Recently I came upon an article discussing signs that your organization is stalling out.  The article was specifically talking about faith-based organizations, but something in it really hit home to me.

After all, most people change when the pain of the status quo is greater than the pain associated with change.

That explains why change is so easy in the early days: the pain of failing or not existing is great. [SOURCE]

This little bit really strikes at the heart of something we’ve tried to overcome in our 60-year business and the slow-moving (GLACIER SPEED) industry it resides in.  At one point in our business’ history I had no problem stating that our industry is fully 10 years behind the technological curve.  As someone who came from mostly high-tech industries and some awesomely innovative workplaces, this was frequently a hard pill to swallow.  I found myself constantly butting up against “industry standard” behaviors and usage compared to what I was used to in faster-paced environments.

One of the most basic examples of this was marketing, or rather the lack thereof.  As a whole, we seemed to be stuck in this weird bubble where the only acceptable ways to talk about what we did for our customers was to hand them a basic three-fold brochure and politely ask them to “give us a try” and immediately tell them that any prices they see are negotiable.  Frankly, it was gross.

Obviously, marketing is not the only area in which innovation or change can occur, but I find over and over that with small businesses we’re scared to do anything different in the way we present our businesses and our services for fear that it might affect our existing customer base.  In other words, we’re scared to change because the pain of the status quo is less than the pain associated with change.

Or is it?

Have you actually developed a framework for assessing the potential cost of change compared to the potential profit?  Do you have a reference point that helps you make decisions, or are you content NOT making a decision for fear it’s the wrong one?

Your competitors should not be the frame of reference that you use when deciding what changes to make in your business.  That’s called being a copycat, and unless you’re planning to do it faster, cheaper or both then it’s “no-win” in the short term and it’s a never-win in the long term.  Rich Horwath, author of Deep Dive (a great little book on business strategy) talks about how any business has to make a decision based on leading in one of three categories: Product Development (bringing new products to market), Operational Excellence (lowering cost of products by producing them faster or cheaper), or Customer Intimacy.  Very few if any companies can lead in more than one category.  You want to strive for leadership in one, parity in the others.

If you’ve made a decision already about how you’re going to lead in your chosen category (and no, you don’t have to lead in the same way a competitor does – there are multiple ways to lead) then this becomes your framework for decision making in innovating.  This is your framework for making decisions about how and when you’re leaving the status-quo.

In our business, we made the decision that Customer Intimacy was the way we were going to lead, and that decision has served as our reference point for all of the changes we’ve made in the last several years.  It’s also led to previously unseen profitability and a load of also-ran competitors attempting to copy what we’re doing.  I’m not worried about them because that’s a no-win for them.

What are you going to do in your business, and how are you going to make the decision?