Evolution is a cornerstone of business

The ability to adapt is critical for longevity. The ability to adapt is critical for growth. The ability to adapt is critical for success.

CEOs have iterated this to me time after time, and it struck home again when I spoke with Carol Jackson of HarbisonWalker International and Mike Wagner of Target Freight Management.

HWI coasted for more than a decade. While the company (ANH Refractories at the time) was financially stable, it wasn’t growing. About four years ago, new leadership and a commitment to invest for growth jumpstarted the business. Since then, change has permeated throughout the company.

To manage this, Jackson says it’s critical to first have clarity on what you want to accomplish. Your goals have to be simple, compact and in bite-sized pieces as they’re articulated to employees.

“We’re also doing change management work,” she says. “We’re teaching our managers and leaders how to have critical conversations and how to deal with anxiety over change and feeling overwhelmed with the workload. And so, at the same time we’re setting out ambitious business goals, we’re supporting our people and our leaders to ensure that they feel like they have the right tools at their disposal.”

In Wagner’s case, his company adapted when the logistics industry changed its rules.

When customers were billed for rule violations, his company often had to eat the cost. He got tired of it and decided to build software that wouldn’t populate a rate if a customer violated the carrier’s rule of cubic capacity or linear feet. That way, quotes were 100 percent accurate.

“It allows customers to accurately quote their freight at the time of shipment, which was impossible to do for anybody in that stretch when these rules started changing,” Wagner says.

First, he tried to outsource the software, but it was a debacle. So, Wagner hired in-house programmers. Today, he has people constantly building software, which he hopes to license or sell to others.

“You have to know your business, and you have to evolve and make changes. You see so many businesses, or I have, for years, and then markets change and they don’t change. And their businesses become obsolete,” he says. “My business is totally different today than when I started it.”