As I was preparing a presentation for the Minnesota Newspapers Association Conference a few weeks ago, I was reminded of the significant change taking place in that industry. I read the newspaper every morning either in print or digitally. There is no doubt that the digital revolution is having a dramatic impact on newspapers, and it’s been visible because of the role news media plays in our lives.
I think it’s fair to say that most industries are experiencing some element of change today. Whether you’re in the technology business as we are, the medical field or even running a government organization. When I joined Marco in 1984, typewriters were our economic engine. Kids today don’t even know what a typewriter is. In fact, many of the products we have sold in the past aren’t in use today. But we’re still here – and thriving.
We transitioned our business from selling typewriters and office products to our focus today of providing business technology services. This has proven to be a good, sustainable business model for us.
The discipline for transformation that needs to take place is often times more substantial than we realize. This fits into the category of easy to talk about, but hard to do. Here are the steps that worked for us:
- Challenge yourself first.
If you sit at the top of the organizational chart, it is actually your job to initiate change. If leadership is old school, the organization will be, too. You need to really critically evaluate yourself. Do others see you as a contemporary leader? Are you driving change? Are you an innovator?
- Build a team of change agents.
Your leadership team needs to be a group of change agents. When I took the helm, I knew we needed a high-end technology leader. So we hired Steve Knutson (our CTO) to drive our technology strategy. That was 17 years ago, and he’s still doing that today (read his latest blog on innovation).
- Challenge your people.
Once you have identified an area of opportunity, it’s important to challenge your people to initiate the change. Significant changes will require people to transition their skills. Often this is where careers are developed or diminished. This is where your coaching and mentoring becomes a real asset in effectively driving change.
- Change isn’t free.
A business transition will require an investment – usually upfront. You’ll need to take calculated risks and invest in technology, training or people, not knowing for sure if you’ll get the return. Do it anyway. Without the upfront investment, you won’t be positioning yourself for a successful outcome.
- Apply your core competencies to something new.
If your industry is flat or declining, you need to make a move and you know it. The question is what. Step back and look at your core competencies. At Marco, we realized we were a strong sales organization, and the products didn’t really matter. The reason we were able to transition from office products to business IT services is because we were able to leverage our sales competency and apply it to selling technology solutions.
- Keep an eye on what’s next.
Stay close to your customer. We’re constantly thinking about what IT departments need next. What are their challenges and how can we help solve them? In a focused effort to get this information, we established a client advisory group. This group of eight Managed IT clients helps guide us in making improvements to this important service. Personally, I make it a point every week to get out in the field myself. Sitting behind your desk makes it difficult to identify or facilitate change.
If you don’t stay relevant, your business won’t either. If you think your business needs to change, it probably does. The hard part, as usual, is execution. It takes action and it will be uncomfortable. As someone who has done it, and is still doing it, I assure you it’s worth it.