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Why your business needs to be a Startup

My favourite speech at the moment is the words spoken by Jeff Immelt, the CEO of GE, at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference. It wasn’t a stirring, Henry V St Crispin’s Day speech to the troops before battle (my all time favourite speech, by the way). It wasn’t even a speech really, by the true definition, but a chat with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in front of 20,000 friends.

You won’t find Immelt’s words plastered on motivational memes. You may not even find them quoted in the media much. But what you will find in those words is some very timely advice from the leader of a very established company.

Immelt says:

“GE is 140 years old. If you want to stay around a while, you have to be willing to drive change.”

Sigh. There it is. That word. Change.

You’re thinking “I know we have to change. I know there’s the Cloud and social media and more options and advice than ever before. I know my workforce is filling with millennials and my competitors are all over this savvy internet content platform tribe building stuff but it’s hard. We’re a 5yr/10yr/25+yr old company with ways of doing things and old IT systems and it’s just a bloody big ship to alter the course of, let alone turn around.”

I get it. I honestly do. I’ve worked for banks and government departments and I’ve rolled out new software and changed communication platforms. Change IS hard. That’s why big businesses employ corporate change managers and communication specialists (not external communications). That’s why small businesses flail around asking for opinions and eventually give up because they are just so uncertain. And then watch the startup in their industry thrive.

But you can’t afford to put this in the too hard basket.

You are a digital and technology company whether you know it or not.

That’s my line, not Immelt’s.

How well you embrace that concept will determine your future. Immelt believes that too: “But my belief, this is the biggest — we’re in a line of demarcation for industrial companies. There’s a past, and there’s going to be a future. And the future is really going to be derived on who digitizes the fastest.”

Would we ever have thought that an industrial company would bring thought leadership in the field of technology? Probably yes if you are talking research & development and even manufacturing. But Immelt’s remark was made when asked if he had any advice for ANYONE who is an entrepreneur, a CEO leading an organization.

“So I would say point number one is, you just change.”

Man, there’s that word again.

As I expanded my network of connections across social media, I started seeing content, webinars and in-person events for startups. When I started my own business 12 years ago, that didn’t exist (unless you joined a franchise). Online marketing didn’t exist either, except for your webpage. The advances in technology have created their own challenges for new businesses but also their own platform for people to deliver advice and solutions to these challenges. I’m going to refrain from commenting on just how many courses there are for how to build your subscriber list/facebook group/instagram count (that’s another post for another day).

But here’s where I went wrong.

I ignored anything with the word Startup in it. Because my business isn’t a startup.

How can startups possibly know what my challenges are like? I’m not living on 2 minute noodles from my parents’ house hoping for the phone to ring with a new customer. Some days it’s 2 minute noodles at my own house & I’d be happy for the phone to stop ringing for a moment. But startups are small and millennial and just not relevant, even to social media savvy me.

That’s how I felt. Some of it, rightly so.

Then one day, it clicked. I can’t even remember what it was. Maybe someone wrote a killer startup headline that finally caught my attention. Maybe I’d had a hair-pulling stressful day of I can’t keep running a business like this anymore where’s the vacant job listings??!! I honestly can’t remember. But ever since that day, I’ve kept an eye on startup content. It’s reignited my passion for my business.

The possibilities are unlimited for a small 12 year old startup. I don’t have many of the concerns that startups have. I also don’t have to keep operating, marketing & communicating like I have for the past 12 years. That’s flipping exciting.

I’m not trying to downplay the challenges that today’s startups (or any startup) has. I just want you to open your mind to some of the messages they are hearing because they might actually be relevant to you. They might actually help you.

You’re operating in the same digital world now that they are.

So I’m going to keep listening to the startup world and other pockets of innovation like the FinTech world. It keeps me young and hopeful while I adopt, adapt and apply or throw out new concepts and methods.

Business ownership should be fun like this. I didn’t start my own business to battle an Inbox of 150 emails at 9pm.

And while that’s pretty cool for me … what about you?

What about all the companies, business owners, managers, CIOs that are still wondering how the heck they can step up their technology game? You know I’ve said before that it’s not about the technology, right? It’s not because you chose Solution ABC instead of Solution DEF that’s going to make the difference. It’s your people that are going to make the difference. And your people need to follow an inspired, hopeful leader. A leader like Jeff Immelt.

Immelt says “The foundational point is really talent and culture. And fundamentally we had to go outside the company to get the talent we needed. We had to sell them on the mission to say there was going to be a brave new world called the Industrial Internet that basically people like GE could play. They saw us invest the money. They saw us hire the people.
And at the same time we had to change the way we worked inside the company. We had to take out layers of management, and we had to embrace speed, what we call fast works inside the company. We basically took all of the old Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, and put them into a software context.”

Note he does NOT say:

“We sent out an RFP and chose a new piece of software, then implemented a corporate change plan involving live webinar training and memorable slogans and everybody loved it.”

I’m sorry if you thought I was leading to an easy answer. Change isn’t easy, but that doesn’t make it any less vital to the future of your business. Maybe you’ve been burnt before, thinking a change in technology was going to solve some business problems and it just didn’t work out that way?

The reality is that the more advances there are in technology, the wider the adoption gap is.

That’s the gap between what the technology CAN do and what you’re using it to do.

I truly believe that the biggest technology challenge for businesses today is the most effective use of technology, for mind blowing results. We’re getting the cool stuff and we’re still not using it effectively. We set up Slack then battle message overload because we’ve just moved the problem from our Inbox to another platform.

Basically we suck at changing the habits of how we work.

Immelt does leave us with hope though. “And then the last thing I would say is that if we can do it, you can do it. Not only must you change, but you can change. But it’s going to take investments in culture. It’s going to take investments in technology. And you’re going to have to change the business model with which you interface with your customers. And so you’re going to have to really dedicate yourselves and your organizations to do this.”

Jeff Immelt believes in you. And so do I.

Go and be a Startup.


You can find Jeff’s speech here:

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