We are in the eye of the storm of massive change: from magnetic pole shifts to earthquakes, from volcanoes to tsunamis, from nuclear damage to radioactive fallout.
When leading nations and businesses seem to be falling behind in sectors where they were once the dominant players, there is a clear recognition that the status quo cannot be maintained.
How to evolve a strategy for coping with unanticipated events, challenges and crises? To survive, organisations have to embrace change. How does leadership create a work-environment and work-life that not only survives a crisis, but capitalises on today’s frequent and disruptive accelerating changes?
Organisational survival requires that the methods leaders use to learn and to impart operational knowledge must change as fast or faster than the environmental changes that threaten viability. The new strategy for leaders has to be about constantly adapting to change in an ever changing landscape. In order to achieve this, the focus must be to look beyond competition and market share to more fundamental questions of survival and sustainability in a turbulent and continuously changing environment.
Understanding the role and responsibility of the organisation in the context of the entire environment is absolutely critical, much like the racing vehicle which is being driven at high speed around a circuit where the extreme weather elements and changing direction are throwing up dramatic challenges every second.
We are in a time of extreme turbulence accompanied by rapid evolutionary change. Becoming preoccupied with the competition is as short-sighted as it would have been for the dinosaurs to peg their survival on competition with the amphibians. The dinosaurs dropped out of the picture not because they were beaten by any other type of creature but simply because they could not respond successfully to the challenge of a changing environment. Given their large size, their response time from head to tail was inadequate. The time it took to receive information from their tail-to-brain and back again, left them completely vulnerable to fatal attack.
Agility and Speed of Response
Agility and a short response time are critical to survival. Inertia and response time of large organisations can be like those of dinosaurs, so the question which smart leadership ought to be asking is the following: How can large organisations be split into smaller autonomous ones so that their inertia is minimised and response time becomes super fast? A large organisation with multiple silos, that remain isolated, can become too big to change. This eventually means that the organisation has become too big to survive, as the dinosaurs’ successors discovered during the post-Jurassic period. Having a large capital base — considered to be an advantage during a period of stability — can also become a hindrance during rapid change, because capital allocation and achieving a consistently higher return on investment with smaller capital is easier than deploying large capital tranches with concentrated risk.
Where to focus the strategic review? A rapidly changing environment such as the one we find ourselves in, offers only very short-term victories to those organisations that set out to beat the opposition or to capture more market share. The long-term advantage lies with those organisations that focus on the environment as a whole and not just on the competition. It is not by competing for market share but by capitalising on change that today’s organisations can survive, achieve sustainability and thrive. Capturing greater market share from the competition is only of critical importance when the game remains unchanged. When a business or industry is going through a profound transformation — and there is hardly one that is not doing so at present given The Great Unwind (2007-?) and The Great Reset (2008-?) — the fundamental challenge is to capitalise on change.
Challenge and Response Time
The key to success in a time of deep and systemic change lies in focusing on the challenge and response time. Most strategic planning is superficial by comparison, it tends to concentrate on gaining a bigger slice of an existing pie. In a dynamic marketplace, every level of the organisation must see its situation as a challenge, calling not for compliance but for creative response via change management. When this begins to happen intuitively, people are no longer victims trying to cope the best way they can. They recover a sense of control and purpose in what they are doing by changing their knowledge-base and attitude as the starting steps. This is followed by individual change and then group change.
The fundamental problem with bringing about organisational change is that people want things to stay exactly as they were. As leaders, it is essential to recognise that many within the organisation have an aversion to change. Helping them to confront the inevitable with confidence and enthusiasm is a critical part of a 21st century leader’s job. There are four levels of change, from easiest to hardest: knowledge, attitude, individual change and group change.
Knowledge is fairly easy to change but attitudes are more difficult. People can easily understand what one might want to do and even agree with the reasons, yet, they resist change. A good example is changing a habit to take a very long time to make a decision. The next most difficult level to change is individual behaviour. As more people are included in the group, relationships multiply and become more complicated. This is what makes organisational change the toughest kind of change. Larger the organisation, the more difficult it is to bring about a monumental change.
If there are too many moving parts within the organisational structure, bringing about change and achieving super fast response time becomes difficult and eventually the business or nation ceases to be a market leader and the chaotic organisation may eventually fail to exist as a viable entity. The key question for leadership is as follows: How to reduce too many moving parts within the organisation so that the critical response time remains super fast?
What are the Phases of Change?
a. Denial: When things change, especially unexpectedly, our first and very normal reaction is to deny it; denial is a coping mechanism. We approach change with the attitude that if we ignore change and wait long enough it will go away and things will get back to normal.
b. Bargaining and Negotiation: Even when we perceive that the situation — the change — will not go away, we still firmly believe that things worked better before the change. So we try to bargain for reinstating the old system. We campaign for a return to the “good old days”.
c. Frustration: Eventually, no matter what we do, reality steps in and we realise that change is here to stay. Faced with this inescapable fact, and that we can do nothing about it, we get frustrated. Frustration comes in many forms and can be directed at those responsible for the change, at those closest to us, and even at ourselves. There is no rational logic to our frustration. We can be frustrated with our environment for making us do something we did not want to do!
What to do?
a. Accept: The cold hard truth is that change is an accelerating phenomenon in the 21st century, an ongoing constant process, and it is here to stay. Since it is an ongoing process we have to look at the past. We have to think of key events when we were successful in dealing with change. How did we grow and meet the demands of our changing environment? If we did it before, we can do it again. It all starts with the first step: acceptance.
b. Communicate: We must not be afraid to share our feelings and be ready to talk to our friends and associates. Chances are they have been through similar situations and felt the same way. As we take time to gather information, talking things through helps allay our fears and in the process we amass an inventory of new and useful information as well as skills.
c. Plan: Managing change successfully starts with new goals and a well-designed plan. We know best where we are and where we want to be; now we have to articulate how we are going to get there. We have to clarify goals and expectations. Get feedback from others. Start with small, deliberate steps and reward our team with meaningful incentives. Keeping everybody focused on the desired outcome is critical.
The key to our success in dealing with change — at an individual and at an organisational level — lies in our willingness to accept change and to respond at lightning speed to the demands placed by our environment with empathy for all those who are involved. It is normal to want to resist change: to try bargaining and negotiating things back to the way they were; and to feel frustrated when the change inevitably continues. It is equally important to understand that these feelings are within the leader as well as all team members and must be dealt with if the organisation is to grow as a cohesive group. In order to survive in a globalised society and in a universe that is constantly changing, we need to see change for what it is: the natural order of things! We need to recognise this and to master the techniques to become part of that natural order so that the organisation survives and thrives in the storm of change.
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