The war for transformation is fought outside the company, not inside

Fred Koury, President and CEO, Smart Business Network Inc.

In this time of transformative change, it’s easy to get derailed by internal issues. The key to being successful is to focus on the end goal, not the friction that is generated by change.

Take Yahoo for instance. Ten years ago, it was the dominant player in search. Today, Google’s revenue is in the neighborhood of more than 20 times that of Yahoo’s. The company had the opportunity to be bought by Microsoft but declined, which was puzzling, because there didn’t really appear to be a Plan B. You can read stories about in fighting between divisions and how search was given blank checks while other departments had to fight for every dime, and I’m sure there’s something to that. But I think where Yahoo went wrong was it never really had a clear idea of where it was going or what it wanted to be.

The Internet had changed, and it was no longer sure where it fit in. With no clear direction, conditions inside the company started to deteriorate. So while it may look to some that the company needed to clean up its internal mess first, the lack of a clearly defined external goal most likely contributed to the mess in the first place.

Transforming an organization to compete in the new economic landscape is difficult. It requires systemwide change at levels that most people won’t be used to. There will be the old way of doing things and new ways of doing things, and those two things often don’t mesh together well.

But all barriers have to be overcome to achieve the harmony that’s needed to succeed. You can have all the handbooks, core values and mission statements that you want, but how many people are actually referring to them? Are they doing anything for you other than collecting dust on the shelf?

The key to transformative change is leadership. Leadership has to be committed to a clear course of action no matter what. During these times, internal stress is higher and turmoil is inevitable. Everyone is overworked and on edge.

As the leader, you have to keep everyone focused on the end goal, make the changes that are necessary and move forward. You can’t lose hope, quit or give up. That’s the easy way out.

Focus on your external goals and make sure all of your people understand what their role is in getting there. There will be problems inside your business, but that takes more time to resolve itself. Your job is to stay focused and try to keep everyone else focused on the end goal.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t have to spend some time intervening in internal issues, particularly ones that threaten to derail you from your objectives. You just can’t get lost in trying to sort out every last disagreement or worrying that everyone is happy under your roof. You have to trust that your managers will sort out the little things and that those who are committed will come along for the ride.

In the end, Yahoo lost out to Google for a variety of reasons, but you have to wonder how much of its pain was caused by the lack of a clear corporate goal and the resulting focus on the in-fighting within the organization. It’s not about who wins the fight between Department A and Department B. It’s about the personnel in both departments understanding what the goal is.

To reach your transformational goals, don’t get lost in the details. Stay focused on the big prize, and you will be rewarded with success you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected]

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