David Harding: How to revitalize your organization by improving your brand, even by small steps

David Harding, President and CEO, HardingPoorman Group

Is your leadership style bureaucratic? If your organization has grown quickly, recently merged with another company or has been around longer than 10 years, chances are good it is.

If your company is run as a bureaucracy, I can guarantee the layers of leadership and signoffs make any kind of change more difficult and frustrating than it has to be — and  “evolve or die” is the mantra of today’s most successful companies.

When there is an issue that needs to be addressed, don’t make a new policy or rule. Find ways to evolve to take on the issue at hand. Be inclusive not autocratic. Ask for input at all levels.

Share your vision

One good way to move from a “competent” to a “skilled” leader is by sharing your vision with your team. It’s not just reciting the mission statement on the wall. I’m talking about your vision for your company — the one you are passionate about.

Share it in person, with a small group or your entire company. Make it known what’s important to you, what drives you and where you are headed. Your team needs clarity.

Management consultant Lee J. Colan said, “Without a compelling cause, employees are just putting in time. Their minds may be engaged, but their hearts are not. Meaning precedes motivation.”

Once your team members know where you want to go, they will help get you there.

Break through bureaucracy. It stifles new ideas and can strangle growth. Instead, lead with change in mind.

Disregard dissent

In order to create change, you must be able to boldly ignore dissent to change. The great historic politicians, generals and humanitarian leaders all got this.

Change is made by people who go against the flow and who embrace throwing a curveball to get an organization or an entrenched idea unstuck and moving in a different direction.

Give yourself and your company the power to invent anew. Start with a completely blank white board. Generate new understandings by considering the unnerving, the contentious, the wild. To create new ways and means to a new end, be open to what’s possible — and maybe what doesn’t seem possible.

Change doesn’t have to be difficult or scary. Ignore the naysayers and boldly see what lies ahead on the unexplored path.

The truth is that everything changes, and the changes are coming faster and more frequently. Companies such as IBM fall to Dell. And Dell to Microsoft. And Microsoft to Apple, Blackberry to iPod and so on.

As soon as you think your brand is exceptional, it gets harder to create real innovation because you are locked into the now. There are (very) few exceptions to this — Apple being one. That’s largely because it’s hard to make changes when “the wow” is working for your product at the moment.

Build your brand

Don’t drink your brand Kool-Aid. Always, always improve your brand. Be sure your brand continually re-earns attention and reconnects with its audience. Make lots of small, fine-tuned changes that hone in on what’s becoming important to your customer. As hockey great Wayne Gretsky said, “Skate toward where the puck is going rather than where it is.”

I’ve known a lot of business leaders who see business as a battlefield. It’s “us” against “them.” They build armies of employees and demonize competitors as enemies. There can be only winners and losers. Even customers must be “conquered.”

I don’t think business is a battlefield. I think real leaders see business as an ecosystem where the most diverse company is the most likely to thrive. They create teams rather than troops and establish offices that aren’t rigid places where employees take orders. Instead, they are open to creating teams that share ideas and see change as opportunities for growth.

True leaders are even open to creating partnerships with other companies – yes, even competitors. Firms that are light on their feet and adaptable to changing circumstances are the ones that are the most successful. And a pleasure to work with.

David Harding is president and CEO of HardingPoorman Group, a locally owned and operated graphic communications firm in Indianapolis consisting of several integrated companies all under one roof. The company has been voted as one of the “Best Places to Work” in Indiana by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. Harding can be reached at [email protected] For more information, go to www.hardingpoorman.com