Go Slow to Go Fast

Winging it won’t work in today’s business landscape

Back Commentary Sep 1, 2015 By Christine Calvin

Have you ever walked into a semi-dried lake bed? You start out on firm sand, and little by little the ground gets softer and stickier and deeper until finally the mud pulls your boots straight off your feet. That’s the position of many companies battling today’s marketplace, particularly small-business owners set in their ways and family businesses unable to overcome Dad’s unwavering march into the ground.

As these companies have pressed forward into the 21st century using 20th-century approaches, the earth under them has become more viscous, slowing them down, pulling them under. Trudging forward against the headwinds of an ever-changing marketplace, more and more businesses are losing their footing.

As we all well know, today’s business landscape is more competitive, diverse and technologically advanced than ever before, and yet so many leaders are not. Meanwhile, I see third-party experts, business coaches and bright young employees shouting from the shoreline, pleading for a correction in course. I hear them urging their managers, directors and owners to consider new approaches, seek guidance and implement directives that could launch a company back onto dry land and a road to the future. And still, old thinking presses on.

PricewaterhouseCoopers invested in three major national and international surveys in the past 18 months to explore the most pressing issues facing family businesses, and in all three reports the chronic lack of succession plans and up-to-date processes and procedures rose to the top of companies’ list of concerns.

“Today’s business landscape is too complex and fast-evolving for family firms to rely solely on either first-generation entrepreneurial instincts or later generations’ tried-and-true wisdom,” wrote Rich Stovsky, PricewaterhouseCooper’s U.S. leader for private company services, in one of the reports. “In short, winging it won’t work in today’s business landscape. The family business leaders we spoke with for our survey acknowledge that they’ll have to adapt faster, innovate earlier and become more professional in the way they run their operations.”  

Unrelenting change requires an unrelenting commitment to learn and adapt. But knowing you need to change and actually implementing change are, of course, two very different things. Adaptation will involve capital investments in things like training and education, new or upgraded technologies and digitally astute (read: expensive) employees. It also might mean letting go of long-time employees who no longer meet the needs of a future-focused organization.

So how do you do that? Executive coach Tania Fowler (whose columns you can read on comstocksmag.com) would say, “Go slow to go fast.” There is no other way to implement lasting, systemic change than to give it the time and attention it needs. In this month’s stories on family business (“Strictly Professional” on page 52, “Sweet Succession” on page 40, and “The Gift Shop That Keeps On Giving” on our website), our writers delve into the muddy lake beds facing today’s companies and seek to understand how these businesses can best pursue change.

If you have successfully navigated this landscape of adaptation, tell us how. Send us an email, leave a comment online or give us a shout out on social media. As for me, I’m also seeking to grow and adapt. This month marks my last at Comstock’s. I’ve much appreciated your support and feedback over the past seven years, and I wish you all the best as you pursue a bright and prosperous future.