You’ve probably heard Albert Einstein’s oft-repeated definition of insanity: doing the same thing time after time and expecting different results. While we can all agree that there’s truth to what he said, knowing when to change course isn’t always as straightforward as we’d like.
Here’s the problem: The signs that a change in direction is needed are often confusing or subtle. Even when those signs are glaringly obvious, you may not be sure how to alter company objectives to meet demands. Choosing to zig instead of zag can have significant consequences for your business and leave you scrambling to pick up the pieces.
To help you identify tipping points for change when you see them—as well as how to proceed from the initial analysis—I’ve tapped into the brainpower of four successful business leaders. Each one has had to recognize, acknowledge, and accept change in unique ways. In doing so, they helped their businesses thrive by leaning into the power of change and rethinking a part of their company.
1. Tania Fiero, chief human resources officer, IES: Accept that the core change catalyst might not be obvious
Human resources professional Tania Fiero is proud of her employer. For more than 40 years, contingent workforce solutions provider IES has built a strong, trustworthy brand. Yet not long ago, revenue and profit were headed in the wrong direction. Fiero was confused because the company had a great reputation, was a “Best Place to Work“ award winner, and never experienced a lack of talented people wanting to become employees. So why was innovation tanking, and why were clients leaving?
What Fiero realized was shocking: The culture was perfect, but it was the wrong culture for what IES needed. After meeting with other executives, they used a culture assessment tool to look for culture-related opportunity gaps. They discovered that everyone was working on a high concern for people but an extremely low tolerance for risk. The team began to tackle the latter and adopted a risk-taking mentality buoyed by modern technology. Fiero explains, “We became a remote-first culture, hiring talent across the country. We secured two new, large, enterprise-size clients, and our revenues increased by 114%.”
Fiero’s experience shows that even if you know you need a change, you may have to dig deeper to find exactly where the change needs to be made. She recommends reading about how other organizations bounced back to give you ideas on what could work for your company. She also notes that you’ll need some patience: “Meaningful change takes time.”
2. Christine Alemany, CEO, TBGA: Bring your outsourced functions in-house
If you’re in business long enough and your clients rely on you, they may start asking you to help them by providing different services. That’s what happened at branding and marketing consultancy TBGA. As Christine Alemany explains, new, in-demand services were beyond the company’s wheelhouse. To accommodate their clients’ requests, TBGA constantly made introductions to their partners. Eventually, they realized they were missing chances for expansion.
The answer was right in front of them: Grow their services to provide tactical support in addition to strategy. It was a bold move, and it meant rethinking their menu of options for current and future clientele. Regardless, they felt that as long as they were pragmatic about implementing changes, they would see gains.
To do so, they first looked at their competition. If the competition had failed at something they were considering doing, they made sure demand was high before moving forward with that particular component. They were also honest about their abilities and areas for improvement. “Look at your weaknesses and strengths,” says Alemany. “If the change does not play to your strengths, consider how you can acquire those assets externally instead.” Finally, they spoke with customers before setting everything in stone. That way, they were able to create what the market wanted rather than what it didn’t need.
3. Seth Casden, founder and CEO, Hologenix: Get the timing right when switching strategies
When you’re bringing a new concept to the market, you often find yourself in the position of working mainly on the sell-in. During the sell-in phase, you focus on getting other businesses to partner with you. For Seth Casden, the sell-in period for materials science company Hologenix’s flagship product, CELLIANT®, was very important. However, as the company gained traction with brand partners, they knew they needed to pay less attention to the sell-in and more attention to the sell-through.
Casden explains, “We needed more consumer awareness about our technology’s benefits. We had to figure out the best way to do it. What would have the most impact on our current and prospective partners’ consumers?” After much ideating, Casden and his colleagues decided to pursue a set of independently validated claims as well as FDA determination. By concentrating on validation, Hologenix was able to get bigger by moving from a sell-in to a sell-through mentality.
What does Casden recommend if your organization finds itself in times of change? “Don’t take half measures. Go all in.” Though you want to structure your actions on information, you can’t be stubborn or inflexible. By adjusting and adapting, you can make a necessary readjustment come to life and benefit your business in the long run.
4. Scott Webb, CEO, Avionos: Disrupt via diversification of your portfolio
By 2019, Scott Webb’s marketing and commerce consultancy was five years old and getting larger every year. Its cross-disciplined, fully integrated domestic delivery model provided efficiencies that attracted clients. Still, Webb predicted that to remain one step ahead of the pack, he and his leadership team would have to decide whether to stay the course that had made them successful—or disrupt.
After quite a bit of discussion, they chose disruption in the form of adding an off-shore delivery capability to diversify their cost structure. No one on the team had built an off-shore practice from the ground up, so they were diving into unknown territory. However, by acting quickly and decisively with the assistance of others who had “been there and done that,” Webb and his team were able to navigate the realities of moving off-shore.
Based on his experiences, Webb advises all leaders to get comfortable with change. “It is easy to think of big moments as a binary—before or after, right or wrong. The truth is that one critical change in a specific direction often begets another, and then another. Rather than seeking to ‘lock in’ on some new direction after making a course correction, consider emphasizing the ability to change the overarching goal as well.”
Sooner or later, you’ll face a crossroad that requires you to reset the trajectory of your journey. Consider the insights of those who have been in your shoes and use the knowledge of their experiences to help guide the next directional change in your business. Don’t feel daunted by the prospect of change. Instead, see it as one of the rites of passage on your way to the top.