Business Bites. Impermanence, change and business agility Part 2

Nick Walsh FBDO
ABDO sector skills development officer

Effective change leadership should emphasise continuity

In ‘Research: To get people to embrace change, emphasize what will stay the same’, published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), we learn that:

Common wisdom in management science and practice has it that to build support for a change project, visionary leadership is needed to outline what is wrong with the current situation. By explaining how the envisioned change will result in a better and more appealing future, leaders can overcome resistance to change. But our research, recently published in the Academy of Management Journal, leads us to add a very important caveat to this.

“A root cause of resistance to change is that employees identify with and care for their organisations. People fear that after the change, the organisation will no longer be the organisation they value and identify with — and the higher the uncertainty surrounding the change, the more they anticipate such threats to the organisational identity they hold dear. Change leadership that emphasises what is good about the envisioned change and bad about the current state of affairs typically fuels these fears because it signals that changes will be fundamental and far-reaching.

“Counterintuitively then, effective change leadership has to emphasise continuity — how what is central to “who we are” as an organisation will be preserved, despite the uncertainty and changes on the horizon.”

Highlight the things that will stay the same.

So, as a local business, are you more equipped to innovate and embrace impermanence?

Maxwell Wessell in his HBR article, ‘Why big companies can’t innovate’, speculates that in a larger business: “Once a business figures out how to solve its customers’ problems, organisational structures and processes emerge to guide the company towards efficient operation. Seasoned managers steer their employees from pursuing the art of discovery and towards engaging in the science of delivery. Employees are taught to seek efficiencies, leverage existing assets and distribution channels, and listen to (and appease) their best customers. Such practices and policies ensure that executives reduce the types and scale of innovation that can be pursued successfully within an organisation.”

For businesses that want to secure growth through innovation, the answer lies in recognising the limits and empowering groups to function with very different goals and operational metrics. Allow teams and individuals (intrapreneurs) autonomy. However, in the process of unleashing this potential, leaders must make sure their innovators develop sustainability.

How do you do this?

In a follow-up article, ‘How big companies should innovate’, Wessell suggests that we do this by testing and learning.

Intrapreneurs need to ask:
• Can our new asset offer a solution for our customers?
• Can it be profitable?

Intrapreneurs must then be encouraged to test early and test often. Little by little, they can turn a hypothesis about the market into proven results. If evidence comes back that invalidates the basic hypotheses of the project, businesses can cut their losses before they’re too great. Simultaneously, as intrapreneurs test their ideas to gain supporting evidence for their products and services, they can justify any potential investment needed to proceed.

Change and innovation with agility

Business agility refers to qualities that allow businesses to respond rapidly to changes in the internal and external environment without losing momentum or vision. Business agility is important for businesses looking to survive long-term. Business agility can be described as the time it takes for an organisation to have an idea, turn it into a project, rolling it out, make it profitable and generate return on investment.

Innovation is often the key to maintaining long-term business agility. Companies that don’t innovate and rely on ‘proven’ methods of doing things often find themselves falling behind the competition because they can’t adapt quickly enough to shifts in the market.

Keys for developing agility

Change agility is not a skill that can be developed overnight, yet identifying what are its key elements will enable you to embark on this grand journey towards your competitive edge.

Here are a few keys suggested by Ciro Pérez, president at Change Americas, in his article ‘Change agility, a competitive advantage for your organization’, published by Global Thinking:
• Do not overlook what is happening outside your business. Respond quickly to the strategic opportunities presented by your environment, sector and market
• Integrate the voices of your patients throughout your strategy, not just in the marketing, sales and services aspects
• Keep an eye on risk management. Changing quickly does not mean putting at risk what the business has already built
• Set up cross functional project teams. The different points of views and perspectives in a project will help you find faster and better paths
• Encourage cross management in your business that allows you to eliminate silos. Collaboration and networking are fundamental to implementing any initiative/project
• Make sure to have contingency plans that enable you to take on the changing environment. While you may not have all the answers, you can have a plan of action for the changes as they arise
• Leverage technology. Technology can be your ally, make the most of the advances and possibilities that this offers us, otherwise you will lag behind
• Anticipate and plan change

In this current ‘absence of normal’, don’t fixate on normal. Embrace change and disorder by adapting, evolving and being agile.

Read Part 1 of this article here.