Burn Your Ships!

The phrase “Burn your ships” references a historical event that happened in the year 1519 during the Spanish conquest of Mexico.  the Spanish commander, Hernάn Cortéz, scuttled his ships upon arriving in the new world. This act of destroying his own ships sent a very clear message to his men: there was no turning back. He removed the option to say “Well, gee…it’s not going very well. I think we’ll just hop on the ships and go back across the ocean.” The option of going back to the way things used to be was literally taken off the table.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words. As leader of your organization, the words you say are very important, but even more important are your actions. If you introduce a new business process, or some new software technology, and you yourself do not fully embrace it, adopt it, and use it, why should your people do so? If you aren’t fully committed to the new process, then why should they be? When you are willing to remove the old ways of doing things, you and your team have no choice but to be fully committed to the new process.

Change Is Hard, Especially When You Leave the Door Open to the Past. Change is difficult at every level, whether you are introducing a new business process, technology, or software, or you have new team members. Change is hard. When making a change, if you leave the door open to the way things used to be, by even a crack, that allows your team the option of not accepting the new process. You will not be successful in realizing the change if your team knows there is an open offramp. The chances are high they will take advantage of that as an option.

What Not To Do. A company was implementing a major change: they were installing a new ERP system. This new software was going to impact every department and every employee throughout the company headquarters, warehouse, and distribution center. The first phase of the new system was deployed and appeared to be working well with the existing systems. The project leaders patted themselves on the back. What they didn’t realize was that the employees were still utilizing the old system. They were doing the work in the old system and then, with a couple of extra steps, they would pull the data into the new software. The employees felt more comfortable with the old system. They found the new system to be cumbersome, not very intuitive, or user friendly. Since the lines of communication were not clear, the employees simply continued to do their daily tasks in the old system and did data-dumps into the new one. It wasn’t until phase three of implementation that they ran into a major roadblock. When they decommissioned the old system, everything came to a screeching halt. No one had really taken the time to learn the new system. When the door was “closed” on using their old software, chaos ensued.

Change Management When you are making a change in your organization you have to have clear, two-way communication. As a leader, you need to prepare your team for the change. You must be thoughtful and understanding with their concerns, and address those concerns up front. The physical business processes and action steps associated with change are one part that will require training and preparation, but it is the human factor that takes a lot of business leaders by surprise. The human brain prefers routines. We are creatures of habit so when our environment, or routines, change, it can cause us a lot of stress.

One way to set your organization up for success when  making a big change, is to identify a team member from every business unit to serve as the unit’s project champion. This employee should be well respected by their peers. Bring the project champions together in the inner circle of the project team. The project champions get they hear about how the project is being implemented and learn the inside scoop about the project. The project champions take the information back to their team members and what they have learned so everyone, in every business unit gets to feel as a part of the project.

Lead by Example. Burning your ships is a pretty dramatic way of sending the message that you are fully committed to a change, but it certainly makes your mission clear. There are more practical ways of conveying your commitment to change. As a leader, demonstrate your commitment to change by having regular meetings with your direct reports to ask for their feedback. Be prepared to truly listen to their concerns and ask for their suggestions on how to problem solve. Be willing to adapt and adopt the new process changes yourself in your daily work. Be transparent in how you are finding ways to get accustomed to what is new and different. When your team sees you embracing change, they are much more likely to be willing to join you on the journey.

Retail Level Up provides coaching, training, and consulting services to individuals and teams. Visit www.retaillevelup.com to learn more and to schedule a free consultation.

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