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If you decide you need to change your business, listen to your people

Innovation
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“Life is flux.”
— Heraclitus of Ephesus, 500 BCE

There have been multiple translations and paraphrasings of Heraclitus’ assertion over the centuries. For a time, the skate company Volcom Stone used “The only constant is change” as one of its slogans. The paraphrasing and the context all continually repeat one thing: In this life, change is inevitable. 

Even though change is always a constant force in our lives, we sure seem to have a hard time with it; just ask my 6-year-old when I try to sit at a different spot than my “normal” spot at the dinner table. 

I am not totally sure why that is. It’s certainly not rational. Our lives have shown us that change is normal, healthy, and good. We really should be OK with change by now, or at the very least used to it.

But for whatever reason, we are terrified of change. We resist it at all costs. The place where I see this most pronounced is in business. Employees and business owners often have an incredibly difficult time with change. It’s almost funny. 

As a marketing consultant, I get invited into organizations to be the arbiter of change.

The decision-maker saw that change needed to happen, that the company needed to pivot its marketing efforts in some shape, form or fashion. That said, sometimes those same instigators of change are the most reluctant to actually change behaviors, procedures and tactics. 

Here are three effective tools that I have found over the years that help facilitate change in a business.

1. Education

People are scared of change. It takes a dedicated effort to forge a new path. I believe part of this is the fear of the unknown. We are scared to work harder for no positive change or status quo. That is why I always suggest starting any change campaign with internal education. Informing individuals why this effort will help the organization as a whole or even them as individuals is of vital importance. At the end of the day, even if change is dictated from the top down, it lives and dies in the day-to-day trenches. Telling everyone affected the “how and why” of it — why the change is important and what they can expect to get out of it — is of vital importance.

2. Third-party advice

Internal communication is an interesting animal. Often times the C-suite and upper management do not listen to their underlings. The reasons are varied and numerous. Sometimes it is because the person giving their opinion doesn’t have expertise or experience in that specific arena. Sometimes the opinion giver is a bad communicator. Sometimes upper management just doesn’t like their underlings. Whatever the reason, it often makes sense to call in experts. What is interesting as a marketing consultant is that often, I find that “Jeff from customer service” has been giving them the same advice for years that I come in and give. Bringing in an outside voice, specifically an expert in the field in question, can be what is necessary to effect real change.

3. Patience and fortitude

Lastly, but probably most important, patience and fortitude are vital for any real, long-lasting change. Selling people on your vision is effective, but the effects are fleeting. It is generally easier to fall back into old behaviors than to continue with the new way of doing things. Long-lasting change needs consistent re-selling people to your vision. Bringing in a third-party voice is a great tool; however, there comes a time when that expert has to leave. Being patient and not letting up when it is easier to go backward is where the rubber meets the road.

John O’Hearn is chief marketer for Span Total Marketing, which has offices in Charleston and Brooklyn, N.Y. Reach him at john@spantotal.marketing.

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