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Is Your Organization Changing Fast Enough to Win?


time-for-a-changeOne of my favorite quotes from Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, is, “When the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” Which means if businesses don’t stay ahead of the change curve, they will soon find themselves in trouble.

When Welch made this pronouncement many years ago, he was referring mainly to individual organizations. These days, the quote applies to entire industries as well. The problem isn’t so much the rate of change, which moves faster all the time. It’s what it does to customer expectations.

Until recently, customer expectations were shaped primarily by what took place within your industry. These days, the shaping takes place outside your industry as well. These external changes often have a greater impact on your business than internal ones. The driving phenomenon is known as “expectation transfer”.

When people can do or get something in one setting, or believe they can, they begin to expect it to translate to all settings. For example, when people can order an item on with a few clicks of the mouse and it shows up on their doorstep the very next day, they begin to wonder why they can’t do the same with your product.

Primarily driven by social media, convenience and ease of access have become paramount to customer engagement.  Moreover, social media’s driving of addictive behaviors related to sharing of opinions and views has significantly impacted other behaviors and cultures. For these reasons, organizational change needs to become a way of life rather than a one-time project.

The Antidote to “Change Drain”

Unfortunately, constant change goes against the way the human brain works.

Our brains like what we already know. The things we are familiar with bring us great comfort – even when we regularly complain about them. Often, we choose the known over the unknown, even when the change could benefit us.

At the same time, constant change drains us, causing us to resist even more. Therefore, making change a way of life requires intentionally building resilience into your organization and your client relationships on a continual basis.

Developing resilience – the ability to absorb high levels of disruptive change while displaying minimal dysfunctional behavior – involves specific actions and intentional behaviors. Accomplishing it requires putting a structure in place that fosters resiliency in all employees.

Individuals and teams can become more resilient by learning concepts and techniques that reinforce the five key characteristics of resilient people:

  1. Displays a security and self-assurance based on a view of life as complex but filled with opportunity.
  1. Maintains a clear vision of what they want to achieve.
  1. When faced with uncertainty, demonstrates the ability to change and adapt as necessary while still making appropriate decisions.
  1. Engages change rather than defending against it.
  1. Develops structured approaches to managing ambiguity while using frameworks to constantly sort and process information. 

Get Clear on Winning

To help employees develop these traits, define winning at the organization, team and individual levels for the next year, with ample detail on the next quarter.  Constantly clarify and communicate what winning looks like for your organization.

Explain the “why” of any changes, explicitly stating what will change and what will stay the same (values, quality, etc.). Due to the expectation transfer from social media, this clarity on winning needs to be ubiquitous, easy to access, and compelling. As a leader, talk about why the change is important to you.

Visually embed the goals and objectives in the ways of working in your organization. Make sure that all tools, reports, processes and feedback are fully aligned to your definition of winning.

Constantly reiterate the value of change for all employees and customers. In particular, consider the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) for every associate and articulate it well.

Never underestimate how easy it is for all of us to forget the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of changes. Communicate constantly, and just when you think you’ve achieved the communication goals, start again.  With that in mind, I will close with some more Jack Welsh words of wisdom: 

  • Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.
  • Control your own destiny or someone else will.
  • Change before you have to.

Don’t Forget External Change

As important as internal change, in many respects, is the external changes that your business goes through, as well. Irrelevance can be death to a lot of small businesses and, shallow as we are, we often measure relevance using our eyes, alone. If it has been years since there have been any changes to your visual branding, then now might be the time for an update. With tools like Design Pickle alternatives, you can create a wide range of new visual resources to help quickly update the site, social media marketing, and visual advertisements. That way, you can better reflect the internal changes with a new coat of paint, effectively.

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