16 Apr 2021
Change is difficult and since we are naturally averse to it (neurologically programmed to follow the road that we have most commonly taken in the past) stepping out of this routine requires conscious effort.
The last year has shown us how much is truly possible when the necessity for change is compelling, and it turns out that we are more rapidly adaptable than we ever imagined. Now, with the rollout of vaccines and tentative steps towards a ‘new normal’, will corporate complacency allow us to drift back into change-averse cultures, or will this be a springboard to more agile business?
As an Oliver Wight Partner, I’m observing business leaders who face one of the biggest barriers to change in the current environment - gaining clarity on what needs to be done and activating it. Typical failure modes for change such as lack of resources or sufficient programme management are secondary to stepping out of the decision making hiatus and into action.
Here are 4 of the most common scenarios for avoiding change and my advice on how to counteract them:
Lack of alignment of both the current situation and future scenarios distract from critical decision making. To counteract the static, quantification of the risk and impact of inaction needs clear articulation in both strategic and financial terms. It’s easier to see the risk of making a poor decision, but we are often ignorant of the consequence of not taking action even if a little work could have clarified this.
Many of my clients are experiencing a business environment with more volatile markets, new competitors, and supply chain pressures. When the typical criteria the business uses to assess decisions is no longer relevant, the absence of clear direction results in inertia in change momentum.
It’s time to revisit your strategy. Is it still relevant, alive, and framing the business priorities? If not, make this a priority.
This takes many different forms, including the need for more data. If you find yourself repeatedly asking for more information in order to make a decision, you need to be clear with your teams on what information needs to be researched, how it will be used to facilitate decision making (acknowledging ambiguity), and how it will be managed. Otherwise, declaring lack of data becomes a decision deferral mechanism, and the organisation can’t get moving.
While it’s true that people are suffering a sense of change saturation with the many personal and professional challenges of Covid-19, this has been used as an excuse for avoiding further change.
However, we shouldn’t underestimate our colleagues and teams. If there is a need for change it won’t just be the leadership team detecting this, there will be an underlying acknowledgement across the wider organisation. Uncertainty and ambiguity feed the worst in us and consume energy in businesses. Even the most difficult decisions require an answer to avoid stagnation.
So how do we build positively on the change momentum and maintain the agility we have seen in our business responses?
As for any habit, small, incremental and sustained changes are the most effective for building resilience and corporate fitness. Businesses now have the opportunity to build on the rapid change cycles that the last year has brought us. We can do this by routinely scanning the environment for disruptors and running “what if” scenarios so that we are more prepared when significant threats or opportunities arise. Visualisation and action planning are key. We are all, to some degree, currently running on plan B, C or D.
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