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Fight through fear Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
Change is often a scary thing, especially when you don’t know what the end result of that change is going to be, says Kelley Scott, president of Sawyer Technical Materials LLC.

“People have become accustomed to what they have been doing,” Scott says. “There is resistance to get out of that comfort mode. You have to tear down the barriers to change, and the greatest barrier of all is the fear of something unknown.”

Sawyer went through a boom period in the late 1990s as components for cell phones became a hot commodity. But the boom was already ebbing in 2000, leaving the quartz supplier with too much capacity and too much inventory.

Scott said it became apparent that it was necessary to completely overhaul the company to remain competitive. And fear was the first hurdle to overcome to put a culture in place.

“Some people were more reluctant to change than others,” Scott says. “Some people were anxious to see a change. It was a matter of getting everybody on the same page. Once those of us in management positions began to talk openly with each other about it, we found out we weren’t alone.”

Open and honest communication was key.

“We had to talk honestly about what the strengths and weaknesses were of not only the company, but ourselves,” Scott says.

This open communication should also be a part of the process used to develop a new culture.

Sawyer put together two 15-person groups, the first of which was primarily salaried people who had direct reports, while the other included members of the second level of leadership, Scott says.

The idea was to engage other employees in the process to ensure the new strategy would not be seen as an edict handed down from the top without any input.

“A part of the assignment for the group was to come up with a visual vision that would be used to communicate this vision to the rest of the organization and to sustain that vision as well,” Scott says.

In addition to employee participation, companies should not be afraid to utilize outside consultants.

“That’s what they do,” Scott says. “They were able to customize activities and programs for us around what our needs were.”

It is often helpful to conduct this type of dialogue away from the day-to-day routine of the workplace, where major issues can be hashed out without the distraction of company business. Sawyer leaders spent a weekend at a state park.

While a culture change requires a great deal of internal focus, a company must not forget that its customers have a vested interest in the change, as well. News of the change will not always be met with instant approval.

“Customers, for the most part, didn’t want to see change,” Scott says. “We had to convince them that we were still in business and that we were going to come out of this as a solid company that they could continue to count on.”

To ease concerns, the company must do more than just make a phone call or send an e-mail. Sawyer officials visited their customers at their individual facilities, met with managers and sought to answer any questions that they had.

“It was also very important that we continued to supply products on time,” Scott says.

“Internally, we were all about change. Externally, for the most part, we were still the reliable supplier that companies had known us to be.”

HOW TO REACH: Sawyer Technical Materials LLC, (440) 951-8770 or www.sawyerllc.com