When the Brady Bunch singers famously crooned, "When it's time to change, you've got to rearrange" you knew they were talking about business, right?
We all want the upside of change but who really wants to rearrange? The hard truth is that if you still want one without the other, you have not yet fully committed to a new reality. And when it comes to the expectations our world now has for your business, you need to change and rearrange, and you need to do it now. Climate change, wealth inequality, diversity and inclusion, and so many other topics: people understand better than ever how to connect what you do every day to what they care about most. This has nothing to do with "giving back" and everything to do with fundamentally examining what business you are in and how you make important choices.
Just how good do you have to be? What kind of unanticipated consequences might you be turning loose? Should we write it all down and share it or just kind of make it happen in the day-to-day? These are the right questions. And you cannot answer them without doing things differently. Here are 5 key steps:
1. Convene Your Key Stakeholders:
Get the people together who for one reason or another have significant influence on your path to success. Employees, investors, managers, neighbors, government, key customers...
I would start with the internal ones and then bring your team ready-to-go to engage those that are external to your organization. Think of it in simple, relational terms: If I am pitching, who is catching? If I am performing, who is applauding (or booing)? If I am talking, who is listening? These questions make it obvious: You need to establish common understanding of familiar concepts like the problem, the risk, the opportunity, etc. So far pretty familiar, right?
2. Define Your Process
It is very, very tempting to tiptoe into this conversation and feel your way through it without any commitments. Why? Because that's how we do things that we are not sure about. The risks and opportunities for your business that are raised by issues of climate change, diversity and inclusion, immigration, gentrification, transportation, income or wealth inequality - they are not KPIs you were trained on, it is not clear what is expected of you, and therefore they are all tempting to ignore. Establish a process for defining the objectives of your journey and the outcomes and timetables you expect.
3. Collect Data
Sounds like somebody else's job, right? But the truth is you need to know what your competitors are doing, what your industry is doing, what the status quo is and what is possible for you - whatever the topic. Create a data-intensive environment that is as rigorous as the due diligence or other business processes that you are used to running in your day to day work.
4. Set Goals and Be Accountable.
Whatever the topic, whatever the level of commitment, you need to set goals, and then measure your progress. This is common sense and familiar but all too often we see people saying, "isn't it enough that we did that thing?" In reality, you have worked very hard to be sure that your entire business is results oriented. Make this project part of the same culture.
5. Keep the Marketing Team at Bay
Keep the marketing team away and focus on doing the work. Focus on core business functions not storytelling. There will be plenty of time for telling the story later but nobody wants to hear your story unless it is really a story that matters to your business and theirs. Can it drive new ideas, conversations, action? Get busy making sure the answer is yes.
Remember - "when it's time to change, you've got to rearrange." You can gain a deeper understanding of the social and environmental issues that are relevant (or urgent) in your business and you can figure out how to have an impact on those issues in way that drives distinction and advantage - but those benefits will come only because your efforts have impact. And to have impact, you are going to have to do things differently.
Andrew Tarsy is Principal and Founder of Emblem Strategic LLC.