“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” — Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher.
Just about everyone has experienced the “new broom sweeps clean” effect. We’ve watched, and often suffered, as a fresh leader came onto the scene and changed everything just because they could—regardless of how well the existing system functioned. Whenever this happens, chaos reigns and productivity plummets for a while. Sometimes it never recovers, whereupon another broom soon appears to start its own ambitious cleaning project.
However, many changes are inevitable and desirable. Otherwise, old inefficiencies may pile up until workflow grinds to a halt…or worse, something explodes and flies apart in a shower of shrapnel.
Knowing when to institute change requires a shrewd mind and keen insight. But ultimately, it boils down to something even more basic: a mindset encouraging you to consider change in the first place. Conservatism has its place, but business requires calculated risk. You and your team members must be willing to try the new and different if you expect to improve your results and skyrocket your productivity.
1. Embrace change yourself. You may be tired of gurus telling you to “lead by example,” but they only do so because it’s crucial. If you’re stuck in the past, why should your people bother to try anything new? Become an early adopter of technology and processes alike, so you can discover what works best and offer pointers to the team members who follow.
2. Communicate openly in all directions. Encourage your team members to open their minds to the idea of improvement through change, so they can evolve to better fit their environment. Then make it easy for them to make suggestions on how to do so, if only by hanging a suggestion box on the wall.
3. Empower and Engage. Once you’ve urged your people to accept the concept of improvement through change, get out of their way and let them. When they know they can “own” their jobs, work becomes more than just a way to earn a living; they put pieces of their souls into it and take it to the limit repeatedly.
4. Identify and motivate change leaders. Genuine enthusiasm is infectious, and those who have it stand out like supernovas in deep space. So find and incentivize employees who honestly appreciate the improvements that expertly applied change can bring. Change leaders not only push their fellow employees to greater heights, they attract more change leaders.
5. Celebrate improvement. When your team improves its productivity and profitability through change, throw a party and shout it from the rooftops. Nothing succeeds like success, and if you’re careful not to rest on your laurels, you can build on positive change to create more—just like the Magic Penny in the children’s song that multiplies the more you lend and spend it.
Evolve or Die!
What doesn’t grow either stagnates or rots, so keep working to better your team. Make incremental changes when possible, and take quantum leaps when circumstances require. Some of the world’s oldest companies started out doing completely different things than they do now. The Hudson’s Bay Company no longer dominates the Northeast fur trade, any more than the Oneida flatware company still makes bear traps…but that, respectively, is how those companies got started. They still exist to this very day because they’re willing to change and improve as circumstances warrant. You can either be a forgotten blip on the radar screen of history, or a bright light shining down through the decades.