Schoemer: Embrace change for competitive advantage

If you’ve been hunkered down, hoping all the changes to the benefits industry will calm down soon, you might want to grab a magazine or something.

Because according to Karl Schoemer, you’re going to be in for a long wait.

“The dust is never going to settle,” Schoemer, founder and president of VisionQuest Solutions, told the audience at Benefits Sellng Expo’s opening keynote presentation Monday. “For those who are waiting for things to go back to the way they were in the good old days, it’s never going to happen.”

In fact, more changes are coming, and they’re going to be faster and bigger than the last ones, Schoemer said. The pace of technology innovations, the speed and amount of information available today and the world’s rapidly expanding population basically guarantee it.

So what’s a broker to do? “I think we’re past the point of managing change,” Schoemer said. “I think we’re at the point where we need to seize change and use it to our advantage. We’ve got to figure out where all this change is headed and start working on the qualities, skills and behaviors that will make us marketable and employable in a radically different world.”

Doing that means recognizing the dynamics of change. On an individual level, change can often create a sense of loss among an industry’s employees. Trust deteriorates, and employees go into self-preservation mode, thinking they’ll just ride out a certain manager or a sure-to-fail organizational change. But that’s the worst thing to do, according to Schoemer.

“You’re being challenged every day to raise your hand, to solve problems,” he said. “If you’re not doing that, if you’re in self-preservation mode, you’re in the riskiest place you can be.”

At the organizational level, change can often result in a loss of momentum as well as key talent, as communication breaks down and morale suffers. Those setbacks, though, aren’t good indicators of whether the change is worthwhile or not.

“If you are using these factors to determine whether or not you’re on the right road, you’re using the wrong measurements,” Schoemer said. “You will never make everybody happy. Stop trying. Change, don’t change. Someone’s still going to be unhappy.”

The better reaction, Schoemer says, is to do exactly the opposite. Embrace changes immediately and you’ll be able to adapt to them — and adjust to any detrimental effects — quickly. The faster you recover, the better you’ll be able to weather the next change, and the next, and the next. “You don’t get to control the pace of change,” Schoemer said. “So if you’re going to fail, do it fast.”

This ability to adapt to change is going to become — more than brand or reputation or size — the key to what sets a successful company apart from its competitors.

“Traditional advantages, like price, quality and service, are going away,” Schoemer said. “That’s just the price of admission these days. Customers today are asking ‘What have you done for me lately?’ and then, ‘What will you do for me tomorrow?’”

 

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