From seeds of reinvention, a rejuvenation can spring

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A landscaping truck rumbled up to my neighbor’s house, pulling a trailer loaded with equipment and building supplies. They had me at rumbled. During the next few weeks I watched their back patio be transformed into a roomy, open-air entertainment space with an outdoor kitchen, a stone-faced fireplace and a roof that provides soothing shade.

They had reinvented their backyard and quickly began enjoying it. They’re not alone. According to the June issue of Money magazine, homeowners love to reinvent their backyards, with the top four favorites being an in-ground pool, a deck, a screened-in porch and an outdoor kitchen.

When it comes to reinvention, how can you get closer to home than your home itself? OK, twist my arm. I’ll tell you. How about reinventing your professional self? Yes! You might be ripe for a career and business makeover.

Before you affix that crinkled, question-mark look to your face, listen to this: Many of today’s most successful people and businesses are reinvention stories, and conversely, many who are struggling are in need of reinvention. Because I know you’re ready to discover more, here are three reinvention perspectives.

Reinventing your business: With the market chirping an upbeat outlook for the marine and boating industry, you may think you don’t need to reinvent your department or your business. Truth is, you should always be looking for your next reinvention because negative market changes have a tendency to creep in when you least expect them.

Putting it in another light, during the recession your business focus was reducing costs, tightening headcount and maintaining scrupulous inventory levels. You were controlling every fiscal element to maintain your business and survive the downturn. Switching to post-recession the theme is now “Ready, set, sell!” Your reinvention is growth-oriented with judicious expansion into new markets, products and services.

But the necessity for reinvention has always proved that good times don’t last forever. One of the biggest business reinvention stories ever was IBM. This high-flying computer server powerhouse of the 1980s was losing hefty revenue by the early ’90s when new CEO Louis Gerstner took the helm and began a massive makeover.

Low-margin, commoditized products were replaced with higher-margin software, technology integration and global services. With these key moves and a few more, Gerstner reinvented IBM into a new type of technology leader.

Leap ahead to 2014, and Microsoft is the former darling in the tech sector who is now struggling. With fresh CEO Satya Nadella in charge, the reinvention process, though far from complete, is under way, with initiatives in cloud computing and mobility.

What’s another company in need of reinvention? Walmart. Facing declining revenue, it is reinventing itself on numerous fronts, including online grocery ordering with curbside store pickup at no charge.

What can you learn from these transformation tales that can be applied to your division or business? To start, try trimming low-margin products and services. Replace them with higher-margin, modernized or online alternatives and re-energize further from there.

Reinventing and re-energizing your people: Discover the possibilities in this area by reviewing employee survey results for organizations with low turnover and motivated workers. You’ll find that the best places to work are constantly reinventing their business environments to better accommodate employee satisfaction and productivity.

I’m not talking about giving away the farm and creating a coddled culture. Components for producing re-energized workers include listening to their input, involvement in decision making, growth opportunities, favorable compensation and health benefits.

Start with telling questions such as these: Do all of your employees know what the top three goals (and the vision statement) are for your business and how each job contributes to achieving these goals? Do they have the opportunity to stretch and grow with a career path, training options, job rotations and other ways to expand their minds and value? Are they treated with respect and a sense of inclusion?

I recently read a news item comparing Costco employees to Walmart — yes, Walmart came up again. Because of benefits, salary, culture and more, Costco employees are far happier than Walmart workers.

Costco CEO Craig Jelinek says his investment in employees generates huge returns because satisfied workers produce more revenue, period. People like to shop where employees are pleasant and helpful — you know, happy.

Results include more ideas, sales and profits. Satisfied employees offer new ways to address problems and help each other be successful. The opposite is true at Walmart, where many workers are unhappy, complaints about compensation are common and declining sales mirror a culture in need of uplift.

Reinforce your reinvented business by re-energizing your employees at the same time. Find out what matters to them and make improvements.

Reinventing yourself: This is likely the most ignored element in this equation. Why? It takes time, effort and often deliberate discomfort. Many leaders will tell you their most game-changing successes began when they were placed in roles where they felt uncomfortable and were required to reinvent their career paths.

As these executives moved into unfamiliar areas they brought strong business acumen, an ability to organize and influence change and the support of mentors providing guidance. They also were strategic thinkers, enthusiastically encouraged others and figured out how to manage experts in essential areas where they were not experts themselves.

Their self-reinvention included an eagerness to learn new skills, evaluate emerging technologies and explore parts of the business where they hadn’t previously worked. They likewise brought along savvy insights for looking at the big picture and considering how their actions would interact, impact and enrich the broader business.

This plays right into one of my favorite leadership quotes from real estate mogul Donald Trump: “You have to think, anyway, so why not think big?”

How do you begin to reinvent yourself? One option is to stay with the same industry or company while stepping into a new role or down a different path that stretches your abilities. You can also launch your reinvention by jumping industries with skills that can be shrewdly applied in an alternative business arena.

I recall hearing a vice president of sales talk about reluctantly moving into an operations area in which she had no interest. She later realized it was a great decision because it hugely broadened her perspective for success. In all cases when reinventing yourself, stepping out of comfort zones and thinking from a big picture point of view are part of re-energizing your career.

Whenever I see my neighbors using their newly transformed backyard, I have to smile. They took their previous environment and reinvented it into something that provides expanded enjoyment. Nice move. In much the same way, continuously looking for ways to reinvent your business, your employees and your own career can deliver big benefits. You’ll avoid complacency, enrich the capabilities of your people and broaden your own knowledge and skill set in the process.

What else can it produce? Pumped-up productivity, revved-up revenue and super-charged success! It won’t happen overnight, but long-term returns will make your reinvention efforts worth the energy you invest. I know you’re eager to get started. What will you reinvent next?

Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at mary@masteryoursuccess.com.

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue.

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