Before 1978, the Swiss had 50% of the world watch market, but within the next ten years, they lost nearly all of it because they didn’t embrace change. In 1978, their scientists developed quartz technology, an extremely accurate means of keeping time that required just over half the moving parts of an analog watch. The technology used was far less expensive because a quartz watch could be built by a robot rather than by a trained craftsman.

Unfortunately, the Swiss decision makers didn’t embrace this new technology because they did not consider a device without a mainspring, finely cut gears or a stem really a watch. Meanwhile, the rest of the world saw the immediate advantages of this new technology. As a result, employment in the Swiss watch-making industry declined 70%, putting two-thirds of Swiss watchmakers out of business.

This story illustrates that sometimes success is the enemy of change. Change agents, typically considered to be outsiders and upstarts, bring new ideas to the table which can take an industry back to zero. Those who were successful under the old rules do not even recognize the rules have been changed. Because they have no preconceptions of what a “watch” should look like, change agents have the advantage.

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Along with my business partner, Bill Maloney, I embraced people assessment tools in 1998 even though seven PhDs in our company told us assessments did not work. We didn’t listen to our colleagues who had years of training and expertise; we just pushed forward as change agents with our crazy idea.

Within three years, our business quintupled. I had clients in forty-one states; sales grew 20%-30% per year; profits were up, expenses were down, and excitement was high…until 2009, when business fell off by half. Like the Swiss watchmakers, I had fallen victim to success! You might say I had to quit making watch springs and catch up with the 21st century.

When the wheels started coming off the business, I asked for guidance from a respected colleague. Within a year, I had a different mindset and was establishing new tools to broaden my appeal to the business world. Revenue continued to fall, however, and I attributed this to growing pains, continuing to focus on old business strategies. As you can see, I still didn’t get it.

For some crazy reason, I was proud of the fact that I hadn’t done any real marketing for a decade. I came to realize my website had the professional appeal of a toaster oven, and my business was going nowhere. I could see I wasn’t going to regain peak revenue continuing on the path I was on so with the help of talented and faithful advisors, I finally set out to recreate my company from the ground up.

Hopefully, you’ll recognize the warning signs and embrace change more quickly than I did. It’s important to admit there’s a problem, identify it then deal with it. It won’t get better on its own.

Consider the following points to test just how resistant to change your business model has become. Find someone you trust to bounce around ideas. There’s no time to lose. GET ON WITH IT.

  • Are you happy? Are you making the people around you happy?
  • What is your purpose? Is your business aligned with your purpose?
  • What kind of a communicator are you? Are you listening?
  • What is the quality of your leadership and management teams, and your employees?
  • Are you delivering solutions your customer wants and needs?
  • What are the major changes in your industry and how have you adapted to them?

Have you anticipated what the next 2-5 years will look like?

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