Why you should enlist others to help you identify opportunities for change
By John Milgram, President, Aexcel Corporation
Even the best leaders develop blind spots—areas in which you do not see yourself or your organization’s situation realistically.
These blind spots, or lack of awareness, could potentially cause great damage to your company and all the people who depend on it.
When things are going well … life is easy. But when we’re faced with a difficult business environment and there is a real need for change, too often we hang on to old activities. We hope that what made us previously successful will make us successful again in the future. Yet clinging to old ideas is possibly the last thing we should be doing.
Very often as leaders, we’re completely invested in the things that got us where we are. We are slow to recognize the need for change. We’re in denial for longer than those who look upon us.
“What can we (or I) stop doing today to become more productive?” ~ John Milgram, Aexcel Corporation
If your organization could benefit from a change, how are you supposed to recognize it? And if you do recognize a need for change, where are you supposed to go for advice?
Several years ago, feeling that our company could do better, we came to the realization that the activities of our company were grounded on what had been done in the past, instead of what needed to be done to meet the company’s real business needs.
Operating on the notion that our business strategy was based on what we deliberately chose not to do, as much as what we chose to do, I started asking our people the question: “What should we stop doing?”
Acting upon the input from several key people, we phased out an entire line of business that was very time-consuming and cost-intensive. At the time, this line of business seemed off-limits and the thought of eliminating it caused many sleepless nights.
While the decision to phase out this line of business caused a great deal of anxiety, it eventually led to a dramatic restructuring of the way that we did business—lowering our costs, changing our customer base, expanding our distribution, increasing the volume of sales, and increasing our customer satisfaction.
As a result, our company is in a much better position today than it was 5 years ago, and we’ve been able to weather the downturn without laying off any employees—putting us in a much stronger position as the economy continues to improve, and we inevitably face a new competitive landscape.
Now we try to proactively identify those habits, actions, and assumptions that could potentially damage our business. And I rely on key stakeholders to help uncover blind spots and identify opportunities for change, including (1) Customers (2) Managers (3) Employees (4) Trusted advisors (including my Board of Directors), and (5) Colleagues.
If you are a leader of a corporation, or the head of a division, or an employee who wants to get ahead, you might want to try this exercise. “What can we (or I) stop doing today to become more productive?”
Coping with change is difficult. But not as difficult as coping with the kind of change you’ll have to cope with if you wait too long—and lose the opportunity to make the constructive change that will help your business thrive.
If you take proactive measures to uncover your blind spots, you’ll be on the right path towards understanding the real issues facing your organization, and will be better able to adapt to the changes in your business environment.
John Milgram has been with Aexcel Corporation for twenty-one years, and President for sixteen of those years. Prior to that he earned an MBA from Columbia Business School, and worked in the financial services industry for five years. He obtained his BA from University of Pennsylvania in 1981, and graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in 1977
Ralph A. Dise, Jr. serves on Aexcel Corporation’s Board of Directors.