To Survive In Business, Break Your Patterns

I don’t know who coined the phrase, (I wish I had), but I use it frequently…‘My way of doing something is better than your way of doing nothing.’  The phrase offers some sage advice on how to survive in business.

Oh the responses I’ve had over the years when sponsoring actions that went against the grain.  ‘That won’t work because; I already thought of that; we tried that a few years ago; no sense doing that, I know what will happen!’  Sound familiar? – likely you can add many more from your library of experience.

I suppose it’s human nature; some folks become set in their ways, some are most comfortable in the maintenance mode and others simply feel strongly that they know what’s best.

Upside ‘lite’ example: I worked with the owner of a successful retail business who was frustrated that his sales force wasn’t able to increase individual productivity.  The top producers seemed to have reached their sweet spot (or limit depending on your viewpoint) and despite some regular turnover in the rest of the sales organization no new ‘stars’ were on the horizon.  The owner had come to the point where he accepted the status quo.

We spent a lot of time discussing out-of-the-box solutions and in time he acted.  Due to his business’ positive and innovative reputation he was able to recruit two of the best salespeople working for competitors, something he initially had concluded was not possible.  We referred to them as ‘rabbits’ once they were on board because they immediately led the pack.  His former top producers were now in the middle of the pack and were newly inspired to find ways to increase their performance in order to keep up…and they did  Everybody ‘won;’ the owner had decided that doing something was better than doing nothing and it paid off!

Downside extreme example: control investors asked me to get involved with one of their companies and figure out why it was consistently losing money.  Over the first few visits I ‘worked the floor,’ toured the physical plant and studied the financials.  Then I met regularly with the president, drilling down on the symptoms that alarmed me.  I made suggestions, gave examples and shared experiences where similar circumstances had been corrected.  His position – do nothing; everything was in place and it was just a matter of time and the profits would flow.  Out of respect for his history with the company we gave the president a number of months to right the ship…the profits never flowed.

Thereafter, in the course of one short week we ‘retired’ the president, closed one division and stripped $1.3 million from payroll while still preserving core competencies.  Shockwaves, a fair share of anger, lots of phone calls and then…the company made a profit every month after that.  My way of doing something…

As executives we have a key responsibility to preserve the enterprise beyond ourselves.  Often that requires breaking patterns and processes which, though once successful, are no longer that.  When such a need arises, regardless of the size of our organizations, our preference is always that our responsible leaders champion paradigm shifts instead of relying on us to do so.  If they don’t do so already, teach them to think and manage that way; it will make your job that much easier.  Disrupting ourselves, though painful, is far better than the alternative!  Lessons learned!

Read more: Companies Often Grow Faster Than People

Fred Engelfried is Director/Chair of North Coast Holdings, Inc. and its subsidiary Lewis Tree Service, Inc. He has been a member of the board of directors of Lewis for over 20 years, and for 10 years prior to that worked with the company intermittently in various consulting capacities. He also is President of Market Sense Inc., a participative management firm that has served more than 100 regional clients over 35 years.