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Squirrel Spotting: To Make Change, You Must Do the Damn Work
Sit down with your team and outline what’s needed to succeed while being honest about potential pitfalls, Peter Smith writes.
I’ve been in the jewelry business since the year Elvis Presley exited stage left for the last time. It was a sad day in my life; not the jewelry business part, but the Elvis dying part.
In the decades since, I’ve seen a lot of changes in our business and if I were to create an Elvis playlist for the experience, it might include “In the Ghetto” (that bloody recession), “Suspicious Minds” (insert your own “next-great-thing” here) and “If I Can Dream” (the positivity and optimism that is essential to be successful).
The latter—which yours truly once sang fully robed on a stage with the Las Vegas Mass Choir, a major life highlight—could be the theme song for the myriad reinventions we experience in the course of our lives, personally and professionally.
Aspiring to new projects—an alternate channel of distribution, a great sales team, a new store, a new marketing campaign or product strategy—is easier said than done.
What I’ve witnessed in more situations than I care to remember is lots of groupthink around the idea of doing something really different without ever really putting the mechanism and resources in place to make it happen.
It’s as if talking about the initiative alone was enough to make it happen.
I once worked for a company that wanted to develop an alternate channel of distribution for their products. Given the construct of their business, one could posit that doing so was not just a good idea but, in fact, ought to have been an absolute imperative, enough to galvanize the entire organization.
Nonetheless, the company’s unwillingness to recognize and deploy the essential resources, coupled with a culture that challenged any deviation from long-standing norms, undermined and ultimately suffocated the aspiration.
Of course, the company continued to hire and fire people in a well-intentioned, but otherwise- fruitless, effort to transition their model, but the results remained the same and will forever remain the same until the company honestly and openly addresses the vicious cycle of changing faces while playing the same predictable game.
If you need a reinvention, do it. If that’s not what you want, quit pretending you do and spare your team the myriad false starts.
Here’s a novel concept: If your business aspires to effect meaningful change, do the damn work.
Get the right people in a room and white-board the goals and the steps needed to be successful.
While you’re at it, insist your team lists all of the known impediments to successful implementation. Demand that each person in the room volunteers at least one reason why the plan might fail and be honest about that possibility.
In fact, write a header on the white board that reads: “Twelve months from now we will have failed because … ” and prioritize the reasons why that might happen.
Create a hierarchy of impediments, and demand honest and open debate about the reasons why it could happen.
In “Thinking Fast and Slow,” Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman wrote: “When forecasting the outcome of risky projects, executives too easily fall victim to the planning fallacy. In its grip, they make decisions based on delusional optimism rather than on rational weighting of gains, losses and possibilities.
“They overestimate benefits and underestimate costs. They spin scenarios of success while overlooking the potential for mistakes and miscalculations. As a result, they pursue initiatives that are unlikely to come in on budget or on time or to deliver the expected returns—or even to be completed.”
If your business aspires to big change, if you feel that the status quo is killing the energy of your company, be bold and break the cycle. Do it by challenging your own conventions and, in some cases, even your own culture. If need be, take a sledgehammer to it.
No great change ever came from playing it safe.
Be honest, be bold and be committed. If you need a reinvention, do it. If that’s not what you want, quit pretending you do and spare your team the myriad false starts.
I’ll leave you with one last Elvis reference.
One of the first songs I fell in love with as a young lad was called “Follow That Dream.” It was buried on one of Elvis’ low-budget albums, which were usually filled with movie throwaways.
I loved the high-octane energy and simplicity of the song. It had no pretense or deep messages. It simply implored you to get up and get going, to follow your dream.
It’s as good a message as any to help chart your course.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Peter Smith is president of Memoire and author of two books, “Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent,” and “Sell Something: Principles and Perspectives for Engaged Retail Salespeople.” Both books are available in print or Kindle at Amazon.com. Connect with Smith on LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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