In Part I of this article series we showed you why distributors need to start incorporating change management strategies into their cultures, and how these initiatives have to be more than just “lip service,” in order to create a positive impact on the company. The question is, how can companies do this in a way that helps them be more competitive and profitable in today’s marketplace? Here are four good starting points:
- Figure out why you’re doing this. Waiting for long-term customers to call in their orders or request support doesn’t work anymore. Distributors have to come up with more strategic market approaches, says Doug Dobie, CEO and founder of growth strategy consultancy Delvantage, Inc., in Long Beach, Calif., while “showing their stuff” when it comes to application and solution expertise. “To compete effectively, you have to be able to work on more innovative, complex products that require hand-holding, local knowledge, and expertise,” says Dobie. “Distributors that can tailor solutions and recommend them to contractors or other end users will be the ones that get called on when it comes time to place an order.” Convey the critical nature of this shift to staff members, inside and outside sales reps, engineers, and other individuals who will play critical roles in these demand-generation strategies, says Dobie. “You can have the greatest strategy and best vision statement in the world, but if all you’re doing is delivering directives then once the meeting is over, everyone will just go back to their desks, turn on their computers, and do the same thing they’ve been doing for years.”
- Put a clear-eyed leader in charge of the change. After the staff meeting is over and everyone goes back to work, it’s all too easy to fall back into the “groove.” You can push employees out of that groove with a bit of persistence, says Dobie. “You need a clear-eyed leader or general manager who will persist and not give up,” he says. “That person has to believe that change must happen.” If there’s no one onboard to fill this role, Dobie tells distributors to look for an outside consultant or other person who can come in on a daily basis and ensure that the commitment to change isn’t relinquished. “Find someone who can point out how things used to be done, explains the new capabilities or processes, and shows how the distributorship is going to stay in business and thrive because of the change,” says Dobie. “Otherwise, you’re basically just sitting there as bait for Amazon, which is going to eventually clear out all of the companies that are doing ‘mindless transaction’ work.” The distributors that are left, he says, are the ones that implemented modern sales and marketing frameworks that allowed them to get deep customer insights, really strong analytics, and solid local customer relationships. “Those are the things that Amazon can’t touch,” says Dobie.
- Get your people up to speed on the situation. If all employees have to do is show up for work, punch a clock, and take home a weekly paycheck, then getting them onboard with change is going to be next to impossible. “If your leaders can’t articulate how the world is changing and explain the existential reality that distributors are dealing with, then how can you expect your employees to understand and get onboard with change?” Dirk Beveridge, founder of Chicago-based UnleashWD and author of INNOVATE! How Successful Distributors Lead Change in Disruptive Times, “There has to be a compelling reason to change, and extreme external pressure to make it happen across the organization.”
- Identify the “loyal opposition” and enlist their help. Along with helping employees understand the external pressures that the company is up against, distributors should also identify “internal pressures” that can help advance their change management strategies. For example, Beveridge advises distributors to put the leaders who are the most frustrated—and who wake up at night worrying about threats like Amazon—in charge of change management. “These folks are what we call the ‘loyal opposition,’” he explains, “They put in the hours, they work their tails off, and they’re opposed to the status quo. These are the people who should be leading the charge.”
Ready for a Change? Use this 8-Step Process
Getting people to change and adapt to new ways of doing business doesn’t have to be complicated. In The 8-Step Process for Accelerating Change, Harvard professor John Kotter outlines this straightforward approach that all distributors can follow:
- Create a sense of urgency. Help others see the need for change through a bold, aspirational opportunity statement, Kotter advises, “that communicates the importance of acting immediately.”
- Develop a guiding coalition. “A volunteer army needs a coalition of effective people born of its own ranks,” Kotter writes, “to guide it, coordinate it, and communicate its activities.”
- Form a strategic vision and initiatives. Clarify how the future will be different from the past, Kotter advises, “and how you can make that future a reality through initiatives linked directly to the vision.”
- Enlist a volunteer army. “Large-scale change can only occur when massive numbers of people rally around a common opportunity,” Kotter writes. They must be bought-in and urgent to drive change – moving in the same direction.
- Enable action by removing barriers. According to Kotter, removing barriers such as inefficient processes and hierarchies provides “the freedom necessary to work across silos and generate real impact.”
- Generate short-term wins. “Wins are the molecules of results,” Kotter writes. They must be recognized, collected, and communicated – early and often – to track progress and energize volunteers to persist.
- Sustain acceleration. “Press harder after the first successes,” Kotter advises. “Your increasing credibility can improve systems, structures, and policies.” Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.
- Institute change. Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success, Kotter writes, “making sure they continue until they become strong enough to replace old habits.”