Change vs Legacy

“In order to bring about meaningful change in a long-standing successful business – step one is to honor the legacy; genuinely and with a keen eye on what made the company great. Step two is to determine how you’ll convince those who built the legacy to invest fully in the decision to update and upgrade it.”

  • A paraphrase of a recent conversation with a CEO

Change ain’t easy but standing still is no option either — so, we’re called to run to the flame.

In a business with a long, positive legacy however, a leader need tread carefully, but not lightly. Especially if he or she is following a legend.

Nebraska football (NCAA FBS Division) was a juggernaut for 20 years. It promoted Fank Solich to replace Tom Osborn (who had just won two national championships). The “Lucky Man” to follow the the legend was the head assistant coach who promptly went 10-2 and 9-3 as a head coach, before being shown the door. Frank should have a statue built in his name, for leading Ohio to its greatest heights ever. Frank will someday have a statue outside Nebraska’ home stadium. Nebraska’s current coach is torn between tanking further to get $8 more in buy-out money, or trying to win consistently to get one more chance.

A few years back, I was hired to change a 40-year-old business that had great bones but needed fresh strategies. They LOVED the idea of being changed — yet they had no appetite to really change things.

I might have been a bull in a china closet. Two members of the executive team fought every change — not face-to-face mind you, but during the meeting after the meeting; passive aggressive at best, intentionally harmful at worst.

When we lean in to the legacy of a firm and we honor it with marketing, with personnel choices with putting the team in a position to decide for the Client, we’ll make a difference.

It’s gotta come in order though. Honor the legacy, THEN bring about the change. Only by beginning in that order will we get the opportunity to move into simultaneous “honor while changing” mode.

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