Move The Needle

By Chuck Violand

January 2, 2017

One of the positive attributes of most entrepreneurs is that we dream big dreams. We have little patience for small dreams or even for thinking incrementally about how to achieve our big dreams. We know where we want to go and we want to be there now!

This attribute holds true when we launch our companies, but it also holds true if our companies slow down or run into trouble.

This is why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, when hitting a rough patch, some business owners think the only way out of it is to make huge changes. “We need to double sales!” “We need to slash expenses to the bare minimum!” “We need to fire all the dead wood and hire only “A” players!”

There’s no doubt that there are times when radical change is needed to help a business survive, and sometimes that change needs to happen quickly. But those occasions should be rare.

Great things can be brought about in a business by applying modest changes over a sustained period of time. In his book, Chase One Rabbit, business professor Dr. Phil Kim uses the example of a 57-year-old friend who went from never having been a runner to running in three marathons a year—all within the span of five years. Talk about a great example of what can happen when you move the needle just a little bit at a time!

Business owners can be fiery guys. Many have communication, patience, attention, and anger issues we work out in real time with our employees. Frequently, this shoots us in the foot when it comes to hiring and keeping good workers or getting the best out of the ones we have. If we’re smart, we recognize this and the negative impact our behavior can have on our business. So, we vow to change things—all at once!

With rare exception, there is little chance that someone can go from acting like a lunatic one day to being a choirboy the next. Even if we start out making big changes in our behavior, there’s little chance we’ll be able to stick with it, especially as the stresses of the business or of the changes themselves intensifies.

What we can do, however, is move the needle just a little bit every week, every month, for a year. If things fall apart (and there will always be some falling apart) then we’ve only lost a week’s or a month’s worth of effort, not the entire change initiative. That makes it easier to get back in the game.

Trying to accomplish too much, too fast often results in accomplishing nothing that lasts. We get distracted; we become exhausted; or we don’t see enough of a payoff soon enough, so we give up. Making a desired change is only the first step. Maintaining the change is where the real work comes into play and where the real payoff takes place.

Move the needle just a bit, but at least get it moving. First get used to the change, then master it and let it become a habit.
A modest two percent improvement each month for a year results in about a twenty-four percent change overall. That makes a huge difference! Even though you might not notice much of a change right away, over time the change will become visible.