I don’t know of one print business today who isn’t thinking they urgently need to evolve, transition (insert your favorite synonyms for “change”). I believe there are two types of change, one produces incremental change, and the other produces real change. My favorite “what not to do example” is what larger companies frequently call “re-organization.” [...]
I don’t know of one print business today who isn’t thinking they urgently need to evolve, transition (insert your favorite synonyms for “change”).
I believe there are two types of change, one produces incremental change, and the other produces real change.
My favorite “what not to do example” is what larger companies frequently call “re-organization.” Let me recap, company/business not performing, lets shuffle the people around, give them new titles, new bosses, maybe move their offices, heck lets be really radical and put them under a different division!
OK now that all the changes are complete – go out and conquer (by the way you’re selling the same product, the same way, with essentially the same team of people and nobody spoke to a customer about their opinion of anything!) Again and again and again – doing the same thing over and over expecting different results (the best definition of insanity out there), if you’ve ever worked in a big company, this has to sound familiar.
Real change is hard. Real change is risky. Real change requires strategic thinking rather than tactical thinking. The problem is most of us are very comfortable with tactics and very uncomfortable with strategy. Tactics produce incremental change, low risk change, paint the product a darker blue kind of change. I guess the risk is what everyone is avoiding because presumably nobody gets fired for incremental change right? Wrong. Everybody gets fired when incremental change goes on too long and the market makes the final decision to fire the entire product/business. We all can name more than a few printers who have gone out of business in the last couple years.
The aspect of all this that frustrates me the most – people are working their butts off on incremental change that isn’t producing the results! The worst of all possible scenarios, people are actually getting burnt out producing very little value! I like to work hard, sometimes too hard. But working hard at something that produces little value is supremely painful to our souls and therefore takes a larger chunk out of employee morale.
Think about the last time you painstakingly created a comprehensive analysis for a decision that shouldn’t even be on the drawing board (for example) but everyone is too risk averse to speak up. I understand, we have jobs to protect, mortgages to pay, college funds to save for, etc… I’m not advocating for mutiny (although mutiny isn’t always a bad thing), but I am noticing two alarming trends:
- Incremental change just aint good enough anymore
- The level of risk averse behavior is on the rise
Just when we need real change, strategic thinking, and risk takers our collective behavior pattern is sinking into what I like to call “active paralyzation” – yes, lots of activity but no real change.
If you want to do something new like:
- Expand your product set beyond print (human translated version of Marketing Service Provider)
- Expand into another kind of print manufacturing (e.g. digital, grand format, flexo, etc…)
- Attack a specific vertical (e.g. retail signage, financial/compliance, transactional, etc…)
- Transition your business to be primarily online
You need to start with strategic thinking because these are NOT tactical moves. This is not incremental change; this is real change that requires answering the hard questions from the perspective of your ultimate boss – THE CUSTOMER. Don’t start with the minutia of how this will change your workflow – that’s incremental details that can be worked out later IF during your STRATEGIC thinking process you answer the tough questions like “WHY?” way before you start attacking the “HOW?”
What do I mean by strategic thinking vs. tactical thinking? I believe it’s the act of staying on the BIG and UNCOMFORTABLE questions (WHY?) rather than succumbing to the pull of diving into the weeds of tactics (HOW?). I’ve been in hundreds of conversations where we start with an executive leader stating something like “we want to expand our business into product area X, and make it XX% of our revenue by X date.” This sounds exactly like what I was taught while getting my MBA – the next step would be to create a complex and all inclusive proforma on how this will play out over the next three years (total guess). Please don’t waste your time.
I think strategic thinking has to be outcome based – so yes the first step is to consider what you’re trying to create but you can’t limit it to results from your perspective. Revenues, market share, profitability – those are metrics we monitor for existing businesses, don’t make the mistake of trying to utilize them to create new businesses. The strategic thinking has to be from the perspective of your customers which might be both direct customers and channel partners. Strategic thinking starts with honestly asking yourself why customers would buy from you! At this point, the executive spreadsheet heads in the room start rolling their eyes and thinking “when are we going to get to the real business discussion?” I love this. I love when leaders disguise their unease with discussing the reality of their business in terms of it being fluffy and not serious enough (translate, cannot be tracked in a spreadsheet).
What if your answer to the question, “why would customers buy from us?” is actually hard to answer? What if when you ask that question, the only thing that comes to mind is all the things that prevent customers from wanting to buy from you? You might have just stumbled on some strategic initiatives that would help you grow your business ;-) Or you could go back to Excel and create another proforma based on wild ass guesses on what might happen ;-)