With the turn of a new year come personal resolutions. Exercise more, eat better, save. But in business, as important as what you change is how you change. If there’s one thing I hope to see executives resolve to do in 2020, it’s to evolve the way they change.
I’ve been making the case for a new approach to leading change all year. That’s because traditional change management as we know it is obsolete. As I wrote in Change Is Changing: Coping With The Death Of Traditional Change Management, published in April, the very notion that change can be managed has started to feel absurd given the pace of business today. We need to start thinking and acting differently about change. The intent of business executives—to deliver results more sustainably and more quickly—remains the same, but the context in which organizations operate today is fundamentally shifting. A new normal, no longer defined by risk, fear and avoidance but rather by possibility, agility and opportunity, mandates that we not just manage change, but rather embrace it and even turn it into a competitive advantage.
How can we embrace change? In a recent Forbes Insights report done with the Project Management Institute, 94% of survey respondents said they face significant challenges creating a culture of change. Business leaders are wise to focus not just on getting through a particular project or program, but rather on building their organization’s ongoing capacity and metabolism for change, at pace and at scale. Some do this by focusing on small but visible initiatives that expand the knowledge and skill of line managers. Others are fundamentally re-thinking their leadership and operational structure, putting people into new and different situations in order to produce new and different behaviors. (See Change Is The New Superpower: How To Increase Your Company’s Metabolic Rate For Change, December.)
Think of it as surfing the ocean waves. Today change, like waves, never stops. It can be large or small, fast or slow, but it is continuous. No two waves are exactly alike, but there are patterns: Waves form, roll, peak and break. They can be exhilarating and treacherous at the same time. Often, the difference between a successful surf and a complete wipeout is your ability to understand the characteristics of that particular wave as it forms. These things are all true of change in the business world, too. (See Surfing The Waves Of Change, July).
As we think about building organizational capabilities in this dynamic environment, there is an ongoing tension between “going deep” and “going broad.” With competition and complexity on the rise, workers’ best hope is to develop a number of truly distinctive, differentiating capabilities—what you might call “spikes.” That’s the going deep approach. But organizations of the future will also need general business skills and will put a premium on leaders who can cope with ambiguity, be creative, think strategically, and offer coaching and inspiration. Businesses will depend more and more on multifaceted workers, who have a broad mastery of general management skills atop a few spikes of deep functional or domain expertise. (See Going Pi Shaped: How To Prepare For The Work Of The Future, September).
At a moment in time when one might have thought technology was taking over, human considerations have assumed new forms and importance. Even as we increasingly automate our businesses, culture, behavior change, management alignment and dynamic capability building have surfaced as critical factors for success. The ability to apply human judgment, inspiration and creativity continues to carry a high premium. (See The Revenge Of EQ, June.)
Hopefully as you head into 2020, you do so with a clearer picture of how to more effectively navigate the waves of change, with optimism and confidence. As surfing pioneer Phil Edwards said, “The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.”