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Why industry leaders change before they have to change

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3 Signs your business should embrace the opportunity to change

Fostering a culture that embraces change gives a business a competitive edge.  It enables innovation during the best of times.  It enables survival during the worst.

Jack Welch, the iconic leader best-known for transforming GE, advised, “Change before you have to.  Never be happy where you are.  Get a culture at your company that loves change.   And every time there’s a quantum change (in the business world), jump!”

Welch wasn’t promoting change for the sake of change.  However, he insisted that his leaders be ahead of the change curve, not struggling to catch up.  He urged his team to embrace change as a management responsibility and to model acceptance of change.  Today, executives spawned by GE are sought after as transformative leaders.

Here are three ways to identify opportunities to change your organization on purpose…and with purpose.

  1. Listen to staff members who are close to your customers.  Customer feedback can be an early predictor of problems.  Look for repetition of themes in customer complaints and consider how you could address them.  Then ask the people closest to your customers to weigh in.  Conducting voice-of-the-customer interviews, we learned that if customers say you are good at something, you excel at that task.  If customers say you are bad at something, it is probably much worse than you even imagine.  The employees closest ­­to your customers can provide vital insight into your customer-facing processes’ strengths and weaknesses.  Listen carefully to their concerns, stay open to their suggestions, and consider what you can change.
  2. Pay attention to whatever data you have.  If your organization doesn’t have key performance indicators, dashboards, or sophisticated analytics, it doesn’t mean you should ignore the data you do have.  If sales volumes go down, don’t put off investigating the cause.  Why are you missing ship dates on your orders?  Has product quality taken a dive?  Observation is data.  Be proactive when you see a trend and strive to solve problems early on.  Investigating to find the root cause of an issue and providing early mitigation is an opportunity to implement change and avoid bigger problems in the future.
  3. Tune in to the attitude and energy of your of your team.  Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.  Jack Welch didn’t say that, but he would have agreed with Ralph Waldo Emerson.  A highly engaged workforce has a greater willingness to participate, innovate, and take ownership of outcomes.  If you see increased turnover, declining performance, difficulty recruiting high-quality talent, or negative employee surveys, you need to figure out how to reengage your workforce.  Studies show that raises won’t do it, and cheerleading won’t last.  Instead, give your team a chance to invest in changing the way they work.  People support what they help to create.  Jack Welch didn’t say that, either…we did.  If you want the commitment of your people at the point of implementation, then you need to involve them at the point of creation.

The best time to initiate change is before an urgent need emerges.  The second-best time?  When you recognize a chance to lead your team, engage them in solving a problem, and can achieve a goal together.

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