In the past, businesses facing change saw it as a temporary disruption with a beginning, middle, and end. After a new normal is achieved, the thinking goes, the business “recovers” and life returns to normal.
That mindset no longer reflects the changes that organizations face. Product life cycles are a fraction of before, customer experience is a huge part of connecting with consumers, and disruptive competitors with compelling value propositions emerge suddenly.
To keep up, organizations have to make change a way of working and make constant adaptation a permanent part of their cultures.
Why Change Has Changed
When John Kotter formulated his eight-step process for change management in 1995, the goal was to reach a specific point: to arrive at a new status quo. Though updated in 2012, the model itself hasn’t changed much: It still involves creating urgency and a vision, building a team of volunteers, and getting short-term wins to help ease the company into the shift.
Given how much change itself has changed, why do we still cling to this model? Kotter’s thinking was certainly not wrong, but now change happens on a much shorter cycle. Businesses used to introduce new products every few years, resulting in much longer, more stable life cycles. If companies changed, they maintained the same business model and reordered certain processes. With today’s continuous product releases, however, processes constantly shift.
Our understanding of the customer experience was also vastly different. Companies could research what consumers bought and wanted to buy, but they couldn’t tap into what motivated their customers every day. A business’s goal was to create a popular new product rather than change how companies treated customers.
On the rare occasions that mandated new technologies, the waterfall process of spec, design, test, pilot, implement, learn, and use could take years. In every case, the goal was to reach a point when the change was over.
How to Keep Up With Change When It’s a Constant
In an era of constant change, organizations need to develop mindsets that embrace change as part of everyday business. Taking these steps makes an organization better prepared to implement and withstand change:
1. Set dynamic outcomes instead of static benchmarks
When companies view change as a means to an end, the plan for change is fairly clear-cut, so it makes sense to wait until the plan is set before enacting it. When change happens constantly, however, waiting for fully detailed deliverables will make keeping up almost impossible — and they will never be completely right anyway.
Instead, set emergent outcomes that are defined enough to move forward but not so well-defined that they become disempowering for the next level of leaders. Outcomes include defining what changing expectations leaders will face in the new environment and what strategies and practices they should develop to meet those expectations.
2. Create change leaders, not cheerleaders
An “army of the willing,” as Kotter called it, may be the least confrontational approach to take — if you have the time. But when you see change as a part of the new business model, all leaders need to be change leaders.
Change leaders must shift the source of their confidence from certainty around their plan to faith in their own abilities to lead and in their teams’ abilities to execute. The best way to create change leaders is to immerse employees in the experience of the future state. PowerPointing the highlights won’t work: Leaders need to be engaged in that future experience and then apply it through real work. Immersion shows them firsthand what new levers they must pull to accomplish their objectives.
3. Shift the company’s mindset entirely
When an organization views change differently, it transforms its entire outlook on how it does business, treats employees, and serves customers. As a result, people have to change their behavior, which means changing their mindsets in several ways. As Tony Robbins often mentions, that involves carefully framing the questions they ask themselves.
When a client was launching a new strategy, we helped them identify the pivotal moments when reimagining and making different choices would move them toward new business results faster. For example, when preparing for and conducting their quarterly business reviews, we helped them shift away from parsing out “How did we do?” and “What didn’t work?” Reviews instead became focused, asking “What can we do next” and “How do we remove the obstacles?” A seemingly small change at a pivotal moment dramatically accelerated the success of their strategy.
4. Build a change-centered culture
Achieving transformational change in an organization is more than just the cumulation of individual behavior shifts; it’s a communal activity. Therefore, people in organizations need support beyond the individual level. They need to know that the system — including behaviors and culture — is changing, too.
From the start, companies can create a supportive network through structured leader-led meetings, with intact teams focusing on the same kind of content, material, and expectations. Alternately, cross-enterprise teams simultaneously focusing on the same leader expectation or cultural element can have a similar tipping-point effect. Brief, regular opportunities to collaborate and learn from peers helps change leaders gain the confidence and support to overhaul their daily operating rhythms, norms, and ways of working.
Change is no longer an occasional challenge to resolve as soon as possible. Instead, it’s the defining characteristic of virtually every marketplace. The most prepared companies make constant change their prevailing business models.
To learn more about how to activate new ways of working through transformational moments, download this whitepaper.