Resist or plan change?

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of our local resident’s organisation during which some interesting business processes were revealed. The first was the way our local entrepreneurs, in the form of shopkeepers, look at their businesses and the second the way in which our local authority works. Both showed up interesting ways of dealing with the future.

I live in a very old part of town with houses dating back hundreds of years mixed with some more current ones. Anyone interested in old architecture should wander through the streets of The Old Town of Hastings as you will get a fantastic mix, all in a beautiful setting.

Unfortunately such oldie worldie settings do not combine well with our modern traffic, and one of the streets in particular is presenting a problem. The street has a number of great little shops run diligently by hard working shopkeepers. Unfortunately pedestrians get little space so they flee to the next street, which is pedestrianised. So the logical answer is, pedestrianise this street too and this is what the debate was about.

Some of the customers of the shops like to stop on the double yellow lines and do their shopping. Others drive through the street at speeds which do not mix well with the pedestrians.

The shopkeepers hate the idea of pedestrianisation and are up in arms. All evidence though is that footfall increases when a street is pedestrianised and I have not been able to find any examples of streets where such a decision was reversed. So the resistance is really a fear of change, even though it is unlikely to reduce business for the shops. In all our businesses we have to be ready for change, even when you have a shop.

Change is inevitable and it is better to try to embrace it than to try to resist it. Plenty of people dislike what the internet and social media have done – just ask some of the (still living) dictators – but this dislike will not hold things back. In this particular case the change would improve business even if a few people would no longer be able to park (illegally) to do their shopping. There are lots of big car parks within easy walking distance, most closer by than the parking at the average shopping mall.

So back to the discussion at the meeting, which inevitably led to a discussion about enforcing parking regulations and traffic speeds. The discussion focussed on people driving too fast and endangering pedestrians and this is where the excellent representatives of the Council stepped in. Cameras, one of the items suggested, can only be put in place if there was clear evidence of accidents which had already happened. In other words, a couple of dead pedestrians would allow them to put in enforcement measures. What they could not do is allocate scarce resources to avoid such accidents.

This is akin to running a business without a plan. Unless you have a vision of where you are going, you are going to be led by events. I have seen several businesses work this way, sometimes for a long time. However, they inevitably are taken by surprise one day when they find the world has changed around them. A business needs a plan, and so does a Council. To only work in a reactive fashion is a recipe for failure and yes I do believe our Councils are failing us. Not because the people who work there are no good, but because they are pushed to work in this reactive fashion.

This reactive way of working seems to be encouraged by our government. When Mr. Hague told the Ambassador of I believe Syria not to attend the Royal Wedding he did this because of an article in the Times. Otherwise he would have taken the name off the list of invitees originally. This is not a way to set policy Mr. Hague or worse, the way to show leadership.

As businesses we can learn from the meeting that you need to work with change and use it to your advantage and that planning is key to forging ahead.

What was the outcome you may well ask? Well, that is simple: there was no outcome. A few committees will be formed which will debate a range of alternatives. The factions will harden in their attitudes. We will have a series of consultations, all at vast expense to all of us as they are paid for out of our taxes. The people from the Council will write reports and debate matters in various meetings, again at taxpayer expense. Perhaps even a pedestrian will get killed or badly wounded (we have already had a few of these, but this is not enough apparantly) and we will all get on with our lives.

Then one day, in the distant future, after high costs and hopefully no personal damage, the design of the street will change – I expect some time after 2020.

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