Posts tagged transformation
Can "Experience" Actually Derail Your Transformation Efforts?

Quite often when organizations are undergoing change, there is a tendency to solicit the ideas and opinions of those with the most experience. There is a confidence and a comfort we feel in gaining insight and direction from those who have spent years or even decades in a given industry, company or organization. On the surface this makes a great deal of sense. However, is it possible that relying too heavily on those with "experience" can actually hinder or derail your transformation efforts?

The truth about experience is, it is most effective if the environment in which you operate hasn't substantially changed! However, if new technologies are introduced, new distribution channels developed, or non-traditional competitors enter the marketplace, the value of previous experience is diminished. In fact, in the book, "Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions" (Harvard Business Press) the authors argue that one of the leading factors as to why smart leaders make bad decisions is relying on "Misleading Experiences." Misleading experiences are those memories of past actions that seem to be comparable and/or relevant to the current situation, but which can subconsciously cause us to overlook and/or undervalue differentiating factors.

When leading change and transformation it is essential to have those with "relevant" experience at the table. However, it is equally necessary to have others with diverse ideas and insights involved. Histories is littered with companies that in the face of changing trends and challenging headwinds relied too heavily on those with experience, and are no longer in business. Did Blockbuster benefit from its video distribution experience? Did Border's Books benefit from it experience in selling books? How did Circuit City's experience in selling electronics help it from avoiding bankruptcy? Arguably, it was important that each organization have individuals with industry expertise involved in leading change. However, they could have benefited more by understanding:

  1. What are the "differentiating factors" that we need to better understand?
  2. How has, or can technological innovation help us to create sustainable value?
  3. How has customer behavior and buying habits changed?
  4. Who are the successful new entrants, and what can we learn from them?

Today, there are several industries and organizations that are faced with major decisions regarding their future:

  • Will our customers continue to purchase our products and services in the same manner, or will they want new, customer-friendly delivery models?
  • Will changes in technology make our platform and go-to-market strategy non-competitive or obsolete?
  • Are there two kids in a garage somewhere building a new software application with features and functions that we've not even imagined?

While none of these industries or organizations have a crystal ball to help create and implement an effective transformation plan, if they are smart, in the addition of asking the four questions listed above, they will:

  • Conduct an analytical review of the facts from multiple data points.
  • Encourage healthy debate of the facts and the implications.
  • Identify how past experiences can both help and hinder success.
  • Don't be afraid to engage others who may lack "industry" knowledge, but who can provide unique insights and perspectives, based on their diverse background.

Yes, experience matters in leading change and transformation, but it’s wise not to rely on past experience alone. It needs to be viewed through the lenses of both the reality of the present, and the promise and opportunity of the future.

Is Your Organization Really “Ready” to Change?

After careful analysis and consideration, your organization has determined that in order to “take it to the next level”, there needs to be a change in strategy. The leadership team has done their SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). They’ve uncovered a “Blue Ocean” that will deliver exponential growth, and have used Six Sigma methodology to optimize operational processes.  Lastly, the Board of Directors has endorsed the new strategy and the organization is poised to implement the new Transformation (more sophisticated sounding than “Change”) initiative! Or is the organization really ready for change?

In full transparency, I’ve been there. I’ve led change and transformation initiatives for over thirty years in industries as diverse as Grocery Retail, Business Process Outsourcing and Wireless Technology. With the best of intentions and the security blanket of outside consultants, Gant charts and market intelligence, I’ve witnessed how even the best laid plans can still end up with less than optimal results! And in every case, one critical question was never fully explored: “Is the organization Ready for change”?

By “Ready” I am not referring to being properly staffed, fully funded or properly organized for the change. Rather, prior to embarking on the change or transformation initiative is there alignment on the vision, support from the culture, an understanding of the “resistors” and are plans in place to mitigate resistance?

I would suggest that prior to undertaking any strategic change or transformation effort, that organizations undertake a Readiness Assessment. As part of this assessment, four key questions must be asked, answered and addressed:

  • Do Leaders at every level have a common vision of the change to come?
  • Will the organization’s culture support or resist the change?
  • What do we anticipate the will be the main resistors to change?
  • How can we mitigate resistance to change?

Readiness for change depends more on assessing and addressing these issues, than the crafting the best transformation plan. In future discussions we will look at each of these questions individually.

Managing Change Starts With Understanding Human Nature!

A common approach in change management speeches and presentations is to present the theory of change management, the steps to successful change transitions, and to assume that two people can receive the same information about a transition, and can be equally prepared to adopt/embrace that transition.  And that the two people can equally prepared to employ best practices for leading or implementing transition. That’s simply not the case.

And, when I say this, I’m not speaking of being prepared with the information or talking points about the change, or the best practices/processes for leading change. These are certainly important.  But, I’m talking about the head acknowledgment versus heart acknowledgment of change. You see, on some level, we all get that change is inevitable and we have to deal with it.  In our heads, we get that.  But, the emotions that well up inside most of us before a major change or transition, reinforce that, at the heart of it, none of us is every really “prepared” for change.

While we all approach change with varying degrees of anxiety, mandated change in particular, elicits resistance.  And, I’m not here to demonize the resistance, to trivialize the barriers.  No matter how positive a change, the barriers to that change are to be viewed as legitimate because those barriers are the stakeholders’ reality. As leaders, we can bring personal biases to the table—again, which can be legitimate—that inform our ability to lead through transition.

But, anyone CAN BE prepared to respond to change and to effectively navigate through change. In order to do so, it’s very important to not only understand the barriers to change, but the personal insecurities that change brings, and have a process to address them.
Only then can we lead effective transition, in which people who view and approach change from various perspectives can still participate in a productive transition and growth process, whatever their role in that process.