Sometimes the only way to grow is to change


According to an AP story on February 7, Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has no plans for slowing down. Although no timetable was given, the mammoth corporation announced its intention to add 1,500 more stores to its current total of almost 3,200.

To break into urban markets, large, sprawling stores with over-sized parking lots will likely give way to multi-story buildings with underground parking. So says John Menzer, the company's vice chairman.

Additionally, many existing Wal-Marts are getting makeovers, with new upscale clothing lines and even faux-wooden floors to add visual appeal.

In other words, to keep growing, Wal-Mart is changing some of its tried and true operating procedures.

The addition of new Wal-Marts throughout the country will no doubt be welcomed by many, but they'll also shunned by those who believe the corporation drives out small mom-and-pop operations.

Good people stand on both sides of that argument.

When Wal-Mart opened a Supercenter in a town of about 4,000 in the State of Washington, locals experienced reasonable food prices for the first time in years. Before Wal-Mart, independent grocers had collaborated to keep some food prices artificially inflated. But with the new Supercenter, competition did what it is supposed to do.

On the down side, it wasn't long after the retail giant opened its doors that the owners of a small sewing shop closed theirs. They said it was impossible to compete with Wal-Mart's selection and pricing.

At the heart of the Wal-Mart controversy is change. Business people work hard to determine how to survive in a specific market, but are forced to re-examine everything again from scratch with a passel of unknowns when a huge, popular retailer rolls into town.

As cold as it may sound, the only thing constant in this world is change. And if we're going to survive, we need to learn to roll with the changes.

Tried and true game plans are never permanent. We just like to think that they are

People get upset with the introduction of any large store in the community because they have to adjust their "tried and true" game plan.

The problem? Tried and true game plans are never permanent. We just like to think that they are.

This environment of continual change has its roots far deeper than any business or political landscape. As a consultant, I spend a lot of time in planes at 35,000 feet. Looking out the window, one can see rivers down below with homes and factories built on their banks. From the short time of our recorded history, it's easy to imagine these rivers have always been just like they are today.

But by changing one's perspective and looking at the surrounding landscape, one can see that some of these rivers used to be much larger, with today's flow being just a trickle of their former grandeur. In some cases, if these rivers today were even one tenth of what they used to be, many of those homes and factories would be under water.

Bottom line, things change.

Just as our earth's climate is in constant flux, so is our business climate. And, just like in nature, those that survive in the world of business will be those who keep one eye on the what's going on around them, making appropriate adjustments to what they do and how they do it.

Sometimes when working with a group of managers I'll hear grumbling about how they have to deal with change all the time. If this happens at your place of work, here's an activity that helps put things in perspective:

Tape a long piece of butcher paper along a wall and create a timeline. Use five year increments and mark off enough time appropriate for the group involved. Sometimes employees have been there twenty or thirty years. If so, make your timeline go back that far.

Give each participant a few minutes to mark on the timeline where they participated in significant events at the business. Perhaps when someone got promoted. Perhaps when a new piece of equipment was installed. Or when new product lines were introduced.

After everyone is done, publicly discuss the timeline. Get people talking about "how it used to be." Some talk about typewriters instead of computers. Some talk about no Internet. Some talk about writing invoices by hand. The topics go on and on.

Then ask if they'd like to go back to doing things "how it used to be." Rare is person who says yes. Almost everyone sees that change, however painful at times, usually makes things better.

If a behemoth like Wal-Mart can change in order to grow, so can a smaller, more agile business. In fact, sometimes the only way to grow is to change. In reality, we may have a "tried and true," but it's never really permanent. So it only makes sense to roll with the changes.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.