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Challenging The Status Quo

I think anyone who knows me at all knows that I have an internal drive always to push to improve anything of which I’m a part. I’m never satisfied with the status quo, and my mind seems to be wired to push beyond boundaries and to try to improve things. Whoever came up with the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” obviously didn’t live in today’s business cycle, where things are changing in our industry at a pace that exceeds that of any time in history. The status quo is the way things used to work, and you can rest assured that someone is out there trying to disrupt your status quo.

Accepting the status quo can also lead to a stagnant culture in your business…a malaise that, oftentimes, is resistant to change. That’s why you often see once successful and thriving businesses slowly losing their edge and becoming less and less relevant. Once your culture has become stagnant, it gets harder and harder to recruit new and better talent to your company. People who want to push boundaries want to be with other people who want to push boundaries.

Right now, you likely have some of these people—the folks who are always trying to find new ways to do something—in your organization. Typically, they are your high performers, or they’re people who always seem to like to rock the boat. Sometimes, these folks have a hard time getting along with your people who are the steady, dependable types. If you can get the two groups to work together, though, it’s like rocket fuel for your business.
The status quo shows up not only in your business, but also in our industry. I love to attend the various trade shows our industry offers. Springfield Music is a member of not only NAMM, but also the National Association of School Music Dealers (NASMD), the Retail Print Music Dealers Association (RPMDA), the Independent Music Merchants Group (IMMG) and the Independent Music Store Owners (iMSO), just to name a few. This year, I’ve had the opportunity to attend the NAMM Show, RPMDA and NASMD, and I’ve found that those organizations, too, can suffer from a “business as usual” approach. They put on their trade shows and education sessions without always putting their full attention into their purpose. Make their members businesses’ better should be these groups’ primary purpose and goal. Oftentimes, though, I don’t think the sessions live up to that promise. It’s certainly not due to a lack of effort or a lack of passion, though.

If you’re a retail store owner, manager or someone who’s in charge of purchasing, you’ve certainly noticed a negative, “business as usual” trend with many vendors. It seems that, every year, the vendors come to you expecting you to do 10 percent more, but they don’t give you any suggestions on, or tools for, how to achieve that. Their marketing departments exist in an internal bubble that seems to have no connection to brick-and-mortar retailers.
So, how do we change all this? Certainly, you have a responsibility to speak up and share your thoughts with these organizations. However, I’ve found that my opinion carries more weight if people realize that I have an attitude of constant improvement not only for associations and partners, but also for my staff, my business and myself. All of us need to do better.

So, here are some tips on how to get started with this continuous-improvement process:
  1. Acknowledge to yourself and to your staff that stagnancy is an issue, and it’s something that must change if you are to thrive.
  2. Put together the appropriate team to turn these problems into opportunities. I find that teams that combine “big idea” people and more practical-minded folks—your list checkers—are most effective for implementing change.
  3. Start a list of all the things you’d like to change. If you’re new to this process, remember that there are no bad ideas. We’re brainstorming here, and we want ideas to flow.

Once you have your list, I would suggest starting with a rather simple problem, just so the team can have that feeling of success. After handling some low-hanging fruit, they can start working on the more important challenges that would have a greater impact on business.

However, beware of the trap of focusing on the smaller, easier items exclusively.

It’s easy to focus on those items, thinking that, once they’re done, you’ll have more time to allocate to the larger issues. However, I’ve found you’ll never run out of small problems. So, focus on the big ones as quickly as you can.

If you find that your team is becoming bogged down, or they’re not working well together, I’ve found a couple of things useful. The first one is easy. Get a copy of the book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. The book, written as a leadership fable, provides key insights into how teams function (or fail to do so). Applying the techniques in the book will have dramatic results.

Sometimes, however, a team has so many issues that you need outside help. I certainly found that to be the case with one of my teams. To solve that problem, we brought in an outside facilitator to engage with the team over the course of a few months. The outside person was able to provide key insights for the rest of the team and me. And, I’m happy to report, we’re working together better than we ever have before. The money spent was well worth it, delivering results that far outweighed the cost.

I hope those tips will help to make every one of your December's one to remember. If you need my help, I'm only an email away.

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