The Only Way to Prevent Failure is to Make Big, Tough, Earth-Shaking Changes

I had a conversation the other day with a client who has a small business that is not doing so hot at the moment. To put it bluntly, their small business is failing. This conversation was a follow up to months of board meetings, assessments, and different action plan scenarios. The bottom line is that if this business does nothing, its doors will most likely close within the year. Their problems are big but not insurmountable. However, they will need to make big changes in order to survive.

During the course of my conversation, the client suggested that they make the big changes in small chunks over a long period of time. Their fear was that their customers and employees would feel the change, and they did not want this. They wanted to change gradually so that no one would notice any differences.

Now, in all honesty, this story does not represent just one client or example but instead is a summary of many similar conversations I have had with many different failing businesses.

Here’s the problem with the rationale that big changes in small chunks is a good idea: first, you’re failing. You probably don’t have time to take it slow. You would not be talking about making big changes if they were not dreadfully needed now, not later. Secondly, you are failing because customers are choosing to not do business with you. There is something that they don’t like about what you offer; they can get it better, faster, or cheaper somewhere else. Thus, it would actually be a positive thing for your customers to notice a big and instant change. You’re changing to make a difference, yet you would rather the difference not be seen? This just makes no sense to me. Yet, it is a very common practice to make big changes slowly, even secretly.

Of course, this counteracts the whole reason and purpose of the change. People don’t notice subtlety. If you want to make an impact and get people’s attention, you have to go big and move fast. You have to shout out to the world that you are changing. A real-life success story is Domino’s Pizza, who put millions of dollars into telling America that their pizza used to suck, but now it is delicious. The campaign rejuvenated an old brand and brought it into the 21st century with great success. Another example was T-Mobile ditching contracts and, in the process, they not only changed their company but the whole industry. In both these examples, people noticed the difference and that was the key to the successful change.

Don’t be afraid of change when it is needed. Embrace it fully because it is the only way that it will save your company from failure. If Domino’s had simply changed their recipes, but not announced it or been willing to poke fun at themselves, they would not have made a big enough impact to see any results from the change. Change is supposed to create noticeable results. Don’t shy away from this fact, but embrace it.