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The More Things Change, the More You Have to Change with Them

Dec. 7, 2016
Are you dealing with change, or is change dealing with you?

When it comes to dealing with change, are you an ostrich, a fighter, or a pioneer? In other words, do you stick your head in the sand and try to wish it would all go away, do you resist change with every fiber of your being and try to prevent it from taking place, or do you seize the opportunity to leapfrog over your competitors and drive the change yourself?

Jim Tompkins, CEO of supply chain consulting company Tompkins International (and a member of MH&L's Editorial Advisory Board), uses those labels to describe companies facing disruptions to their business, but of course those descriptions are just as appropriate when discussing individual managers at those companies. As he explained to me, very few companies actually fully fit the "pioneer" label, and the same can be said for people. While people in the abstract might fully embrace the idea of change as a good thing (the recent election of Donald Trump as President is, if nothing else, an illustration of what happens when enough people are dissatisfied with their political leaders), most people are downright unsettled by any suggestion that they themselves need to change, whether that suggestion is coming from a spouse, a boss or the marketplace.

On some levels, change isn't really all that hard to adapt to, even when it comes relatively quickly and unexpectedly. Just think of the prominence that smartphones and social media have in your life today, compared to just 10 years ago. Look at how Amazon and Alibaba and other online retailers have led to the creation of huge national shopping "events" like Cyber Monday and Singles Day. If you're a consumer, these types of technological changes can be fascinating and to some, exhilarating. Who doesn't love the feeling that your online savviness got you a great deal?

But if you're a manager whose entire business is being threatened by the always-on, instant gratification-driven, omni-channel marketplace, change can be very threatening and career-altering (and for some, potentially career-ending). What happens if change comes so quickly that you're not ready for it? As Mike Regan, chief of relationship development at transportation solutions provider TranzAct, notes, "When you're in the midst of a disruption, you have no idea of the magnitude of the disruption."

I recently moderated a session on "Managing Change" at the MHI Annual Conference in Tucson, Ariz. My co-panelist, Hunter Hill, president of Tommy Newberry Coaching, a Georgia state senator and a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, shared his experiences leading people through change, whether on the battlefield or in a distribution center.

"We all deal with disruptions to our business," Hill says, "due to innovation, mergers, economic conditions or something else. And change causes uncertainty, confusion, alarm, panic, distress and fear." And if you as a manager are feeling these emotions, imagine what your employees are feeling.

While some managers might adopt either a "fight or flight" attitude toward change—exhibiting the same basic traits of a fighter or an ostrich that Jim Tompkins describes—what's required of a good manager is leadership.

"Focus on your people," Hill urges. "Know, first of all, that they're watching your character, and they're looking to see if you value what they value." If you're a trustworthy manager and lead by example, then your people will respect you as someone they can follow.

Character isn't enough, though. Are you a competent leader? If your employees have first-hand knowledge of your experiences and abilities, and have seen the positive results of your decisions, then you'll have a team that will follow you.

"Above all, though," Hill says, "they definitely have to know if you care about them. Do you value each employee's skill set? Do you sincerely want to help them? If you do, then you've won them over."

While it's vital that you remain up-to-date on the latest disruptive technologies and paradigm shifts in your industry, it's just as important that your workplace management skills are also ahead of the curve. The long-term secret to success when it comes to managing change is managing people.

About the Author

Dave Blanchard | Senior Director of Content

During his career Dave Blanchard has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeek, EHS Today, Material Handling & Logistics, Logistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. He also serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

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