Navigating change with confidence is crucial for leaders during times of disruption. It allows a business to capitalize on evolutionary and revolutionary opportunities emerging in the moment. But too often, change agents inside an organization are hindered by bureaucracy.
For example, let’s consider the fall of Eastman Kodak. In 2012, the once-dominant company filed for bankruptcy. Many observers initially pinned Kodak’s downfall on its reticence to embrace emerging digital technology. However, Kodak were pioneers of exploring, inventing and investing in digital technology. The real story was one of complacency and an inability to manage change when confronted with market disruption.
So, how can organizations make the transformative changes needed to address market chaos? How do they remain relevant to customers? And how will they beat out their competition? A traditional response to competitive pressure is: “We’ll compete against external forces by building a better product.” But in our experience, the most significant threats during times of disruption lie within a company’s four walls.
The approach of executive leadership to dealing with disruption can vary widely. In our work with organizations of all sizes––private and public––we find two primary challenges: the inability to empower change agents and/or the failure to identify and solve the right problem. The inability to conquer these challenges can debilitate or even shutter a company.
Stuck in the “Frozen Middle”
In many organizations, we see a familiar pattern that leads to a breakdown of innovation efforts. Here’s how ideas typically get stuck:
- A team or individual proposes an idea.
- The idea takes shape as a plan.
- The plan gathers energy and begins to take flight.
- Despite the team’s confidence in the idea, it meets resistance within the organization.
- The execution begins to stall and the team loses momentum.
- Now lacking in impetus and energy to right the effort, the plan collapses.
- The concept is never fully realized.
We call this the “frozen middle.” It refers to any management tier hesitant to move forward. Their position in an organization is especially problematic. They sit between the groups who typically drive successful change: the visionaries (senior leaders) and the doers (those closest to the problem). When these two groups aren’t effectively aligned, ideas get frozen.
Transparency Dethaws the Frozen Idea
Organizations are being challenged to change constantly. The longer any company ignores implementing a culture of change[i], the greater their risk of being disrupted. A lack of movement risks relevance with customers and new audiences. So, how can a business make change happen?
We like to kick things into gear with a workshop. First up, we work to identify the right problems to solve, and assess the company’s appetite for change. This enables management to align and craft their initial strategy. Once an overarching strategy is agreed, it’s then about understanding the “how” of execution.
Making significant internal change is often not easy. Holding a cross-organizational, participatory workshop teases out ideas, frames problems and creates a set of metaphors and common visualizations. It allows leaders and team members to say: “Alright, now I can understand the problem and see its possible solutions.”
When done effectively, a workshop helps you develop the skill of rebuffing poorer-quality ideas. It gives you the confidence to evaluate an idea and say: “I recognize its value, but it’s a no.” This type of transparency compels people to take a stand. Rather than let ideas peter out, stakeholders must consider options and defend their decisions. This creates a culture that accelerates change by encouraging decisive action.
Turning Unsures Into All In
In most situations, there are those who embrace change, those who resist it, and others who remain unsure. Our experience shows that most people align with the unsure group. They tend to be more fearful, distracted or unconvinced that change will be positive. By engaging this audience and helping them believe in the upside of change, it’s possible to overcome any hesitation.
Our workshop process engages all three groups. It requires each to speak to risk, apathy, poor morale or other threats to change. It also amplifies voices of those with the vision and desire to drive change forward. When organizations attempt change without alignment, the catalysts often find themselves isolated and defeated. By uniting and collaborating, consensus teams can explore together whether specific ideas are right for your organization.
Transparency allows change agents to engage with the unsure group to inform decision-making. Typically, the number of “yes” answers to ideas increases. Then with an emerging consensus around any one idea, your organization gains momentum to best accelerate change.
The Power of an Expert Perspective
Most companies aren’t born digital. They aren’t structured to thrive in today’s digital world. As such, managing change can be difficult. The best way to reduce risk and time-to-value with digital transformation efforts is to engage a trusted guide. Guides help you to better understand your customers, navigate technologies and expediate a solution through your organization.
As a digitally-focused management consultancy, we help organizations to focus on what matters most: their core business. Regardless of the specifics of any challenge––program, product, data, platform, digital innovation––we recognize that organizations have real pain, need to move quick, and not overcommit.
Want us to guide you through how to make change? We’d love to hear from you.
[i] Change culture in this instance is not referring to “change management”. It refers to a cross-organizational culture that identifies and enables the right changes to happen as needed.