Business change – what a bishop has to say about growth

In Atom, General by Christoff Lewis0 Comments

Christoff-fish-249For my sins, I am the church warden for an ancient church serving a tiny rural hamlet. As well as endless form filing, duties include grass cutting, feather-dusting the pews and rodding graves to see if they were dug originally to accommodate one or two people. But we also have to be inducted into our office each year by the Bishop; and this year he was talking to us about growth. When he hears a church talking about their plans along the lines of  ‘we want to consolidate our position’, the actual message he hears is ‘we want to stay exactly as we are, thank you, and just die quietly’. That got me thinking (obviously after he had finished) about how similar the challenge is for business survival, both in our own company and with those clients whom we try to encourage to do different things and grow the business. ‘Consolidation’ can just be a euphemism for stagnation.

My colleagues at Atom are tired of me using the same old analogy, but here it is again. I think a business is like a shark: it needs to keep moving to stay alive (something about water, air and gills, I think). If you stop moving you go under. I don’t think movement has to be thought of exclusively as growth or forward momentum. Our own company has been through a remarkable reinvention following the demise of the national government websites and the local regional development agencies. We have had to react, physically reorganise ourselves and move around, create new products and find new clients. All this activity has been accompanied by a decline in revenues as we have weathered the recession: but the key has been activity itself, rather than just hunkering down. As we emerge we find that we’ve got more ways of reaching the surface than we had before and a larger expanse of open water to fish in.

We can see the same is true of our clients. Those that change, innovate, query, and engage with marketing are those that are more likely to be the survivors. By contrast, we become frustrated with trying to help some clients who pay for products and then aren’t bothered by the analytics – these are usually the ones who end up being taken over or just die quietly. And frustration is a good management tool – it shows a dissatisfaction with just trying to keep the company happy as opposed to trying to get the best for both client and supplier. Sometimes the restlessness this creates makes waves – this too can be good. Some of my best client relationships have been developed after a dust-up, sometimes initiated from my own clumsy account management. Client relationships need the same ingredients as thriving companies: they have to keep moving and to challenge the status quo of the relationship if they are to develop. Creating a wave also makes you look different.

On a purely personal level, I hate change. Routine and predictability is a constant craving and I am unsettled by those around me who are always looking to do things differently and shake things up. So I ask challenging questions of proposed or actual change. For instance, how much work was involved in changing our name from BHP Information Solutions to Atom Content Marketing? Lots. And how many additional sales have we made since the change? The jury’s still out. These are all sensible things to ask but if I am honest I suspect my questions are as much evidence of really wanting to be a blob on the ocean floor, the ‘easy life’,  rather than being a cutting-edge shark.

But the other half of my brain – the bit that has observed a working life – sees that change is not only inevitable but essential for both survival and growth. And for snapping up all those opportunities that would otherwise be just out of reach.

Here endeth today’s blog.