Why Firms Must Focus on Change
To survive in the modern world, companies require and increasingly flexible philosophy, along with the skills to effect change smoothly, writes Barbara McCarthy

Kodak was once the best-known company producing film for cameras. Anybody who had a camera has probably used Kodak film at some point. That all ended just after the new millennium when photography started to go digital. Within a few years, amateur and professional photographers alike no longer needed film. Rather than sticking to its guns, the firm embraced the changing world and reinvented itself.

“Who would have thought that film for cameras would fall out of demand in such a short space of time?” asked Rowan Manahan, MD of Fortify Services, the career management and outplacement firm. “That’s what any successful company has to do when change occurs. You have to recognise that it is happening and you have to (quickly) come to terms with it.”

In this way, Kodak diversified to commence production of branded digital cameras. In moving with the times, it also recognised the massive mobile phone camera market and in 2006, it announced a product with Motorola. In an effort to reduce costs, Kodak accompanied its shift toward digital products with a series of layoffs and facility closures reducing its workforce by about 20%, with circa 15,000 people losing their jobs.

This swift reaction to change allowed the company to introduce products smoothly and quickly. By remaining just a producer of film it could have gone downhill – just like many a typesetting company after the introduction of the Mac computer – but it didn’t.

“If you are standing on a road and there is a truck with ‘Change’ written on it bearing down on you; you can act like King Canute and stand in the middle of the road sticking your hand up to stop it, you can let it go past, or you can run alongside it and try to jump on board,” said Manahan.

“People such a Sergey Brin (founder of Google), Bill Gates and Steve Jobs saw their opportunities and jumped on the truck,” he said. And if we are only just about coming to terms with the pace of change in the past 10 to 15 years, we had better be prepared for what is heading our way, he says. “Things are about to change more quickly than ever before and if you want your staff to buy into it, you need to buy into it yourself.”

Human beings are naturally resistant to change, he argues. If people are in an entrenched environment, like an organisation with a defined way of doing things, then this resistance will be stronger. The key to implementing change in a business is to start with yourself. “If you expect everyone in your company to change, but stay essentially the same yourself; what you say will have no effect,” he said. “There is frequently a major disparity between ‘say’ and ‘do.’

Far too many times, senior management think that ticking boxes or paying lip service will bring about the change. “But remember the words of one of the world’s leading management visionaries and best-selling management author, Tom Peters: ‘What Gets Measured Gets Done.’ If it is important to you and if it is what you are ultimately measured on – it will get done,” said Manahan, adding that this is something that many chief executives forget.

From the Sunday Times appointment section here