Change: Where Do We Begin?

March 1, 2016 Updated: April 24, 2016

Once an owner or a senior executive decides change is desired or required, he or she often wonders, “Where do I begin?”

My first piece of advice is to avoid trying to create an ideal future. It’s an impossible dream.

In the next week, listen for the terms “ideal” or “ideally.” You’ll likely hear them at least once or twice a day. But be aware that these concepts are often unspoken but implied.

Here’s another weak approach: Given the present circumstances, what’s the best we can hope to achieve? This is a reaction to outside forces, distancing us from creating what’s truly important to us.

I have a fight-back strategy: Decide what you want and articulate it as a clear picture. What does “success” look like? How are you and others acting?

Clearly decide what is important to the enterprise and clarify the stands you take.

As the Rolling Stones sang, “You can’t always get what you want.” But you can increase your odds by clearly stating what you want in uncluttered, visual language.

Business creations begin as pictures in someone’s mind. People want what they want and will do whatever is necessary to realize their desired outcomes. Trying to avoid what they don’t want is the road to failure.

Articulate and Demonstrate Your Stands

For owners, CEOs, board members, and executives, it’s critical to make decisions in advance of crisis management. If you are considering a business makeover, start by clarifying the stands you take. Stands are position statements, such as “We take a stand for people first, then technology.” You want others to think from your stands.

However, my advice is to avoid publishing stands on a poster, website, or wallet-sized card. Almost everyone does this, but that doesn’t make it right. We suggest the radical step of leaving stands unpublished but rather articulating and demonstrating them in action.

Published vision/values statements often become “wallpaper” or are used to criticize others for not living up to their values or not walking the talk. As for stands, there is a time to publish them for future reference, but they form the basis of our decisions and are best taught in action.

We’d like clients to distinguish our stands not from reading a piece of paper or our website, but from the words and actions of the people they interact with.

Commitment Versus Ideals

Another reason not to publish stands too soon is that they can be turned into ideals. Yet, they are not ideals but commitments.

Here’s an example from Steve Cardy, a former executive with Labour Ready, who received training from Dale Carnegie. “We take a stand for ‘safety over revenue,'” Mr. Cardy said.

From this came a commitment to a site visit before accepting a new customer.

What did Labour Ready Canada do when a customer offered thousands of dollars but the site did not pass inspection? It turned down the work.

Decide what you want and articulate it as a clear picture. What does “success” look like?

That’s the power of demonstrating stands. Applied to an organization’s employees, it replaces excessive compliance issues (read by employees as “we don’t trust you”) and gives people the freedom to exercise their judgment along with clarity about the organization’s commitments.

Clearly decide what is important to the enterprise and clarify the stands you take.

An employee at a client of ours told me how 10 years ago his manager and mentor told him the stands of the organization and the reasoning behind each one. He was told, “Thinking from these stands will guide you more than anything else.”

The employee admitted it took him a year or more to “get” what this meant, but when he did, he said it made all the difference in the world.

Dave Mather is a 40-year veteran Dale Carnegie business coach. His columns can be read at