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Facing change head-on – and succeeding

Change. It’s everywhere you look.

News is digested increasingly on mobile devices rather than the newspaper dropped on your porch.

Venerable retail chains such as Sears Canada and Future Shop have disappeared from the landscape and been replaced by Nordstrom and Best Buy.

And the penny and dollar bill are just a distant memory with bitcoin and crypto all the talk in the currency world.

So, what is an organization to do in these changing times to not only survive but thrive?

They may want to borrow from the playbook of two brands that instead of swimming against the tide, changed course and pivoted to forge a brighter future.

Indigo is a great example of effective change leadership at play. Once a leader in the bookstore category, the Canadian chain realized it had to evolve as the industry was challenged by mobile devices that made eBooks a popular option over traditional hard copy material.

The company has transformed into what founder Heather Reisman always envisioned – a “cultural department store.” Whether online – or at its 86 Indigo and Chapters superstores – the traditional offering of books are now accompanied by candles, cooking utensils, toys, Fitbits and iPads.

Start spreading the news – digitally

Meanwhile, the New York Times has also had to transform from its roots as the technological revolution resulted in fewer people subscribing to print copies and advertisers migrating to social media such as Facebook and Google.

Led by the father-son duo of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. and Arthur Gregg (A.G.) Sulzberger, The Times has transitioned the paper to one that now has more digital subscribers than print but still garnered numerous awards for the quality of its journalism.

John Kotter in a Forbes article described change leadership as putting an “engine on the whole change process, and making it go faster, smarter more efficiently.”

So, what can we learn about change leadership from Indigo and the New York Times?

Big Picture/Vision: In the Forbes piece, Kotter noted that compared to change management – which focuses on tools and structure – change leadership is more about “big visions.” Both Reisman and the Sulzbergers had clear visions on where they wanted to take their companies.

In Reisman’s case, a Financial Post article earlier this year chronicled how the Chapters Indigo superstore of today is actually what she envisioned years ago – a “place inspired by authors, musicians, poets and opinion leaders.”

Meanwhile, a team of seven New York Times’ journalists highlighted in a January 2017 report the urgency of the paper’s shift to digital and how they were excited about the challenge and future.

Passion/Purpose: It’s one thing to have a vision on paper. But if no one is reading, leading and believing in it, it’s just a piece of paper, right?

Reisman has been the driving force of Indigo’s transformation, noting in a June 2016 Canadian Business feature that “the products come second. It’s the ideas that come first.” She explained how she challenges her team to arrive at seven or eight big ideas a year that drive its offerings through different seasons. Recent themes have included unplugging and cooking.

In the case of The Times, the paper’s management team engaged staff from across the organization to take a hard look at its operations and avoid the digital “workarounds” other papers have tried unsuccessfully. The passion and excitement in the report of the 2020 group is evident and likely a major reason that the transformation has been so successful.

Excellent Communication: In his book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, former IBM CEO Louis V. Gerstner Jr. wrote “personal leadership is about communication, openness, and a willingness to speak often and honestly…They treat every employee as someone who deserves to understand what’s going on in the enterprise.”

Besides actively engaging with staff about potential merchandise to carry, Reisman has created a very clear and compelling “Indigo Mission” that has a strong focus on the customer and community. Step into any one of its stores and it’s very likely you will be greeted by a staff member eager to assist, demonstrating the mission has resonated with staff.

Through the 2020 report, The Times clearly highlighted to current and future staff – not to mention readers and advertisers – where the paper is heading and how the digital version of The Times will build on the paper’s proud legacy.

Decisive: Both Indigo and the New York Times deserve credit for the major pivots they made unlike other competitors in their space. As Founder Institute founder Adeo Ressi said at a recent startup speaking engagement in Toronto, “indecision is a decision.”

Both organizations faced some stark choices and unlike many of their competitors, didn’t stand their ground and hope things would get better. They took decisive steps to adapt to the evolving world and made it a priority to gain the valuable input of staff – the very people who are crucial to their success.

Challenges – and opportunities

Chapters Indigo and the New York Times are just two organizations that faced change head-on and succeeded. While both deserve credit for the success they have achieved, they also should be commended for making change leadership a priority.

At Pragilis, we are always excited when organizations engage us to assist with their leadership challenges because all challenges also offer opportunities.

Change leadership is by no means a smooth process as the examples of Indigo and the New York Times have demonstrated. However, through consultations – and other activities, such as workshops and executive coaching – we can help your organization reach its full potential. Standing still – in such an evolving world – simply isn’t an option any longer.

Note: Pragilis Solutions is a boutique change management consulting firm based in Vancouver. To discuss your change leadership challenge and opportunity, contact us at

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