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Change or Die: How to Protect Your Company From Extinction

Other companies are changing and growing, so if you are staying the same, you’re actually falling behind. By M.J. Clark, M.A., APR | Digital Exclusive - 2018


“Change or die.” That’s what I tell most of my clients. We get so stuck in what we’ve always done because it’s always worked that we are reluctant to try new things, take risks, and change to match our evolving role, company, and industry. Other companies are changing and growing, so if you are staying the same, you’re actually falling behind. Here are ways you can move forward to save your organization (and yourself) from extinction.

Work on the business, not just in the business

You probably entered the business doing tactical things, and as you rise in the ranks, you are expected to do more thinking than doing. As a leader, you must “get on the balcony” every now and then to look down on your role, team, and business to determine how things are going and what should come next. Thinking about the business instead of just putting out fires all day allows you the space to be creative and to find permanent solutions to problems instead of reacting to them one at a time. Taking time to create a strategic plan with your leadership team, for example, creates alignment and focus, which leads to company productivity and longevity.

Think beyond number crunching

Being skilled in your profession is only half the equation. Most people with a very high IQ tend to have a lower EQ (emotional intelligence). According to a UCLA study, people who possess EQ social skills, such as sincerity, transparency, and capacity for understanding others outperform those who don’t by a large margin and also are seen as highly likeable.

The very cornerstone of EQ is self-awareness. You know the things you should work to improve, but there are additional perceptions people have of you and are reluctant to share. As an executive coach, I use a 360-degree assessment that provides anonymous feedback to help clients understand the opinions others have of them and how those opinions contrast with their self-perception. This is a very powerful tool. If you can become aware of, accept, and work to change those behaviors that are damaging to relationships, you will be more productive and successful.

Take time to develop others

You might think you don’t have time to coach and develop your subordinates. This time spent can often feel unproductive because mentoring and coaching don’t result in a tangible product. What you are doing is investing in people now for a future payoff, which I call “leadership time spent.” Some of my clients do not regularly meet one-on-one with individual team members and some don’t have regular team meetings or even annual evaluations. I hear things like “Meetings are unproductive,” or “Everything’s fine, so why take the time?” This is time spent investing in your team, strengthening relationships, assessing any concerns, and simply showing each individual that you care. It’s critical for the development of an effective, interdependent team.

Become a trusted adviser

Trust has been called the “new workplace currency” and is linked to higher productivity and engagement, according to Human Capital Institute. A great book about how to build trust, “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen M.R. Covey, explains that low trust can result in organizational “taxes” and high trust can lead to organizational “dividends.” Some of the low-trust taxes include redundancy, bureaucracy, politics, disengagement, turnover, churn (percentage of employees leaving over a specific time period), and fraud. High-trust dividends include increased value, accelerated growth, enhanced innovation, improved collaboration, stronger partnering, better execution, and heightened loyalty.

You build trust, according to the book, by being both highly competent and of high character. In the past, you have probably worked with someone who you liked as a person, but who couldn’t do the job effectively, meaning he or she had high character and low competence. Compare him or her to someone who is highly knowledgeable about the job, but nobody can stand to work with because they have low character. If you are low in one of the areas of character or competence, you’ll have difficulty serving as a trusted adviser. Remember to take time to consider self-trust. Do you do what you commit yourself to do? That’s truly where trust begins. If you can’t trust yourself, you’ll have difficulty believing in others.

Empower future leaders

Millennials, those born roughly between 1980 and the late 1990s, are often maligned for needing constant feedback, not taking care of their own conflicts, and behaving in an entitled way. These stereotypes overlook the generation’s great strengths that can be leveraged in the workplace. Millennials:

• Have an abundance of self-confidence
• Are team-oriented
• Are motivated to achieve and are hard workers
• Value health and fitness
• Want work and life integration (not balance)
• Are technologically savvy
• Are passionate about values (including company values)
• Want an “experience”
• Care about the world beyond your business

Those who are considered Gen Z, born roughly between the late 1990s and 2014, make up 24.3 percent of the U.S. population, according to 2016 U.S. Census estimates. That’s more than millennials (22.1 percent), more than Gen X (19 percent) and more than baby boomers (22.9 percent). Although they are considered cynical, private, and technology-reliant, they also are entrepreneurial.

In fact, 72 percent of current high school students want to start a business. This innovative desire makes them great at brainstorming creative ideas and solutions. They are also realistic, independent, and tech-savvy multi-taskers. If you stop focusing on generational deficiencies and start paying attention instead to what these generations do well, you might find they can be key components in keeping our companies from extinction. The people in these generations are the future of our business. Empower and motivate them by:

• Offering career coaching: Discuss career paths so they can picture how they will progress.
• Providing learning and training opportunities: Offer options such as tuition reimbursement, and put them in charge of their own clients or projects.
• Allowing space for creativity and flexibility: Let them figure things out and do it their way.
• Asking their advice: Many are technology experts and have a unique perspective on the industry.

Plan for ownership and management succession

Succession planning is an evolving, dynamic process that adapts over time to meet an organization’s needs and challenges. It’s not just about planning. It takes effective execution and follow-up over an extended period of time. For both ownership and management succession, I suggest the following for all high-potential future leaders:

• Taking a comprehensive 360-degree assessment
• Coaching based on those results and observed behaviors through an executive coach
• Mentoring through someone who can offer them insightful guidance
• Training in the struggle areas
• Assessing individual roles (assess abilities, find gaps, plan for future needs)

Instead of doing things the way you’ve always done them, you should consider taking a step back and objectively assessing what actions are necessary in your company and career for the future. Invest time in bettering yourself, empowering your people, and planning to achieve your vision. You don’t want to wake up one day and find you’ve been left behind.
As a senior leadership consultant for Integrated Leadership Systems, M.J. Clark helps business owners and senior level directors/managers become more emotionally aware and communicate more effectively to grow their business, plan for succession and become more effective leaders. She is the author of “Shut Up and Lead: A Communicator’s Guide to Quiet Leadership.”

This article was printed in the The Ohio Society of CPAs' July/August edition of CPA Voice.

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