Change We Can Believe In

Over the past few years, the toughest issue executives and entrepreneurs have grappled with can be summed up in a word: change. None of us have been immune to a sluggish economy, disruption within our respective industries, or how technology continues to transform the way we live, work, communicate, and play. Enterprises large and small have been forced to respond rapidly, seeking to become more efficient in managing operations, more obsessed in serving customers, and more creative in developing products to outflank the competition.

Don’t think, however, that all have come to the party willingly or enthusiastically. In fact, most seem resistant to the new business dynamics. Management guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s maxim, “Change is always a threat when done to me, but it is an opportunity when done by me,” accurately describes the sense of dread consuming professionals—especially, members of the 40-plus crowd—I come in contact with at conferences, on the golf course, and even within my own company.

Even though many maintain that they are prepared to modify their approach, they’re really committed to making only marginal adjustments. What good is signing up for accounts with LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook—a platform now equal to the world’s third largest nation—if you’re not an active participant? You’ll be shut out of the social media conversation and risk losing connections with valuable contacts and customers.

For those slow to read the text on their BlackBerry, I’m here to tell you that change is inevitable and uncomfortable. Moreover, the quickest way for midcareer professionals to become extinct dinosaurs is by ignoring a world that’s changing at the speed of a mouse-click.

Just as it is important for employees to accept change, it’s critical for business leaders to show them the way. At Black Enterprise, change has not just been a slogan. The way we have redesigned our business model offers clues to giving your company or organization a makeover. To meet the demands of the digital age and of consumers who seek instantaneous information, I advocated the reinvention of our company. Bringing our entire staff together during our annual retreat, I charged that we would become a “digital first” company—an entity in which our website, mobile platforms, and apps would serve as our “front door” for delivering products and services. I must admit, making this shift has presented its share of challenges. For one, a number of veterans have yet to adopt the new way of thinking and, at times, have obstructed progress through the continuation of outmoded practices. In order for BE to advance, we had to do more than wade in the water, tweaking operations here and there. Everyone had to take the plunge.

Experts such as Moss Kanter maintain that change must be approached as “a campaign, not a decision,” avoiding pronouncements and programs soon ignored or discarded. Changing our behavior would require continual communication and clear, decisive action. For example, a few years ago, to force account executives to hold face-to-face meetings with clients instead of making sales calls via phone, I removed their chairs from cubicles. They quickly got the message loud and clear about our approach to cultivating clients and retaining existing accounts. So that our company can be up-to-date with the latest technology and consumer trends, I mandated that employees between the ages of 21 and 35 contribute to all content, sales, and marketing meetings and decisions. Their contributions have proven significant, including developments such as our BE Next franchise highlighting emerging business achievers, and the creation and marketing of our iPad app. It is my strong belief that you cannot transform an organization in monotone; it requires a healthy debate among an array of young professionals and seasoned vets. The interaction creates a more powerful, dynamic organization.

Change requires planning and patience on the part of senior managers as well as the rank-and-file. The process works best when leaders marry their vision with employee involvement. The byproduct will most certainly be commitment, passion, and innovation. That’s change we can all believe in.


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