Leading Change

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

More than just a sound-bite...“Leading Change” is clearly more difficult than arriving at the realization that change is needed…If you want to validate the prior statement reflect back on all of the “change agents” that have crossed your path over the years and ask yourself the following question: How many of them have truly succeeded. While we’ve heard a lot about change of late as it relates to our current political landscape, the power of real change is trivialized when it becomes little more than a political sound-bite. Change…it can either be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Change got President Obama elected, and it may well end-up being the root of his political demise. Nobody ever said change was easy, but I’m here to tell you that change is essential. In today’s blog post I’ll discuss why CEO’s and entrepreneurs (and not just politicians) need to become masters at catalyzing and leading change.

While there is little debate that the successful implementation of change can create an extreme competitive advantage, it is not well understood that the lack of doing so can send a company (or an individual’s career) into a death spiral. Companies that seek out and embrace change are healthy, growing, and dynamic organizations while companies that fear change are stagnant entities on their way to a slow and painful death. 

Agility, innovation, disruption, fluidity, decisiveness, commitment, and above all else a bias toward action will lead to the creation of change. It is the process of change which results in evolving, growing and thriving companies. Much has been written about the importance of change, but there is very little information in circulation about how to actually create it. While most executives and entrepreneurs have come to accept the concept of change management as a legitimate business practice, and change leadership as a legitimate executive priority in theory, I have found very few organizations that have effectively integrated change as a core discipline and focus area in reality.   

Leading change is certainly not without risk, but if implemented properly it can breathe life back into the most tired business. So, why is it that so many established companies struggle with the concept of change? Many times it is simply because companies have been doing the same things, in the same ways, and for the same reasons for so long that they struggle with the concept of change. Consider the modern workplace…In executive circles, leaders often talk about employees who are not on-board, resist change, and are reluctant to try new things.  And among the ranks of employees, conversations that take place in the hallways and break rooms often center around whether or not executives really know what they’re doing, and whether the newest change initiative is just a passing fad.  Actually, these reactions are reasonable, given the pace that change is occurring in most of organizations.

One of my contentions about why change is difficult to implement is that too many executives want perfection to proceed action, and the truth is that the pursuit of perfection is one of great adversaries of speed. In fact, at the risk of being controversial I’m going to take the position that perfection does not exist. I hate to break it to you, but those of you who regard yourselves as perfectionists simply exhibit perfectionistic tendencies in an unrealistic attempt to achieve what cannot be had. The pursuit of perfectionism does not result in an increase in quality, but it will result in time delays, cost overruns, missed deadlines and unkept commitments. I would suggest that rather than seeking what cannot in most cases ever be achieved, that it makes more sense to seek the highest standard of quality that makes economic sense relative to the constraints of an ever shifting marketplace.

One of the key considerations that must be understood when implementing change is the necessity of moving quickly. There are those that would argue that speed in synonymous with undisciplined decisioning, but I would caution you against confusing speed with reckless abandon I’m a big proponent of planning, assessment, analysis and strategy, but only if it is concluded in a timely fashion. “Analysis Paralysis” leads to missed opportunities and failed initiatives.

Earlier in my career I served as Director of Internet Strategy for what was at that time the world’s largest web-enablement firm. While serving in that position I coined the term e-velocity which we trademarked and used to describe the influence that technology was having on the pace at which business had to be conducted in order to remain competitive. It used to be acceptable to take 12 to 18 months to roll-out an initiative, but in today’s world you better be able to do it in 90 days or it will be obsolete before it gets to market.

When I first started in business it was usual and customary to produce 5 and 10 year business plans and today I work off of rolling 90 day tactical business plans. The latest advances in Business Process Management (BPM) have seen a reduction in the planning and budgeting cycle from 120 and 90 days to 45 days. But, is 45 days good enough? How many days constitute a responsive cycle time? Many believe the right number is between 5 and 10 days. Why is cycle time reduction important? Because shorter planning and budgeting processes facilitate greater flexibility and responsiveness.

In today’s competitive business environment you must quickly be able to assess risk and make timely decisions. You cannot be successful being guided by fear and hesitation. When in doubt, remember that “Speed Kills” and that “he who hesitates is lost.” Don’t fear change…embrace it. I think General George S. Patton said it best: “A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”

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