Organizational transformation is hard.
In other news, water is wet, and Google rules the world. Tell me something I don’t already know, right?
Okay, I’ll skip all the “change is hard” stuff, because if you’re in the trenches of organizational transformation, you already know this, only too well. Innovations enter the marketplace so frequently—and others are phased out so frequently—that your innovative product or service can be rendered functionally obsolete while you’re still developing or scaling it.
And just in case you’re wondering if the market really is changing as fast as we think, here’s evidence that your perceptions are correct: Since 2000, 52% of Fortune 500 companies have gone out of business, been acquired, or experienced bankruptcy because of digital disruption.
Are big picture strategy and transformation incompatible?
In an environment changing this quickly, some firms I work with have pondered whether long-term, big picture strategies are still relevant. After all, if you have to tweak the strategy over and over to accommodate changing conditions, what’s the point?
Others I’ve worked with have taken the opposite approach and questioned whether strategy should dig its heels in and resist change, regardless of what the market is doing.
In my opinion, neither approach is correct.
Strategy is as relevant as ever. Good strategy doesn’t change unless there are valid reasons to do so. That tired old metaphor of the rudderless ship still applies, even while you’re transforming, top-to-bottom.
Tactics, on the other hand, should change, allowing you to adapt to altered conditions.
Here’s another simple but accurate metaphor: Your strategy is your destination, and your tactics are the route you choose to get there. You have to know where you’re going. Your people need a destination and a big, inspiring goal.
Unicycles and Bagpipes? Easy!
Here’s the thing, though. Achieving your strategic goals while making necessary changes to your organization is harder than being the guy I saw on YouTube dressed as Darth Vader, riding a unicycle and playing the bagpipes. Why? While playing an instrument and riding a unicycle can become automatic with practice and repetition, true change and innovation never becomes automatic or routine. That’s one of the things that makes it fun.
Having said that, what are the most common struggles faced by transforming organizations?
What’s so hard about transforming your company?
- Becoming Customer-Centric: It sounds basic, doesn’t it? But it’s anything but basic or easy. Demographics, psychographics, changing technology, and new business models mean yesterday’s winning formula is today’s losing approach. Whether your market is B2C, B2B, or a combination, expectations are dynamic and complex.
- Fully–Embracing Technology: Marketing, operations, sales, and finance all depend on tech innovations to stay competitive, but many companies (both employees and leadership) are still struggling to make use of the latest software, analytics, and cloud-based capabilities.
- Rebuilding Business Models: Business models require more strategic and agile approaches, and your people at all levels need a clear understanding of what steps to take and how to gauge their progress.
- Producing Innovative Information: Today’s consumers want the most useful, relevant, and interesting information available before they decide to purchase, but providing this appealing content is a huge challenge. Many companies are simply unable to offer content that moves the needle for their customers, instead serving up a glut of unimaginative filler that offers little value.
Jumping on the Agile Bandwagon? Yes, and for Good Reason!
Given these formidable challenges to transformation, is there an easy answer or painless approach to apply? If so, I haven’t yet discovered it. What I have discovered is that companies need the agility to pivot quickly when necessary. Another word for this agility might be “freedom.”
Agile organizations have the freedom to change tactics quickly, because change is built into their DNA. Organizations don’t become agile overnight, though. Your culture, communications, operations, organizational hierarchy, all must do the hard work of employing more nimble processes and systems that allow you the freedom you need to change tactics while remaining true to your strategy.
Of course, it’s often easier for a smaller startup to employ agile methodologies, but even larger organizations can take important steps and lay the groundwork for these changes.
There’s much more I could write about becoming agile. Perhaps I’ll explore this in an upcoming post. For now, though, I’ve found a few “habits of mind” to be helpful in making the personal change to a more agile mindset:
- Forget “thinking outside” the box. Instead, burn the box!
- Forget what you know, or what you think you know. Be open to new ideas and perspectives.
- Start over, every day.
- Surround yourself with people who challenge you. Make a conscious effort to break out of your echo chamber and look at things from different perspectives. If these perspectives make you feel uncomfortable, you’re probably on the right track.
Nearly every organization is struggling with transformation. It isn’t just you. Resist the temptation to scrap your strategy and plug in a new one every time the ground shifts under you. Instead, focus on getting the right strategy in place, with agile processes and systems that enable you to pivot quickly in response to (inevitable) change.