How often do we hear about an organization that is going through, coming out of, or planning for a change? Constantly. The cycle is almost continuous. One change is barely implemented before a new disruption or opportunity presents itself and demands a response. Organizations capable of engaging a continuous process of identifying, planning for, and adapting to change are those with teams aligned around priorities and structures in place to act on decisions with process and focus.
For the sake of morale, motivation, clarity, and prioritization, it’s important to remember that while disruption often seems like a threat or challenge, it’s often an opportunity. Identifying an opportunity and knowing what strategies and steps to take to pursue it begins with understanding that the potential disruption, positive or negative, to your organization can have many faces, including:
Of all the areas of disruption, technology continues to be the one that garners the most attention. The breadth of functional regions impacted by new forms and uses of technology is boundless. In global organizations like Stanley Black and Decker, for example, we see more and more consolidation of systems and processes intended to streamline reporting functions in areas like finance and manufacturing. The company maintains a change management mindset across the organization. By orienting transformation activities in that cultural tenet, the company continues to deliver on its commitment to providing exceptional shareholder value through world-class branded franchises.[i]
In the 12 months between December 2016 and 2017, the U.S. saw 11,899 merger and acquisition deals.[ii] Every merger, purchase, and change of leadership impacts people up and down the organizational chain, as well as throughout the customer base. How well the people are involved in the process has lasting implications. Consider the 2010 merger of United and Continental Airlines. Five years after the deal closed, it was reported that the combined carrier’s 24,000 flight attendants were still operating as if the company was running two airlines, a disconnect that was causing operational challenges, flight delays, a return to the negotiating table, and low morale. In 2017, United sustained another blow when a passenger was dragged off a flight by a partner agency, prompting CEO Oscar Munoz to apologize repeatedly, referencing renewed commitments to setting and living up to cultural standards for the organization.
Brands are part and parcel of the culture at large. Resonating with internal stakeholders and customers means consistently reviewing their visual and verbal representations to ensure they are appropriate to the brand and context. Done well, they gain attention for being forward-thinking, trend setting, and connected to the intellectual and emotional climate. Consider MasterCard’s ‘flat’ logo redesign, which made the company seem fresh, relevant to the digital age, and more attractive to a young, emerging affluent base.[iii] The backbone of the brand remained, ensuring consistency and legacy, but the tenor of it changed, addressing societal change. When brand efforts are done badly, however, the company is declared out of touch and insensitive.[iv] The human risk here is perception. Interpretation of a brand’s action as exploitative can render a large investment not just useless, but financially detrimental – all based on customer base perception.
The Human Factor in Transformation
Although disruptions and the transformations they necessitate may vary in nature, the risk related to how well your organization embeds change is human. Across your workforce, at every level, from leadership down the ladder, people need to understand, support, and work collectively toward change. If they do, changes take hold. If gaps exist, transformation will fail to come to full fruition.
There are things you can do to help ensure successful implementation of change. Ideally, all four of these best practices happen in tandem:
1. Leadership creates buy-in and alignment across the organization
2. Messaging and communication are tailored, consistent, dynamic, and appropriate to the stakeholder audience(s)
3. Every employee must see him or herself in the change objective and process, and embrace the role they play in its successful outcome
4. Employee and customer feedback should continuously feed the change process to ensure ability to meet future needs
Listing and aspiring to these four steps is simple. Implementing each one is difficult. Making all four happen demands intention, discipline, and routine. As we guide clients through the process of responding to disruption and transforming the organization for resilience, Toffler Associates has honed a four-part approach that we see as foundational to the efficiency and effectiveness of operational and human factors. Each step begins with an outcome in mind, sets out strategies for reaching the outcome, and then takes tactical steps toward achieving them. Holistically, the four endeavors address all the necessary measures to ensure your stakeholders are capable of continually noticing the opportunity for change, aligning people in the effort to implement essential processes, sharing in successes and missteps, and positioning the organization as a whole for the lasting ability to iterate as needed.
Adapt the organization
Align leadership and organizational structures
Sustain change and behaviors
Managing Your Transformation Imperatives
Standing at the precipice of 2018, we expect massive developments in areas like Blockchain, machine learning and automation, cryptocurrencies, infrastructure, security, and space commercialization. While specific disruptions may yet be unknown, it’s certain that your business will face the need for organizational shifts. Preparing now can position your workforce to spot opportunity and embrace adaptation productively. It’s worthwhile taking the time now to ask a set of questions to gauge your organization’s potential for disruption and your preparedness to manage it.
1. Have your customers’ emerging needs shaped the change?
2. Do you have mechanisms are in place to ensure future needs are explored and addressed?
3. What are the points of resistance within the organization (e.g., people, departments, geographies, business units)?
4. Who are the champions in your workforce who will help address challenges and embed change across the organization?
5. What does your ideal future workforce look like? What competencies and behaviors must they have to deliver value?
6. How does your ideal workforce align with current culture?
Change, disruption, transformation – whatever the name, whatever the type, it always impacts stakeholders. The intentionality needed to embed change starts with understanding why you’re pursuing it, what it means for your organization’s future, and how you will go about instilling it across your organization.
It’s time to keep an eye on the changing horizon and an organizational commitment to sharing in change efforts.
Nina Martire is a Senior Associate who advises on strategy development, business planning and change management. She is focused particularly on the nexus of transformational change and strategic foresight, guiding leaders in commercial and government sectors to a better understanding of and an ability to plan for the future of their organizations. Nina holds an MBA from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and has a deep background in corporate and commercial finance.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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