Small Business

How to Save Your Business in 2012

Jeffrey Hayzlett

Guest columnnist Jeffrey Hayzlett writes about how companies need to change in order to grow, and thrive, in 2012.

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Change is constant, and it is what is going to save your business in 2012 and beyond. Driving change is about driving success. You cannot build a successful business without pushing every element of your business to be more competitive.

The old saying, “well that’s the way we have always done it” does not make a change agent. Get over doing it the way you always have, there are always better ways of doing things.

Hone the mental, emotional, and (yes) physical toughness you must have if you are to create smart, strategic, and lasting change.

Change the mood; change the culture, then move on to people and processes.

What can you do to perfect the mood of your company? Bad moods can ruin a company faster than bad business. The most important thing a leader can do to improve the culture of their company, is to start changing the mood. When you change the mood, you change the attitude and take the right steps toward changing the culture. Mood makes your place and your people feel that the business’ best days are in front of it.

Work across the seams of the company.

Stick your nose into everything. Be a cheerleader and a white buffalo. (What’s a white buffalo? It's the one that sticks out in a heard, the one the wolves target. But it is rare and sacred). You don't need to get involved in day-to-day processes outside of setting the operating principles. You don’t need to know too many details; you’ve already been through a lot of this before, and you don’t need it explained again.

Jeffrey Hayzlett

I tell my teams all the time, “I don’t want to know or hear about how sausage is made unless someone died. I get it. It’s sausage. Tell me what I need to know to get things moving.” What I want to find out is what is breaking down within the seams of my company — between people and groups and from process to process. 

That’s what you listen to, and that’s why listening is probably the best skill a change agent can have — they listen throughout the organization and hear snippets from everyone and everywhere. That’s how they find out what they don’t know. Change agents identify problems and then find ways to fix them or bring in people who can

Principles mean something only when they are inconvenient.

Prepare to live your brand promise in bad times and good. It is hard to stand firm in your challenge when you feel uncomfortable, hate the way something is being done, or know that you shouldn’t be doing that thing at all. It’s easiest just to ignore these feelings and not act. Standing by your principles in these situations — when it is the risky and unpopular things to do—is the test of a change agent’s mettle.

Avoid quick-fix “solutions” that are really Trojan horses (beware of Greeks bearing gifts), sales plans that generate buzz rather than revenue (remember: buzz is not sales), and big marketing and expansion plans that destroy your mood, strain your people, drain your resources, and have a negative impact on the quality of your products and services.

Sustain momentum.

Accept and encourage mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, and it’s our job as change agents to cause tension, which will occasionally cause an upset. But the worst thing is that you see something and don’t bring it up—you become seduced by the process and become part of the problem by failing to change it.

Be direct and talk about elephants in the room. Change agents must always ask, “What am I not seeing?” Don’t feel uncomfortable — it’s your job to cause tension and to ask and answer the hardest questions to solve the problems now and prevent them in the future.

Jeffrey Hayzlett is the former chief marketing officer of Kodak. His new book is "Running the Gauntlet: Essential Business Lessons to Lead, Drive Change and Grow Profits."