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Overcoming Resistance to Change

Business and management advice for your shop.

We are all familiar with the old cliche, "The only thing constant about life is change." It’s a saying that certainly applies to our industry. I’ve been involved in the signage and graphics business for more than 15 years, and I remain amazed at our industry’s constantly changing pace. But because change often creates tough challenges, it can sometimes be an unwelcome guest in most shops.

Three key areas of business that regularly change include: markets, employees, and technology. I think almost everyone recognizes that these areas are in a constant state of flux, but I’m amazed by how many shop owners are unwilling to deal with the reality. Instead, they tend to hold fast to the past, sometimes at the risk of harming their company. Let’s take a look at changes that have occurred-and are occurring-in each of these areas, and evaluate how resistance to change can be overcome.

Adapting to today’s markets

The marketplace today is very different from, say, five or 10 years ago. For one thing, the client mix has changed. In years past, for instance, many companies relied upon their advertising agencies to create and produce their graphics. As such, these ad agencies were very large customers for graphics producers. While advertising agencies in the current market still may carry out an important role and remain valuable customers to many of us, a significant number of corporations now have their own advertising departments fully staffed with graphic designers and operational personnel completely in charge of their company’s graphics.

Another example is the relationship that graphics producers now have with exhibit companies. In my company’s case, the exhibit companies in our local market used to be a primary source of business. We now find that a large number of our corporate customers know where to buy the necessary display equipment and come directly to us to produce the graphics. Or perhaps, if a company does use an exhibit company for its graphics needs, the exhibit company now has the equipment to produce the client’s graphics and displays themselves. So, today, the exhibit companies have become our competitors. Other examples of these types of market shifts abound, but the point is this: Our markets today are very different than in the past, and they’ll likely continue to evolve in the future.

So how do you adapt to these changes? One way is to keep up with your customers’ needs. Your sales representatives should meet regularly with your key clients about their current graphics requirements as well as their future needs. Your sales reps cannot merely act as professional order takers, waiting for your clients to call and place the next order. In today’s marketplace, they must fulfill the role of professional consultant, technical expert, and customer-service rep all wrapped up in one.

Additionally, you should look into developing markets that you may not have previously considered. It may be government entities, or industries such as healthcare, real estate, construction, or even the professional-services sector including the likes of law firms and accounting firms. Everyone needs graphics. And if you want to retain your current customers and develop new ones, the formula hasn’t changed: Your customers-new and old-demand your best products and your best service.

A new crop of employees

The interaction between employer and employee also has changed in recent years. Gone are the days of a manager telling an employee, "Hey, you’re just lucky to have a job!" In fact, most employers now feel fortunate to keep the experienced employees that they have.

Today, employees can demand, and are entitled to, a safe workplace, good healthcare benefits, worker’s-compensation coverage, and other similar benefits. In return, employers often get employees’ performances going well beyond the 9-to-5 mentality that was indicative of the workplace in years past. The current crop of employees are typically dedicated to their jobs, often investing 10 to 12 hours a day, if necessary, to "make it happen." They are well-trained, bright, and anxious to contribute to making your business better.

Still, there are managers that struggle adapting to the mentoring and open communication necessary to foster a positive and productive workplace. They pine for the days when employees were just expected to show up, do their job, don’t complain, and get paid. Of course, these are the managers that will never retain good employees.

The lesson is an obvious one: Treat your employees as valuable assets to your company, and they, in turn, will give you their time, talents, and energy to ensure your business is successful.

Propelled by technology

Whenever change in our industry is brought up, most of us think about the dramatic differences in technology that have occurred over the years. It’s hard to imagine that less than 15 years ago none of us were producing graphics from digital files. Now, most of us no longer accept work that isn’t in a digital format.

Of course, changes in technology require significant capital investment. Let’s face it, this can be an expensive business to compete in. But the consequences of resisting change can be devastating. Many of those companies that have chosen to avoid our industry’s technological moves are no longer in business.

Technology also has played a huge role in changing the way we conduct business. For example, think about the time required to receive files, approve proofs, interact with the customer, produce jobs, and ship them. Jobs that once took five to seven days are now routinely requested by clients to be done in three or four. And, if you can’t get them done, well, someone else can.

If you have unlimited financial resources, there should be no problem keeping up with the ever-changing technology challenges that you face. Unfortunately, most of us do not. There is a dichotomy that exists here: If you invest in every new piece of machinery that comes along-and some do-it will likely drain your financial resources long before you realize a return on your capital investments. On the other hand, if you observe from the sidelines, the technology will zoom right by and, soon, you will find it difficult to compete.

Your challenge, then, is to invest in the equipment that makes the most sense for your business-equipment that will make you money. If you spend the time to study, evaluate, and invest wisely, technology can propel your business into continued profitability.

Accepting that change will always be a constant in your business will help you overcome some of the psychological, financial, structural, or other type barriers that you may encounter along the way. Embrace change as a positive step toward your next business success-whether within your market place, your employees, your technology, or any other area of your business.

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