Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

Liz Claiborne was a clothing designer for 16 years with a company whose management disregarded her ideas that body types and style preferences warranted innovation in design. So, she started her own company in 1970 as a vehicle for stylish and affordable women’s apparel.

Liz Claiborne, Inc. became an industry leader with her versatile designs appealing to the growing number of women in the workforce and to store buyers. Her innovative design and marketing philosophy sparked a major change in women’s clothing options. It continues to inspire and influence fashion designers today.

Smart retailers do not just react to change, or even simply profit from it. They make it happen and as a result, they control it on their own terms. Resistance to change is perhaps the biggest threat to progress a business can face.

“When you are through changing, you’re through,” said Bruce Barton, the most famous advertising executive of his day and a former Congressman.

Change, for most people, is an unnerving experience. But as the old saying goes, change is inevitable. It’s one of the only constants in life. Another old saying reminds us that it is easy to change things, but it is hard to change people.

“No one likes a change except a wet baby,” said Noel Coward, English playwright and actor.

I am in an industry (envelope manufacturing) that has seen remarkable change in the last 20 years. Communication that used to be mailed in a crisp envelope now travels through cyberspace instantly. Fax machines and the Internet forced us to look to the future of our business. We are constantly readjusting – changing – to accommodate and, in fact thrive, in our increasingly paperless society.  Our mantra is to “Be in business forever.” To accomplish that we must embrace change.

There are a variety of circumstances that lead to change. In our company’s case, it is technology. For other industries, it could be government policies, industry changes or acquisitions.

Companies must change to grow and remain relevant. There are a variety of ways to do this from innovation to creating new opportunities and thus developing new skills. Your organization’s ability to change quickly depends on buy-in from your employees, so it is important to keep morale high.

The best way to do that is to communicate your goals clearly to all employees. Everyone needs to be on the same page.

You must coach employees and show them how to adapt to the changes and build up their confidence. Offer additional training if needed to make changes easier to accomplish.

Encourage employees to ask questions as they adapt to changes. Soliciting feedback will give management a better understanding of how everyone is doing throughout the process. This helps everyone’s comfort level.

And be open to changes suggested by your employees. The attitude that “we’ve always done it this way” discourages discussion on improvements that are potentially time-saving and profitable. Responding to advice offered by the people who are responsible for specific jobs will not only demonstrate that you value their input, but also are open to innovations and suggestions.   

If a stonecutter from ancient Greece miraculously came to work today in a stone mason’s yard, the only notable change would be the design he would be asked to carve on the gravestones. The tools he would use would be the same, only now they might have been electrified in some way.

Throughout history, a craftsman who had learned his trade after five-to-seven years of apprenticeship would have learned everything he would ever need to use during his lifetime.

That would certainly not be so today. In today’s world, any trades person or professional will have to acquire new knowledge every four or five years or become obsolete.

Change is driven by so many factors, including customer demand, evolving lifestyles, supply issues, economic conditions, time constraints – the list goes on and on. Companies that fail to change with the times are left in the dust.

Successful organizations have learned how to change what needs to be fixed and leave the rest alone. As tempting as it can be to make sweeping changes, take time to assess what is specifically lacking: the product itself, marketing, price, production?

As Socrates said thousands of years ago, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Mackay’s Moral: If you can’t make change, you’ll never make money.

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.