Business change is often out of our control, and it can be very unsettling, but turmoil also creates opportunity. In this episode, Joanna Martinez, author of A Guide to Positive Disruption, gives us the tips, tricks, and tools to become effective agents of change.

She learned this during her career that spanned four decades as a corporate executive who led transformation initiatives of all types within various industries from the pharmaceutical industry to consumer products, financial services, real estate, and many more.

Joanna will show you how to roll with the punches and give you the knowledge you need to become a positive disrupter. While no one is immune to disruption, the right process and the lessons from this episode can help you turn it into something positive for yourself and your team.

Joanna Martinez: Over the course of my career, I lived through 18 reorganizations; that doesn’t mean I got fired 18 times, it means though that 18 times I was in a situation where my job was changing, going away, my company had been acquired, or I had to compete for a new job because what I had done before was gone.

Maybe the second or third, probably the third reorganization along the line, I was doing my accomplishments at the end of the year and I realized that I had accomplished nothing. I was working for a really good company. I had a lot of great opportunities, but I had wasted the entire year worrying about what was going to happen.

That was my moment, my aha moment, that made me say, “Wow, I can’t do this. I’m early in my career. I can’t spend the next 35 years trying to duck my head and not make eye contact and hope that no one will notice me so that I make it through the next reorganization.”

I had to come to terms with the fact that it looked like it was going to be a way of life. How was I going to adjust? What was I going to do, how was I going to get to the point where I was someone who was making positive change instead of worrying that change was going to happen to me?

I’m a pretty good writer, and when it came to putting pen to paper, I stared at that keyboard for a long time trying to say, what am I going to say, what did I do this year?

“Really, I didn’t have anything to show for it.”

I had come to work and had managed what I had to manage and basically just stayed with the status quo. I hadn’t made any improvements; I hadn’t dealt with any of the big issues; I hadn’t made waves.

I started thinking then about the term disruption. Somebody mentioned something about this disruption or we’re having another reorganization, here comes more disruption.

I realized as I pondered that—maybe, it was better to be a disruptor than to be a disruptee. It was better to be someone out there making positive change than it was just someone trying to hold back in the shadows because you’re afraid something’s going to happen to you.

When We Don’t Feel Like Disruptors

Charlie Hoehn: Can you tell me about a moment where you really felt like you were just kind of ducking your head in the shadows?

Joanna Martinez: Well, it was when I was sitting there at the beginning of the year. In a large company, you have to create a set of objectives for the year, here are the things that I’m going to do and it’s not show up every day. It’s, “Here are the changes I’m going to make, here are the cost, numbers that I’m going to achieve or the sales numbers I’m going to achieve,” whatever it is.

I just realized I hadn’t done any of them, I had spent all of my time being worried. When I’m really worried, it kind of sits at the top of my nose. Where that congestion sits if you have a nasal infection. Everywhere I looked and everything I did, I thought: there’s change coming. What am I going to do? How am I going to survive this? What’s going to happen to my family, that sort of thing.

I worried about what might happen instead of making good things happen so I would be noticed as someone who is worth keeping.

Somewhere in there, when I looked and saw that blank piece of paper and realized how much I had fallen short, that was my moment where I said, wow, this has to be different. I have to throw this mindset away and adopt a new one which is, I’m going to be a positive influence, I’m going to make positive change because if nothing else happens, at least I have positive things that I can put on my resume so that if I don’t make it through the next reorganization, I will have some really good things to be able to show another prospective employer.

Charlie Hoehn: Why do you think you responded that way versus the way that a lot of other people respond which is I need to control my emotional state?

Joanna Martinez: Well, I think, it’s because I recognized that it was not an isolated occurrence, right? I hadn’t lived through a couple of isolated occurrences—I was seeing a pattern, I was seeing constant change, we were beginning to see automation coming in.

Don’t forget, I’ve been working for a long time, so when I started, everybody didn’t have a laptop.

We were starting to see more PCs coming into the workplace and things being done differently, and I started to recognize that it was sort of the beginning of a sea of change.

I could probably find a quieter company, I could find a place that was more churn resistant. But I felt like I was only delaying the inevitable. The thing to do was to seize it, right? To carpe diem, seize the day; I probably saw that Robin Williams movie somewhere in there.

I’m going to have to convince someone multiple times in my career that I am the right person for the job, then I’m going to have some great things to be able to show that I’ve accomplished.

Because in the end, I’m getting paid, right? In the end, someone has hired me to come in and not just maintain the status quo but to make change.

“I felt I was working for a wonderful company, and I didn’t think I was holding up my end of the bargain.”

Charlie Hoehn: Okay, so from my understanding and correct me if I’m wrong, there are some companies where the employees are there simply to maintain status quo.

Joanna Martinez: Well, I was a department manager, right? The expectation would be that every year, you were going to have some sort of a positive impact, you weren’t just going to come in with the same cost per unit as you had the year before. You were going to be figuring out some ways to do it better. You were going to be identifying places where automation investment would be a benefit for the company, you were going to be taking the positive steps to reduce the number of injuries or lost time accidents in your part of the business.

The company had goals in a very clear credo and a set of objectives in terms of what they expected from their employees. Even if my job were to turn a switch and keep the machine up and going, the expectation would be that over time, that machine would be up and running longer and longer.

I’m sure somewhere there are people who are hired to just come in and maintain status quo, not do any better, not change, but I have a feeling that most of those jobs have long been replaced by a computer.

We had some gentlemen whose roles it was to go out every day and take inventory. In a way, you could argue that they just had to turn in accurate numbers day by day for their career. When they left, they were replaced by a PC.

Characteristics of a Disruptor

Charlie Hoehn: Can you give an example of a great disruptor in corporate America? Maybe not a specific person but an instance that you can think of, that was a great positive disruptor.

Joanna Martinez: Well, in certain corporate cultures, you go to a meeting and everyone agrees they are going to do something as a follow up and nobody really does it. Few people do it, right? They take minutes and they say, we’re going to do this and I’m going to do this, I’m going to follow up, and rarely does anything happen.

I was in a situation where there was a sales person from one of our suppliers who was big and brash, he made a lot of noise and he owned the room when he walked in. I couldn’t stand him. I used to say, I hear him down the hallway, keep him away from me. He was just too much, his personality was too much for me.

Then I realized one day that he was the only person who ever did what he said he was going to do.

“He’s the only person who ever really followed through.”

And that in fact, instead of staying away because his personality was different from mine, I should embrace the positive work he did because he was the only one who was actually helping us make change.

You have a meeting and you come back a couple of weeks later and no one else had ever done everything they said they were going to do, you could see people had maybe tried at the last minute to make it look like they had. But he was the one who came through with the big bold changes and the things that he said he was going to do. He was the one who came in with the ideas.

Charlie Hoehn: Was this something you realized after you’d seen the frame of positive disruption as the way to go?

Joanna Martinez: Yeah, I was looking and saying, he’s a larger than life personality and that doesn’t fit with the way I do things, however, this guy is making positive stuff happen, he’s coming through, he’s the one who is really moving us along.

We have this goal and you’ve got the train moving, and he’s the engine.

He’s the one who is making it happen because he’s the one who is actually delivering. He sees the vision, he shares the vision, and he’s actually helping us deliver against that.

Charlie Hoehn: What are the other characteristics of a disruptor?

Joanna Martinez: An important trait for a disruptor, an important skill for a disruptor is to look to the outside, to understand that it’s not all about them but it’s about the other people that they’re dealing with.

The people to whom you have to sell your ideas. By that I mean, all of us, right? You take these personality tests—sometimes you get them during a workshop at work, sometimes you can just take them on the web–we’ve all been exposed to them, and they tell you what your preferences are, right?

Are you outgoing, are you introverted, are you someone who is very creative, do you work on one thing at a time, do you need a lot of things in order to keep yourself motivated and going?

People tend to focus on themselves and understand where they are on that, and some people deny where they are. People get a sense for themselves but don’t always look to the people they’re working with and the people that they have to convince.

For example, this is a generalization, but the vast majority of time, I would argue that the CFO of a company is a numbers person, right? They’re the ones who are meeting with analyst, they’re the ones who are responsible for reporting company results. They’re going to be very numbers focused. You want to do X, what’s the effect of that?

What does that mean in terms of dollars and cents?

If I give you the money and make this investment, what’s it going to mean? Someone who is going to approach the CFO has to think about the CFO’s logical reaction and make sure they have the answers. If you’re the creative, big picture person and you don’t have those answers, you’re not going to be taken seriously.

You need to think about your audience and the fact that you might need to convince this person that you have a good idea. But, if you don’t come in with the kind of analysis and the kinds of answers prepared in a way that person would expect them, you’re not going to be listened to.

“In every company, there’s an early adaptor.”

There’s someone who has every app, every bell and whistle, every piece of technology. If you walk in with a power point presentation that’s multicolor, that’s stapled together and paper side by side, you’re not there where that person is. You’re introducing some noise in the channel that doesn’t have to be there if you took your style and adapted it to that person.

Do What is Necessary

Charlie Hoehn: Everybody’s taking the strengths test for themselves in the corporate world but no one is focusing on studying the competencies and the strengths and the listening styles of the people that they really have to collaborate with and sell to.

Joanna Martinez: That’s right. There is a phrase I heard a long time ago, do what is necessary, not what comes natural. We all think about ourselves and we all have things that we do that are the natural way we react to things. Maybe that’s a fit with the people that you work for or the people that you have to convince to implement an idea that you have. But maybe not.

If it’s not, you have to think about making those adjustments, even though they are not what you would naturally do and approach them that way.

I came up with this idea, and we were able to completely revamp the way we manufacture this product and we cut the cost in half and we saved all this money and we took the company from the brink of bankruptcy into a positive state.

It doesn’t have to be something like that. There are few people equipped with the knowledge and the ideas. Enough end to end information to be able to do something like that. There are lots of changes, positive disruptions you can make.

For example, you look around you and you see people who are putting out the same information month after month, right? They’re creating reports or they’re sending things out to people and you look and follow that process through the company you find that it’s not being used anymore.

It made sense at some time but it’s no longer needed. I saw a situation where a company and a partner of theirs were actually FedEx-ing documents back and forth every day. The thing is, they were only about 12 blocks apart in mid-town Manhattan. 12 short blocks, by the way.

They were spending an enormous amount of money on FedEx every year. Now, those documents still had to get from point A to point B but somebody started picking them up in the morning as they passed by on their way to work. That’s a change, it was a disruption to the way things had been for a long time.

Companies who were early investors in technology about 15 years ago have these big pieces of software that are running on their servers in house and they’re difficult to manage; they are cumbersome and have a lot of information in them and they’re the obstacle to change, right?

“It’s hard to change them, because there is so much of an embedded way of doing things.”

Even though that technology may no longer be relevant, even though it might be faster, better, or cheaper if you did it in the cloud instead of running it in the servers, the job, the task of the investment, and the sunk cost is already in the way of doing things makes it a big obstacle.

But there are lots of app developers out there, lots of companies with pieces of software that allow you to do a small piece of that big pie in a much faster way and then feed it back in. So by becoming digitally savvy and understanding how finance procurement, RND, sales, the kinds of little digital aids that are out there, bringing something small like that into your company can be a way of sharing information.

You’re making something that was cumbersome a lot smoother because you are taking this big negative piece of it and doing it in a more efficient way for a lot less money.

Something like blockchain right? People are educating themselves on blockchain—which is being talked about as a way to pass money or a way to pass information around the web. There is a big disruptor hanging out there.

It is out there, starting a sunrise on the horizon.

Going out there and learning and keeping yourself educated on that, and then being able to bring it to your company when it’s ready is a great way to be a disruptor.

I heard a webinar on blockchain by a woman who works in supply chain for a transportation company, and she said that she did this because she sets herself a goal of learning something new every other year and learning it well enough so that she can articulate it to other people and be an “Expert.”

She said she does it for herself because she is interested in what’s out there and she does it for her company because she then can be the go-to person as some of these things take hold and become reality.

Being Valuable to Your Company

Charlie Hoehn: So it sounds like what you are really describing is becoming a person of value, of so much value that you’re indispensable to the company no matter what technological innovations or disruptions in the company come on.

Joanna Martinez: I don’t think anyone is ever indispensable. Save perhaps for the odd inventor here and there. You know the guy who knows the Coke formula for example, the Coca-Cola formula. They may be indispensable. For the rest of us, we’re never indispensable. However, the more you learn and do and the more changes you make puts you in a situation where you are a whole lot more marketable.

If something happens where your company is suddenly sold and you’re suddenly out of a job and it has nothing to do with you being good or bad, it’s that the company that bought you already has your function in house and they don’t want a new person, then you’ve got some great skills and you’ve got some great evidence of positive change that you’ve made for your company that is going to help you get that next job. I’ll give you an example of something that I saw.

There was a role we were trying to fill once, and the role was travel manager. We wanted someone to come in and manage the travel program for the company that I work for because there was a lot of money being spent and a safety issue. There had been some situations like the train derailment in Spain or subway bombings in London and we needed to know where our employees were and didn’t have that. So we were looking for this travel manager and that’s a space where there a lot of churn was taking place.

A lot of automation, a lot of travel roles or companies that might have had five people in a travel role now have one or two and a lot of automation backing them up. That’s a place where there has been a lot of information and automation that has had an effect. So there are a lot of people with travel experience out there in the market and when we put the job on the website and looked again, 36 hours, 48 hours later, we had 400 people who had replied.

And as we started to look at the resumes, they were all the same.

They’ve all done the same things, they’ve all listed the same kinds of accomplishments, resume after resume after resume, there was no spark that set anyone apart. What I am talking about here is doing positive things in your firm that will help you stay employed but also if you don’t, you have something that is going to set you apart.

So when someone else is faced with 400 resumes to look at and yours is one of them, you’ve got accomplishments or something that is a little different than the others.

How Listeners Can Level Up

Charlie Hoehn: What can I start doing this week to level up?

Joanna Martinez: You can make a friend outside your industry in a different part of the country in a business that has different problems than yours has and different challenges, because it is that shared knowledge that helps you find the disruptions.

Charlie Hoehn: Okay, so I am booking a flight to North Dakota.

Joanna Martinez: You know what? There’s webinars, there’s seminars, there’s a million ways to do that. I’ll tell you why I say that. That struck me the other day. Since I’ve been working independently, I see people in different industries in different parts of the country and this is a bit of a gross generalization, but I think there is some real truth in it. I see a body of people in industries sometimes located in specific parts of the country that know each other.

They have grown up together, they’ve worked for the same companies who have a lot of financial services companies for example in the New York area. You’ve got biotech firms concentrated in a couple of places. You’ve got basic hard manufacturing in other parts of the country and you have a scenario where people move from industry, or from company to company within the industry.

“They bring their friends with them.”

They find a job or they hear of a job opening and they recommend it to their friends, so you get these bands of people who have only been around their industries. Then, in other parts of the country, the west coast for example, you’ve got more new technology emerging companies and they are dealing with different issues. Sometimes they are so small because they are just starting out that they have a hard time coming back with ways to save the company a lot of money.

Because the companies are not making a lot of money yet. They don’t have to spend to be able to save a lot. They don’t automate it already so they don’t have things that they can automate and they have to figure out ways to add value and to bring something to the party, and sooner or later their industries will be mature and they will benefit from the mindset of the people who are working for the mature industries. The people of the mature industries need a way to shake it up.

Many of them have been doing things the same way, year on year, and they have to find themselves a spark, a way to set themselves apart.

So why not go to an industry that’s not mature that’s dealing with different kinds of problems?

Sometimes, it’s something as simple as listening to a webinar. You know there’s millions of free webinars out there all the time. Listen to someone speak who is not the person that you might typically be going to because they’re in a different role.

If you are in manufacturing, listen to someone in marketing, or vice versa. If you are in the pharmaceutical industry and you have very rigorous processes, look at someone in an industry that’s on a real growth trajectory and doesn’t have that kind of rigorous process in place. That cross pollination of ideas is good even if you never travel and don’t listen to webinars. If you are in any kind of professional organizations, look for people.

Or look at some of the new organizations, not the tried and true groups that have been out there for 40 years, 50 years, who have a formula, but look for some upstarts. Even something like an alumni organization for your university if you’re not a member, maybe something there will expose you to an individual that you already have something in common with because you went to the same school, but they are doing something vastly different and that might spur you to make a change.

Lessons from Disruptions

Charlie Hoehn: I know Warren Buffett is a big believer in reading a diversity of books so that they can cross pollinate with each other like you said.

Joanna Martinez: I will give you an example, a great example I think. A friend of mine is an attorney in Brooklyn. When he started his business, I asked him how things were going and he said, “Business is great. I am getting a lot of clients. I am loving the work, I feel like I am adding value but the problem is getting paid. The problem is that I spend a lot of time calling clients, following up, sending out invoices; the payment part is taking the time away from me being able to do the positive things that I enjoy and that bring in the income.”

So I gave him a suggestion. I said “Look at what happens when you take the dog to the vet.” You walk into the vet, the vet examines your pet and says, “Well there are a couple of options here. We can do this and this is what it’s going to cost. We can do that and this is what it’s going to cost or we have a third option and this is what it’s going to cost,” that conversation takes place really early on in the process. So that before you go down a path you understand what that bill is going to look like at the end.

I said, “Why don’t you think about that? Why don’t you think about taking that conversation that people shy away from and having that conversation upfront, because if you say, ‘Well okay, we have this possibility or this and this is about what it’s going to cost and this is what I think it’s going to be and here’s an estimate’ or whatever, you’ve at least planted that seed into your brain that this is what it’s going to cost. So it is not a surprise when they get a bill at the end.”

In fact, that goes back to something that I learned from one of my mentors at Johnson & Johnson, which was to negotiate the hard stuff first. I did my very first contract on my own; I had moved into a role where I was negotiating with third parties on behalf of the company and I was pretty proud of it.

“He looked at it and handed it back to me.”

He said, “You aren’t done because you haven’t negotiated any of the hard things.”

You haven’t accommodated for what happens if this goes south, what happens if this doesn’t work, what happens if business changes on either end, the product that we’re getting this for doesn’t succeed or something, you haven’t accommodated for any of that. You have to negotiate the hard stuff first.

And that rings true. If there is a piece of this book that is true no matter what your role is, because when you go to a new company and you change jobs no matter what your job is, you have a conversation about salary.

I know this because people have told me. Tons of people hold back when they are hoping for a little more vacation, and they don’t ask. They’re thinking that they’ll come on board and they’ll ask after that, or they have an issue with a benefit or they’d like a change somewhere. They’d like some kind of an accommodation, like being able to leave early on a certain date or to be able to pick up a child from child care, and they don’t lay it all on the table.

They wait until they’re on board—sometimes they get it and sometimes they don’t. What better time to ask than when you’re just at the beginning of a relationship?

“Everybody still likes each other, everybody is gung-ho from moving forward; that’s the time to ask.”

Obviously you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got that job offer and that these people want you in there, but you do that. The other point that I try to make in this book is that it is really important to be prepared. There are a few brilliant people in this world who can walk into any situation and command the room and get their points across and lead and make things happen just because they are blazing bursts of light, supernovas that come around only once in a while.

That’s not the rest of us, and that’s okay because you can still get a lot of things done. You can still accomplish a lot in the workplace. You just have to prepare a little more. You have to spend time stepping back and looking at the numbers you pull together and say, “Does this make sense?” Bounce it off someone that you know and trust and say, “Here’s my presentation, how would you change it?”

And in the working world today, we go fast.

We go fast, “Get this done, I need this done tomorrow, I need this done.” And as a result, I think introduce a level of errors. A level of ideas not thought through because we haven’t taken the time to prepare.

Positive Disruption

Charlie Hoehn: Well how do you cause positive disruption? What do you do?

Joanna Martinez: So past successes can be an obstacle to disruption. Investments that companies have made cost a lot of money and get embedded in the way of doing things and often, companies will be reluctant to just throw that away. Why should they if processes and things have been built around doing things a certain way? So my recommendation to someone who is looking to cause positive disruption is to disrupt for easy.

Look for things in the business and in your processes every day that are cumbersome, unwieldy, or take a lot of time, and look for ways to simplify them. Maybe you can think of an idea by yourself, maybe you can talk to an engineer in your company.

Maybe you can talk to the other people who are suffering from the fact that this thing takes a long time or it’s difficult to do and come up with the way to do it simpler.

“It doesn’t require a huge investment.”

Once you’ve made a couple of simple changes and a couple of little bits of positive disruption, it becomes easier and easier. You can build on your successes, people hear about changes you’ve made in one place and maybe you’ll get the funding to do something a little more complicated that will require a little bit more of an investment.

The opportunity is there, just look. Look at what’s difficult, look at what people are doing outside, educate yourself.

On the way home from work when you’ve got the radio on, listen, download a podcast or two and listen to something that is going on in other industries and bring some of those ideas forward. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

It doesn’t have to require an airplane ticket and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Just a little bit at a time you can acquire the right mindset.

Connect with Joanna Martinez

Charlie Hoehn: So just to wrap up with one final question Joanna, how can our listeners stay connected with you, follow you, and potentially hire you for leading a workshop on positive disruption?

Joanna Martinez: My company is called Supply Chain Advisors, and you can find the Supply Chain Advisors website on the web but you can also find me on LinkedIn.

That’s Joanna Martinez, and there are a million Joanna Martinez’s in the world, so please, when you are doing a search put in ‘Joanna Martinez procurement’ or you will get all kinds of people who are not me and I would hate to disappoint. That’s a whole other story.