How Does One Navigate Change?

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Cover image for  article: How Does One Navigate Change?

There are four questions that most companies and individuals seek answers to: How will the future be? How does one navigate change? How to lead in today's landscape? and How does one grow/remain relevant? My previous column was about the first one. This week’s focus is Change Management.

1. Organizations Grow and Change Only When People Grow and Change.

Every company struggles with change and new ways to grow. Many specialists help them on the way forward which often result in three very necessary steps which are a) Strategy, b) Mergers &Acquisitions and c) Re-organization. While essential these three things are just plans.

Michael Tyson said, "Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face."

Boards and leadership of firms come quickly to the realization that everything is easy until people get in the way.Telling people that change is good, threatening them with job loss if they do not change or creating communication materials and slogans to goad them into a cult-like devotion to the new leader or the way forward rarely works in the short run and will likely fail after the threat of flagellation fades. Because if there is nothing in it for them, people will out-wit, out-wait, out-pretend, and out-maneuver "management." Until then, they will fill the time genuflecting and bowing and going through the monitored motions of attending the right meetings, muttering the motivational mantras and stating the slogans required.

The three questions talent want to know in addition to what the strategy is, the acquisition plan and the re-organization plan are, Why are the recommended changes good for their personal growth? What are the monetary or other incentives to change? When and where will training be provided to help them learn the new skills needed?

2. The Duality of Change: Embrace Technology and Upgrade Talent.

These are the two key drivers, and both are required at the same time.

Fantastic silicon (tech) with mediocre carbon (human talent) or vice versa are unlikely to succeed. Talented people in a good culture with enabling technology are what create happy customers, innovation, differentiation, revenue growth and profits.

Embrace tech by recognizing your company is a tech company. Today every company is a tech company. If a decade ago one had invested in Domino's, Apple, Facebook, or Google one would have got a better return on investment with Domino's!

Yes, Domino's makes pizza and delivers it to a person's home, but they leveraged technology to re-imagine and then transform every single aspect of their business from how customers could order the pizza, monitor its journey, decide where to receive it (at the football field as you tailgated?) and how it was delivered to them (drone anyone?)

They re-imagined stores, understood how delivery services could become parasites eating into their margin while trying to control customer relationships. Domino's controls every aspect of the customer relationship and delivery.

Smart companies and leaders recognize the critical nature of technology and realize an understanding of its potential should be throbbing in the beating blood of every key employee. Technology implementation may be led by the CTO and CIO but understanding of its impact and a vision about how to leverage it, must reside in every leader and should be central to every aspect of product, service and experience design.

Upgrade talent:Technology smarts and modern technology are necessary but not sufficient to succeed. If one reads Will and Ariel Durant’s "The Lessons of History" it becomes clear that every advance in technology places a premium on superior talent. Basically, technology is like a lever. It allows talent leverage and scale. It is never technology or talent. It is technology and talent. Great people with great tools will win.

Today we are living in a truly transformed terrain for talent. One where every aspect of what talent wants from companies and their bosses, the nature of work and much more are being twisted into new shapes.

Leaders everywhere recognize we are at a unique moment in time due to the combined impact of three big shifts: a) Importance of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion; b) Role of ESG, Purpose and Values in a company culture, and c) the unbundled workplace and new life mindsets post-COVID.

In many cases the better answers to managing change incorporate the concept of and rather than only. These juxtapositions include not just talent and technology, but ensuring diversity of faces and diversity of voices, understanding the young but recognizing that most countries are aging, and older people control the wealth, and that we will work in many places and not just in the office. To learn more about juxtapositions and other dualities to incorporate as you manage change look here.

This is the ideal time for leaders to truly re-think their talent strategy, company culture and training plans to attract and upgrade people.

3. Recruit, Train for and Promote People with the Six Cs to Thrive in a Connected World.

The big C of change can only happen when teams and talent sculpt, hone and grow the Six Cs. Three of these have to do with the individual (Cognition, Creativity, Curiosity) and three with how we connect with each other and the world outside our minds (Collaborate, Communicate, Convince).

Cognition is learning to think and keeping your mental operating system constantly upgraded. This requires deliberate practice and sustained work. Improved cognition is achievable.

Creativity is connecting dots in new ways, looking beyond the obvious. This skill will be key as AI powered computers data crunch and co-relate faster than we ever will. To be human is to be creative. We need to learn and feed this inside us.

Curiosity is being alive to possibilities, questioning the status quo and asking, "What if?" Today the key competitor or opportunity in any category comes from outside it. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but the lack of curiosity killed the careers of many people.

But being cognitively gifted, creative and curious will not be enough since we are living in a connected world where eco-systems, teams and linkages are how ideas are born, value is created and long-term careers are forged. For these we need to hone and build and train for three other skills.

Collaborate: Collaboration is key to work in a world where APIs (Application Protocol Interfaces) are not just about handshakes between software/hardware but between individuals with different skills, teams in different countries, partners, suppliers and much more.

Communicate: Learn to write. Learn to speak. Learn to present. It may be so old school but watch the people who succeed, and they are good at communication. And all of these can be taught and learned.

Convince: Every one of us is a salesperson regardless of what we believe our title is. This is true even if we do not sell anything at work. We must convince colleagues of our points of view. We must convince our partners to join us on our life journey. Learn to convince and learn to sell.

Cure Inner Dinosaur Disease.

Change sucks. It exposes us to vulnerability and loss of control, of clout, of turf and of face. It demeans the very currency of expertise, seniority, networks and image we spend decades building. How dare some pompous young pup, some fresh idea, some innovative technology, some fearless startup or a bossy consumer challenge us?

We let our inner dinosaur roar and roam unleashed against these threatening changes to our ecosystem by indulging in a two-step shuffle.

First, we justify our refusal to change via the Deflection Dance!

  • Blame our myopic bosses who are approaching retirement or the organization that has too much money riding on the status quo.
  • Attribute inaction to the profit pressures and business realities we carry on our shoulders.
  • Suggest the client or customer gave only lip service to change readiness.
  • Rebuke the employees. They are not trained or motivated for this stuff.
  • Exhume specimens from the when-things-went-wrong. Remember when?
  • Wait for others to find the landmines.

The second step is Change Botox -- little injections of temporary surface embellishments to distract from real change. These are the common manifestations:

  • Announce the retention of a consulting firm which, over the next X months, will benchmark and develop a plan of action.
  • Launch a vision or change 202X task force to "get out in front" of change.
  • Hire a talent agency, next generation modern marketing firm, or niche agency, then issue a press release.
  • Re-launch a quiet, unsupported brand or initiative with a small budget dedicated to a new way so there is something to point to.

Here are the five weapons to slay our inner dinosaurs.

Own change. If you change, others will follow. If they do not, change your partners, or your options -- outsourcing or by committee.

Empower the iconoclasts. There are many talented revolutionaries within your corporate environment, but they are often dismissed as "too junior" to add value. Seek out your best thinkers at any level or age. Listen to them, give them a platform and the support they need to achieve their goals. Encourage them to attack your ideas and your company.

Cross the line. We all cower within self-drawn boundaries. Too often we self-edit ourselves, fearful of crossing a line. Or we wait for permission. Let ethics guide you and start changing things. Now. You will be surprised to find that people will not stop you but most likely will follow you.

Leverage organizational inertia. It is possible to get "The Company" to do what we want if we simply start doing it. If getting approval requires lots of forms, presentations and justification, it means your organization may suffer from so much inertia it might not actually know how to say "no." This is a real opportunity for the daring.

Act to change or change your act. You might be a highly talented individual cowering within some imagined or real constraint. If your company is repressing you and you are good, risk-taking can only beget one of two outcomes. You will succeed or you will be asked to leave. If you are asked to leave and you are good, many companies will be ready to hire you, or you could go into business for yourself. But staying put and becoming some bureaucratic czar will eventually lead to you resenting yourself and reducing your market value.

Yes, change sucks. But irrelevance is even worse.

Here are links to posts on change. (Each is a six-minute read covering an area touched on above in greater detail.)

Growth and Change are about People.

Two to Transform : Embrace Tech. Upgrade Talent.

Slaying our Inner Dinosaur!

This is Your Industry and Your Future. You Can Decide Where it Will Go from Here.

The Year of Immunity: Implications


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