.

In an environment where changes are seen as mistakes, people focus their efforts on delivering the plan versus testing it to make sure it will still deliver results. This behaviour is reinforced when rewards are tied to plan completion instead of what it delivers.

This is not how change initiatives work; the plan often needs to be modified as new information becomes known. Making real-time adjustments can mitigate risks and focus resources where they will have the greatest impact. 

You need to take a step back when new information becomes known to see if it has any bearing on the change plan. I do this by asking these questions:

1) Why is it important?
This helps me differentiate between important and urgent information. Sometimes things can seem important based on how it is delivered. If it is important, what are the implications of this data? How does it impact the plan, if at all?

2) What do I need to know?
New information requires investigation, which usually creates additional information needs. Asking this question helps me determine what I already know and what I need to source. It also demonstrates to stakeholders that action is being taken. 

3) What experiences can I learn from?
Similar circumstances have most likely occurred in this organization. This question often leads to hypotheses or options to consider. Similar experiences also help identify risks associated with different courses of action.

4) What works and doesn't work?
In any organization, culture and current business realities influence what leaders and their teams will support or reject. For example, a very hierarchical organization will most likely reject a course of action that requires employee empowerment and decision making. Looking at options through these filters help identify changes that will be effective.

It is easy for your plan to become the goal versus the result it is intended to deliver. Taking a step back to ask a few questions will help define the best path forward, even if it is different from the original one.


Friday 7 March 2014

Three Steps to Marketing Your Business When You Don't Have the Time

Early in My Career
Early in my career I ran a training and development department in a Toronto branch of the Business Development Bank (BDC). Our mandate was help small and and medium-sized businesses by building their knowledge, skills and capabilities. One of my most popular courses was on small business marketing that I taught at a local college in the evenings. 

Every group raised the challenge of needing to marketing but having little time or money to do so. Time was the biggest issue; when business was brisk you had no time to market, which resulted in an eventual drop in business. It seemed impossible to do both activities at the same time. 

Now, as a small business owner, I am experiencing the same challenge. When I am at full capacity with consulting assignments, I have little time to market. I know that if I don't market I will eventually gain capacity, which isn't a good thing.

I have taken three simple steps to ensure I market regardless of my workload: 

1. Define the portfolio of marketing activities worth investing in

There are twenty-three activities I use to market. It may sound like a lot, but many of them require minimal time or have low frequency.

2. Detail the work required for each activity including when it needs to be done

This step has helped me plan my marketing time, often late at night or on weekends. I manage by lists and adding these activities has helped me ensure they don't get forgotten.

3. Set goals by month and track progress weekly

Weekly marketing goals didn't work for me because of the variability of client needs. It was was an unproductive and frustrating exercise. Tracking progress weekly, however, let me know what I had achieved and how much I had left to do.

Now I am focused on working my plan and track progress. I am also measuring efficacy of each activity so that I can focus on the most effective ones. 

I still feel I don't have enough time to market, but I am achieving a lot anyway. Should any business owner feel like they have done 'enough' marketing?