Few times in history have there been such rapid change as we’re seeing right now.
With each passing year the number of forces in play seems to grow exponentially, and business models are being disrupted at a rate that has never been seen before. To help businesses survive — and thrive — during this era of continuous change, we’ve partnered with Peter Taylor to co-produce the Enabling the Adaptive Enterprise: Foundations for Continuous Change whitepaper.
Peter Taylor is a PMO decision influencer, author of ‘The Lazy Project Manager’, and a respected expert on project management. In this blog article, we summarize the topics discussed in the full paper. To read the full version, download the white paper now.
Continuous Change, Continuous Disruption
In Forrester’s paper The Adaptive Enterprise, they lists a host of forces that are disrupting businesses around the world, including:
- The beginning of a global economic recession.
- The US – China trade war and its effect on supply chains.
- An ever-increasing volume and sophistication of cyber threats.
- Automation changing the face of the work and labor market.
- The need to ramp up investment in climate change adaptation.
On top of all that, new technologies are challenging the way businesses operate. Disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), the Internet of Things (IoT), and cloud computing have opened up entirely new ways of operating, including radically new business models.
Widespread adoption of these technologies is forcing businesses — even those in long-established markets — to adapt or die. As the paper notes:
“These forces generate a level of volatility that creates acute risk — or extraordinary opportunity. The level of volatility places a premium on how well companies adapt. The market will reward adaptive enterprises and punish those unable to quickly sense and respond to the different forces playing out in the external market.”
Deliver What Customers Need Today
For a business to thrive in a turbulent environment, it must have two capabilities:
- The ability to withstand and recover quickly from difficult, unexpected situations.
- The ability to rethink and recreate any part of the business to better serve current customer needs.
That second point is crucial. As we’ll see shortly, being completely focused on delivering an end result — i.e., serving the customer’s current needs — is essential. If a business becomes distracted by the processes or technologies involved, the desired result will always suffer.
Ultimately, serving the customer’s needs as they exist today is the only thing that matters.
A business that has both of the characteristics above can change even its core value proposition to pursue the opportunities produced by volatility. Businesses that lack these characteristics are static and unable to change quickly, making them highly susceptible to the disruption caused by continuous change.
Embracing Continuous Change
So what does it take to thrive during continuous change?
First, business leaders must play a central role in building the capabilities needed to embrace continuous change. This is not something that can be kicked down the hierarchy while executive teams continue to operate as they always have.
Beyond this, there are many different capabilities that must be nurtured for a business to develop change resilience. Some of the most important capabilities include:
- Outcome-focused. Businesses that thrive during continuous change always work backwards from their desired end result: the customer experience they want to produce. They design and build (or rebuild) operations to ensure they meet the end result. Process and technology are never the defining factor — operations are created, altered, and replaced to facilitate the end result.
- Collaboration. Every individual’s work is aligned against a goal and they know exactly how it will benefit the business. Collaboration goes beyond cooperation — it’s about shared objectives and trust. To achieve true collaboration, forget “how things have always been done” and create new systems, processes, and workflows that keep all your stakeholders connected, including partners, vendors, and customers.
- Team performance management. The goal here is to drive alignment and openness amongst all team members. This requires tools and processes that support team member interaction, and the ability of each team and individual to work towards a common goal. Leaders must set the stage for effective team performance management, e.g., by setting a positive tone, clarifying priorities, listening to feedback, and checking the wellbeing of teams and individuals.
Barriers to Change
Besides developing the capabilities that support a business to thrive during continuous change, it’s important to avoid practices that create barriers to them. These practices are primarily based in fear and rigidity — cultural and procedural blights that scupper any chance of thriving during continuous change.
Some of the top practices to avoid include:
- Hierarchy. The old-fashioned, high power-distance approach to business is the enemy of open collaboration.
- Traditionalism. The quintessential “we’ve always done it this way” argument, often supported by referencing historical successes while ignoring future challenges.
- Secrecy. Another fear-based practice that sees businesses operating on a “need to know” basis. For everybody to work towards a common goal, this controlling approach must be cut out.
- System rigidity. When technology forces the behavior of a business, it’s impossible to thrive during change. Overly rigid systems and technologies make it impossible to be totally outcome-focused, and create inefficiencies.
There are many more barriers than this. However, most barriers boil down to the two systemic issues mentioned above: fear and rigidity. By cutting fear-based decision-making and inflexible systems, tools, and technologies out of your business, you can create the conditions needed to be more change resilient.
Unlearn What You Have Learned
Here are two undeniable truths of business:
- You can’t do the same things you’ve always done and expect different outcomes.
- When conditions change, you can’t keep doing what you’ve always done and expect the same results.
Unlearning past lessons is essential for any business to thrive during continuous change. Why? Because something that worked well yesterday may not work today, and what works today may not work tomorrow.
One of the most important factors is remaining outcome-focused — i.e., focused on serving your customer’s current needs — at all times, and letting everything else change as needed to serve that purpose.
To find out more about how your business can thrive during these turbulent times by developing a culture that’s more resilient to change, follow the link below to download the white paper.