Persuade your organisation to change in time!
People and companies often do not like unexpected changes. From religion to science and from horoscopes to weather forecasts, we have always looked for something to hold on to. This is all the more true in times of great change – and much greater than the last two years is hardly conceivable.
The Covid pandemic meant that we had to start living in a different world overnight. All our plans were thrown out. Surely this could not last longer than a few weeks? But weeks became months and months became years. Each time we thought we were there. The vaccine became the new religion we clung to, until we had to acknowledge that this too is not an absolute panacea. Again and again we sought certainty. Time after time, we were reminded that there is no such thing.
Change is the only constant
A well-known saying is that change is the only constant. Therefore, accepting that change is a constant part of our lives offers a lot more security. This realisation can even turn constant change into an advantage: for those who know how to use it strategically, every change is a new opportunity.
This is particularly important for leaders of teams and organisations, who not only make decisions for themselves, but also manage entire organisations. Even armed with the most advanced data analysis tools and forecasting models, they are not sure what tomorrow will bring – and certainly not within the ever faster changing business landscape of the 21st century.
There is even a special abbreviation to describe this fluid state of today’s business world: the VUCA world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. The term was coined by the US Army back in 1987 to capture the elusive post-Cold War world in words.
The basic idea is clear: nothing is certain. But getting this lesson through to the very heart of your organisation is not easy. Even for the most experienced leader, the business landscape of the past two years is a difficult sea to navigate, where it seems to be constantly storming. It continues to evolve and we have to take that into account and anticipate it every day.
Five-year plans do not work. Every day, new solutions must be found for the changing environment. The usual approaches and answers no longer suffice. They restrict rather than create space to enter new paths. It is important to ask the right strategic questions in time so that everyone in the organisation is invited to think along in finding the answers and solutions.
The right 6 strategic questions to stimulate change
Whereas the corona crisis can be seen as the ultimate exercise in accepting constant change, the past two years have mainly shown how stubborn our desire for certainty is. Now that the new omikron variant appears less sickening, many are talking about the ‘end game’. Whether it is true this time? – Who will say? It is not so relevant in this context either, because even if we really leave the crisis behind us now, new challenges will arise that we have to deal with.
What does this mean for leaders and professionals who have to set the right course for their organisation? Are they powerless? No. Because the one certainty remains: change is always coming. And so it is best to anticipate it. By proactively managing an uncertain future, you don’t wait for change to happen, but you take matters into your own hands.
But how do you do that? – How do you create a sustainable strategy if you do not know what the world will look like tomorrow? We support organisations not only by providing them with answers, but often above all by helping them to ask the right questions. Here are six questions that can help you develop the right strategy for your team and organisation, step by step:
Question 1: What do you want to keep?
Embracing change does not mean throwing everything overboard. The fact that you have come this far means that there is a strength in your business, and you want to keep that strength. No matter how much cars have changed in the last century, a Tesla still has four wheels and – for now – a steering wheel.
The strength can be (part of) a product, but also a quality level, core values or a company philosophy. Often it is an essential component of your company’s identity. Whatever it is, make sure you know what it is and think about how you want to and can hold on to it. Analyse your portfolio, screen your organisation with the People Change Scan and identify what you want to keep.
Question 2: What do you want to change?
Answering the first question gets you well on your way to the second. By thinking carefully about what you want to keep, you often get a good idea of what you want to break with. Again, this can be anything: an ingrained way of working, an office location, a product that you actually know is (almost) at the end of its life.
Apple is the undisputed champion in anticipating change – sometimes to the frustration of its own customers. Many people were filled with incomprehension when the familiar audio jack disappeared from the iPhone; now we use Bluetooth earplugs en masse. The iPhone itself is perhaps the best example: the overwhelming success of the iPod never stopped Apple from looking further ahead and today it is by far the world’s most valuable company.
So don’t be afraid to break the familiar, no matter how much it has brought you in the past. Ask yourself why you still cling to it. Often it is not because it gives you so much, but because of fear of change. We also held on to our offices for years, until corona forced us to work from home and we finally recognised the benefits that had been predicted for years.
Question 3: What do you want to restructure?
Once you have determined what you want to keep and what is going overboard, it is time to determine which structure best suits the new course. You no longer look at what has to go, but at what has to change. Existing structures may no longer work optimally. Promising new initiatives may still need to be properly integrated into the organisation.
Take again the example of working from home. What we first had to get rid of was the stubborn idea that we all have to sit in an office to form an organisation. But throwing that idea overboard was not enough: when we all worked from home overnight, we did not suddenly have the ideal form of working. We are still discovering it.
What do you want to do at home, for example, and what would be better to do together with colleagues? And what does this mean for the design of the office and the home office? By answering such questions, you can build the new structure of your company.
Question 4: What do you want to grow?
Focusing on a new course and corresponding structure is not all. A new strategy only comes to life when you throw all your weight behind it. Even if you have agreed to do something new, it is all too easy to fall back into old habits. How will you make sure that the products, services or structures you have invested in actually grow?
This may involve certain interventions that you need to make in order to get employees on board with the new way of working. But often it is also simply about where you put your money and where you don’t. For example, investing in sustainability now. A decision is worth nothing without the corresponding investment. This may sound obvious, but in practice it is quite difficult to (partially) turn off the money tap while an unsustainable product is still generating a lot of turnover.
However, the courage to invest fully in the future can pay off handsomely. Tesla realised early on that it is just as much a software company as an automaker. It invested heavily in its IT department, which can now rewrite the software in a matter of weeks so that the company is not dependent on one type of chip. While other automakers are seeing billions in sales evaporate due to the global chip shortage, Tesla is breaking sales record after sales record.
Question 5: With whom do you want to cooperate?
Amidst the lightning-fast technological development of the last decades, companies seem to fear each other more than ever. Managers constantly feel the hot breath of the next smart start-up on their necks. However, this technological progress goes hand in hand with far-reaching specialisation: products and services have become so complex that it is impossible to do everything yourself. It is therefore crucial to see other companies not only as competitors, but also as potential cooperation partners.
When selecting the right partner, it is important to think from the customer’s perspective. As a company you often only provide one link in the larger chain that forms the customer journey. As an airline, you fly tourists to their holiday destination and back. But their customer journey starts at home on the couch – where they start looking for their ideal holiday – and only ends when they crash on that same couch again after their holiday. How do you cooperate with (for example) travel agencies, hotels and airports to offer them an optimal customer journey?
The proof that the 21st century is the age of cooperation is in the many platforms that largely determine today’s economy. Giants such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix and Spotify have elevated collaboration with their customers to a (very lucrative) art.
There is a ‘but’: collaborating with many companies can also make you too dependent, as the aforementioned chip shortage shows. This does not mean that you have to do everything yourself, but do take stock of the risks you may be taking. For example, in the wake of the corona crisis, many companies are adjusting their supply chains to make them less vulnerable to sudden disruptions.
Question 6: What do you want to renew?
Finally, you would do well to look further ahead: Where do you want to go in the long term? What is still missing in your company that you would like to have in the future? What new concepts do you fantasise about? Are there any innovative technologies on the horizon that you can use to take your product or service to the next level?
This is the realm of true pioneering – futuristic thinking. With this, uncertainty about the future rears its head again. This means that you have to think in scenarios: What will the world look like if we really do beat corona soon? Or what if new variants keep appearing and we have to isolate ourselves for a long time – what do we need then? And what other developments might be on the horizon? By looking far ahead and taking various possibilities into account, you can react more quickly when the time comes.
You may wonder why this is the last question – doesn’t it all begin with inventing something new? The answer is that there is no beginning and no end. Therefore, the last question can indeed be the first, and the first can also be the last. In the ever-changing world of the 21st century, forming a strategy is no longer something you do every five or ten years. It is a continuous process in which the end seamlessly flows into the beginning, so that both disappear.
So you don’t answer these six questions just once, but in a continuous circle. In doing so, you do not put an end to uncertainty, you embrace it – so that you can take advantage of it. You position yourself optimally to go along with the movement of the world.
This requires a new way of thinking. We like to help organisations on their way in this continuous process of change. Curious about what we can do for you and your team or organisation? Please contact us for an informal talk.