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Better Together: How to Drive Radical Change

Better Together: How to Drive Radical Change

By Dave Karr, director of marketing at Mayer

At some point in time, every organization comes to a stark and unnerving realization: it’s time to make a fundamental change. This realization is often precipitated by converging circumstances, such as decreases in – or threats to – profitability, market volatility, the emergence of new technologies or an increasing number of nimble competitors. Regardless of motive, one thing is certain – executive leadership’s skills and fortitude rarely will be tested to such a high degree as they will during times of change management.

In my opinion, the electrical distribution industry at large is on the verge of a crisis. The interesting thing about this crisis is that, even for established organizations like Mayer, it can be particularly difficult to recognize the symptoms and – for lack of a better phrase – take our prescribed medicine. I don’t know about you, but when I look at the industry landscape I see several common challenges: changing customer and employee demographics, a growing skilled labor deficit, serious competitive threats like Amazon, outdated or dying sales and marketing strategies, rapidly shifting purchasing preferences, etc. I could go on, but you get the point. A storm is brewing.

Many distributors have been unable or unwilling to recognize the symptoms, because all of us – to varying degrees and outside times of true economic recession – have enjoyed success for many years. And for far longer than I’ve been alive, our business has been conducted in relatively the same fashion – I’m talking about the “ol’ handshake” agreement. Deals cut on a hunting trip or the golf course. Wining and dining, versus differentiating and innovating. I’m not knocking it, folks, because it worked – and it worked well. In fact, I’ve personally benefited from this aspect of our business and immensely enjoyed it. I’ve built great relationships because of it. Our industry is special because of it. But it is no longer good enough, because the world is changing, and our industry must change with it.

The real danger for all of us is the complacency that can arise from a state of comfort. If you’re resting on the laurels of your success, you’re probably failing. Peter Drucker, widely regarded as the “Father of Management,” famously said, “Long-range planning does not deal with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions.” To that end, I was fortunate to be hired by Mayer, an organization whose leadership recognized that we cannot succumb to the outcomes of crisis and complacency I’ve described here and has committed itself to making radical changes – not only to survive, but to outperform the market and thrive for decades and generations to come.

And so, we’ve embarked on a journey of transformation, from streamlining our daily operations, to integrating innovative technologies and digital platforms to better serve our customers, to launching a new internship program, to better communicating our value proposition and telling our brand story in a refreshing, impactful way. When I was brought on as Mayer’s new director of marketing, I was charged with spearheading numerous change management initiatives, many of which are not run-of-the-mill – they’re revolutionary for our business and industry. And let me tell you, accepting change is hard – driving change is even harder.

In my experience, there are two core components of successfully navigating change management. The first is creating an appropriate and aspirational vision, which must connect and inspire those inside the organization and beyond. To achieve this, leaders first must define the aspirational goal, break it out into distinct themes and initiatives, build a framework of what each stage along the journey will look like and then translate it into a captivating story. Approaching transformation in this way unites the disparate elements of organizational change into a clear vision – one which inspires confidence and buy-in, even from non-believers.

The second core component is mobilizing a transformation engine to sustain the flow of energy and ideas necessary to propel the organization forward. Everyone knows the power of big ideas, but what is less appreciated is that each theme and its underlying initiatives are dependent upon a continuous flow of good ideas. Many change initiatives fail because of idea scarcity, or because highly motivated change agents simply fatigue or burn out. It’s critical to build an ecosystem of positive energy around change that ignites, fuels and sustains the momentum generated by your captivating story.

The best change agents and leaders deploy a host of catalysts to mobilize and sustain energy. These range in scope but can include formal processes to engage employees in initiatives, such as the appointment of an “idea champion,” as Mayer has done with the implementation of an innovation leader within our organization. Or, in more extreme cases, it may require difficult actions such as the dismissal of an “idea blocker” who breeds organizational toxicity. Sometimes both approaches are necessary to channel energy into execution.

Chances are, you’ve already seen the early results of some of the change management initiatives I’m leading at Mayer – most notably the recent launch of our evolved brand. I cannot succinctly describe here the extraordinary complexity of that project, or accurately convey the time, resources and energy that it took to reimagine, reinvigorate and relaunch an established brand with such a strong legacy and equity. But, what I can tell you is that we were successful because this initiative was built upon an authentic desire to effect positive change and secure the company’s future, all while remaining true to Mayer’s culture and values. From the beginning, this transformation was driven by numerous change ambassadors who were relentless in their pursuit of a common goal. In the absence of strong leadership and the two core components of successful change navigation I described above, it’s entirely possible this article would have been titled “Failure to Launch: 5 Reasons Why Big Change Management Initiatives Fizzle Out.”

If I can leave you with one key takeaway, it’s this: complacency is the biggest threat to excellence in business. It fosters a blatant disregard for doing the hard, heavy lifting required to see actual results.  You can’t settle for what’s comfortable – you must choose to do whatever is required to help you accomplish your goals. When business leaders get complacent, they lose respect for winning. Mayer is in the business of winning for our customers, our supplier partners and our associates, and we know that radical change is required to ensure we remain their first choice. So, we’re taking action.

I am honored and privileged to have been invited to sit in one of the driver’s seats, because I’m passionate about our industry and fired up about the work we do and the value we provide. So, as we consider the future of our industry and its prosperity, I encourage everyone reading this article to ask yourselves this one question: “Are you comfortable in your success?”

If you answered “Yes,” please refer to paragraph four, sentence two.

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