Reinvention is an Ongoing Process

Companies may have been created as a result of an invention, or new creation, but to survive they must keep the process going. This doesn't mean "tinkering" with minor components, systems, or procedures. It means an original creative process aimed at discovery. Discoveries are a product of the imagination. However, once a novel idea or approach has resulted in the creation of a business or product, to keep the thing going does not allow for complacency.

Reinvention is the process by which organizations regain that initial "spark" of creativity, enthusiasm and innovation that allows them to reverse the "decline" period of the business life-cycle, and begin re-building and growing again.

Rethinking what business you are in is a good place to start. "What business are we in?" may seem to be a ridiculous question with an obvious answer. However, it is neither! For example, it may appear you are in the auto repair business, but you may actually be in the transportation business. Your service is designed to facilitate the transport of individuals and families from point "A" to point "B." There are many ways to make the trip. Public transportation, rental car, taxi, or a replacement vehicle (new or used), are all options. Many repair shops recognize this simple fact and either provide transport to the person's residence or workplace, or provide a convenient rental car agency service, or even a loaner car. For some auto repair shops this service is the deciding factor for their customers, and without it they would not be as successful.

If you were starting your business today, would it look the same? With changes in technologies, business practices, consumer preferences, economic conditions, etc., few business owners or executives would create a business that looks the same, even after only a few years. We need to "step back" and take a periodic, and objective, look at not only what business we're in, but also the way in which we conduct business.

When Disney Corporation looks at their business, they do so intently and passionately. Disney executives use the term "re-imagineering," stressing the part that imagination plays in the process. The corporation is not satisfied with the status quo, and constantly seeks to provide a more exciting, rewarding and satisfying entertainment experience for its customers. This attitude has paid off, during good times and bad.

A regional corporation, Taco Bell, with less than half a billion dollars in sales, has grown to a multi-billion dollar business by focusing on delivering value to their customers. This focus led to cost-cutting initiatives in all aspects of the business, new location sites and strategies, new marketing approaches, improved controls and technologies, and, interestingly, a reduction in the size of the kitchens at local outlets, through more off-site food preparation. Hallmark Cards was faced with possible extinction as a result of competition, e-mail delivery methods, and a variety of other factors. The company joined the technological revolution, and successfully competed in this arena. But perhaps their most significant accomplishment was to reduce the cycle-time for development of new products into the marketplace. A new line of cards used to take two to three years from inception to marketability. After reengineering, it took only eight months!

Corinthian Colleges, parent of Everest Colleges, Everest Institutes, Everest Universities, and WyoTech schools, redefined their business as "Changing Students Lives." Instead of narrowly focusing on the educational aspect common to all educational institutions, they broadened their mission to incorporate the whole person (student). This involved the development of a "full service" model centering on servicing and supporting all students throughout their educational process and well into their career placement. In order to "change lives," you have to get students into an appropriate program and keep them there until graduation and beyond. This is not as easy as it sounds. Students, especially many of the non-traditional types who come to Everest, have constant challenges, barriers, obstacles and setbacks. This requires that Everest employees; faculty, admissions, student finance planners, and career services go out of their way to help students succeed. This is a Corinthian expectation and requirement and has resulted not only in student success, but corporate growth and profitability.

The "Big 3" automobile manufacturers are frantically trying to reinvent themselves. For even the least sophisticated business observer this has been a long time coming. It seems that the major automobile companies were frozen in the '60's when gas prices were not a concern and foreign competition was not as fierce. They continued to produce big "gas guzzlers" while customers clamored for fuel efficiency during the oil crisis. Their dealership network was overblown, as were the UAW (United Auto Workers) benefits and paychecks. The economic downturn in 2008 pointed out all of these deficiencies in dramatic fashion. What was the industrial and manufacturing mainstay for the economy quickly withered and fell into crisis, requiring government bailouts and executive changes. The industry was not "too big to fail," and required major intervention. For the sake of the national economy, the autoworkers, and all of the related or subsidiary businesses, let's hope their reinvention efforts are successful.

Constant environmental change necessitates constant adaptation. The social Darwinist "survival of the fittest" model comes to mind. Organisms that don't evolve, don't survive – simple as that. The forces of entropy and homeostasis are always at work. These forces favor non-adaptation and resistance to change. The leader with foresight will recognize this and force change. Oftentimes reinvention is necessary as a result of environmental, technological, or competitive situations requiring bold and immediate action. Frequently a decrease in "market share," profitability, or competitive edge, will provide the impetus.

Of course constant reinvention would wear out even the most optimistic, and motivated, among us. Therefore periodic review should be instituted as an ongoing practice. Perhaps an annual "Reinvention Retreat" is a good idea. (Some don't like the term "retreat" because of the implication of going backwards – so call it something else.) This should be a "no-holds-barred" brainstorming session at which the current and projected business environment is examined, along with possible adaptive responses and forward-thinking initiatives.

Episodic reassessments and looking at your business with "fresh eyes" can have many rewards. Some executives I know of periodically become a "mystery shopper" at their own business to regain a customer's perspective of the process. Others walk through processes as though they were an "order" or "complaint" to gain insights concerning the effectiveness and efficiency of the functions, and assigned personnel.

Many organizations form task forces or teams to rethink organizational purposes, processes and outcomes. This can be revealing and insightful. Often the synergy and variety of perspectives afforded by a group expert will quickly identify weaknesses, barriers, and opportunities.

Some companies require, or request, the help of a facilitator or consultant. This provides a certain reassurance, and often a more objective assessment. It's frequently faster, too. However, the "buy-in" of key employees and management is essential. If it's viewed as the "Consultant's Idea" the project will fail. Commitment and participation from all levels is essential.

Whatever approach you use to initiate reinvention, remember:
  • To recognize that reinvention is a necessity - Business purposes and processes need to be periodically re-visited
  • The same inquisitiveness, creativity and energy that helped start the business will help it continue to grow and prosper
  • There is more risk associated with doing nothing than there is with trying actions that are risky