For Return On Impact, Challenge Your Status Quo

“Strong. Proud. Independent.” GAWDA’s theme for its 70th anniversary year describes characteristics anyone would be proud to display, and attributes anyone would happily support in a company they worked for, bought from, or invested in. And yet, for mature companies in mature industries, behind those words lights a warning: Don’t be so strong, proud, or independent that you cannot adapt to a changing market.

Unless you start to think differently about your business and revenue models, you can quickly become a strong, proud, and independent dying breed. Disruption is a given in today’s business environment, much of it from technology. Does that mean there will be an “Uber for gas distribution” tomorrow? I don’t know. I do know that whole industries are being upended where few saw it coming. Your job as a leader is to avoid that fate.

That means that for distributors and suppliers in the gases and welding industry, it’s time to challenge the status quo. As comfortable as it is to rely on the results you’ve always gotten from the way you’ve always operated, it is time to challenge those assumptions. The most successful gases and welding industry players in the future will look nothing like the successes of 1945—or even 1995.

Why do I call for challenging the status quo now, with the economy recovering and GAWDA members at their most optimistic in years? Because the time to invest in upgrades and new initiatives is while business is good overall.

Challenging your status quo will, I submit, dramatically increase your return on impact. Here’s how…

#1 Social/digital excellence, from how you represent yourself online to how you collect and use data, is crucial for mature companies in the gases and welding industry.

#2 Challenge the status quo of your current infrastructure to drive competitive advantage by upgrading every facet of your customers’ experience.

#3 To drive net-new business opportunities that accelerate your performance, you must hire exceptional talent, build your brand, and develop an agile culture.

Tomorrow Will Be Digital. Get In the Game.

Your customers, employees, partners and investors are increasingly digital-savvy. They are participating in online conversations. They are infusing their thinking with technology-driven case studies and innovative insights. They are not just reading Welding and Gas Today; they’re browsing Fast Company and Inc. They are asking themselves, “Why aren’t we doing this?”

As a mature industry, the gases and welding space is not representing itself well online. Customers and potential employees expect to be able to interact with you at the time of their choosing and on the devices of their choice. If the phrase “responsive design” means nothing to you, then your online presence is probably not receiving the attention it should. In early 2014, Internet usage on mobile devices exceeded desktop computers. Have you taken a look at your website on a mobile device recently? Does it look and function the way customers expect? Are you following customer conversations in social communities? Can you detect definitive triggers that someone is looking for a solution to a problem you can solve? Data, in real or near-real time, is one of the great advantages that digital has brought us. If your status quo dates to an era when data didn’t matter, it’s time to shake off that outdated approach and discover the opportunities in insightful analytics.

Reinvent Your Infrastructure.

Disruption from technology is affecting infrastructure. I suggest competitive advantage will be earned by those companies that upgrade the infrastructure points of their business—not incrementally, but dramatically. If you’ve always operated with files and servers, maybe it’s time to move to the Cloud. How is data used in your business? That’s one of the disruptors. Businesses have generated and collected data for a long time, but only now are we becoming more astute at real-time or near-real-time access to it. To improve your data-driven intelligence, upgrade your ERP, CRM, marketing automation or other infrastructure resources. Upgrade your customer service touchpoints. Upgrade every facet that affects customer experiences, every facet of the ecosystem that supports those customer experiences. Wherever you see “status quo” in your current infrastructure, challenge it. If you were a start-up entrepreneur, what would you invest in?

To Accelerate Results, Drive Net-New Business Relationships.

If you anticipate future growth through the same customer and supplier relationships that have always sustained you, your future trajectory will be a modest upward ramp at best. Without challenging that status quo of business acquisition, you could easily find that ramp flattening or even slanting downward. To find net-new business relationships, a mature company in a mature industry must get engaged in the war for exceptional talent, build its brand reputation, and develop its culture.

Let’s break that down. First: talent. You need people who think differently, people who aren’t going to bring industry baggage. Look outside! You can teach the industry; what you can’t teach is intelligence. Preparing your company to be a leader in a digitally driven future means recruiting people with current experience in digital innovation. The fundamental requirement sought by exceptional talent—especially the Millennials who represent your company’s future workforce—is an exceptional culture and brand.

Which brings us to your brand. Yes, brand matters, even in the gases and welding space. Is yours a company known for identifying problems, changing perspectives, innovating radically new solutions? Do you give back to your industry and community for a stronger future? Then you’ve got a brand that will attract exceptional talent. If not, then it’s time to challenge your brand’s status quo.

Finally, culture drives opportunity, a connection too many leaders overlook. Do you deliver exceptional experiences, not just for the people you are trying to attract, but also for your existing workforce? Are you continuously building an agile culture that makes better decisions based on real-time insights drawn from live data? Are you empowering people to take action on those decisions? If your culture isn’t attractive to the next generation of workers, managers and leaders, then one of your company’s greatest assets is no asset at all.

By investing in social and digital innovation, reinvention of your infrastructure and evolution of your talent strategy, brand and culture, you can stabilize the highs and the lows in your current business. You can find the new business and revenue models that leverage your company’s best attributes. And you can actually drive dramatically greater return on investment, not to mention return on impact.

You may be strong, proud, and independent today. I submit you can also be agile, profitable, and innovative.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Meet the Author
David Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. He has developed Relationship Economics® – the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. He is the author of several books, including Relationship Economics–Revised, ConnectAbility, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital, and Return on Impact-Leadership Strategies for the Age of Connected Relationships. Learn more at www.NourGroup.com. He will present “The Quantifiable Value of Business Relationship” on Monday, October 12, at GAWDA’s Annual Convention in Scottsdale, Arizona.