Rick O’Leary isn’t afraid of change. In fact, he embraces it. As the CHRO of Hopkins Manufacturing and former head of HR for Corning, he believes that there is no place more important to embrace change than in the world of business.
Since the world never stands still, how does an organization react to, plan for, get ahead of, and be proactive in a world that is ever-changing? The answer: the four legs of transformation. Embracing just one or two or three legs won’t support the organization properly—business leaders must understand and grasp all four.
1. Embrace the Opportunity in Times of Conflict
The first leg is a strategic focus of embracing opportunity. Take an outside-in, inside-out focus. In basic terms, that means understanding your competition, and having good intelligence about your company and everything outside your company. Make market research a key part of what you do.
In times of conflict, there is a huge opportunity to embrace strategic focus. When O’Leary worked for Blue Cross, there was a huge shift from traditional insurance to the vast offerings of today. The company really had to hunker down and figure out its focus on its best qualities while paying attention to how things were changing so they could change with it.
Unfortunately, many other healthcare companies went out of business because they didn’t look outside and notice what was happening. They tried to do more of what they were doing cheaper, or “change” in a way that was not responsive to what the customer really wanted.
What does your company do best? Focus on that, and be the very best it at it for your customer.
2. Implement Innovation Even in a Downturn
Many back off on innovation in hard times in order to save money. But shrinking is no way to grow. Competitors are always thinking about what you have forgotten, so they can take that bit of the market. So when things are tough, it’s time to innovate. Invest in research and development. Remember that products need to change customers.
At Hopkins, O’Leary has been part of their strategy of almost doubling their investment in market development, product development, research, and engineering. Don’t shy away from the challenge of conflict and the changing economy. Meet it head-on with innovation. Due to that focus, Hopkins has gone from a $20 million company to a $250 million company in 15 years.
3. Cultivate a Strong Customer Intimacy
You can’t get anywhere if your customers don’t go with you. Engage with your customers—they want it and expect it. Integrate your social media, and have a conversation. Open the dialogue. Your customer will share vital information with you.
At a public utility company in New Jersey, they had to figure out what the customer really needed in order to make business thrive. One point of conflict was when competition opened up new alternatives as a result of deregulation, which allowed people and independent co-generation companies to generate electricity that the utility company would be required to buy. Customers did not see utilities as fast, responsive, or competitive. They learned through talking with people that the approval process to meeting business customers’ needs took too long. This opened the door to competition and drove innovation.
Talk to your customer on a personal level. What do they need? Better access? Ease of use? Faster process? Pay attention to what they are telling you.
4. Portray Your Unique Values and Culture
Be specific in what your company stands for. What are your core values? What is your brand promise? Everyone at the organization should understand and live by them, and in turn, your customers will know that your principles are synonymous with your name.
When O’Leary was at Corning, telecom was at a downturn and things were hard. Corning had strong values and an exceptional reputation for innovation. This reputation was built over 160 years. One key to turning things around was being transparent to employees about what was going on, and then really listening to their customers. Values and culture requires a dose of humility and letting go of what you think is best, and instead upholding what is best for the customer and employees. They went to their key (mobile) relationships and collaborated for solutions. Fourteen years later, Corning is a $10 billion company.
While it takes time to build all four legs of the stool—and you may be tempted to cut corners to get to the finished product more quickly—it is time well spent. The lesson here is to lean into fear with courage. We can still create for many generations to come. Part of the journey is realizing there are opportunities.