Change is everywhere. Brexit. Elections. Society. The economy. Digitalisation. Transformation. Robotics. Automation. Technology. Your people. Your customers. You. Everything is and always will. Change.
We know this. In business, we know that if we do not change we will become irrelevant. We think Blockbuster. We think Woolworths. We think BHS. We think Mothercare. We shudder.
Brands and businesses exist to make change happen for their customers. To improve the world. To add value. To make a difference, even in some small way (but hopefully in a big way), to customers.
But we still struggle with change. Because where there is change there is always resistance. There is the unknown. Frustration. Challenges. Resistance.
The challenge is how to deal with change. How we view it. How we make sense of it. How we harness it.
Leadership & change
When it comes to change, leaders in organisations have a choice.
They can dictate change. Tell people to change. Force change.
They can resent change. They can blame everyone and everything about change. They can even give lip service about wanting to change. To be “disruptive”. To “innovate”. But secretly, inside they can hate change, wishing it would all just stop. Disliking their job. Resenting their role. Wanting everything to be safe. Secure. Comfy.
Or they can embrace the fact change is a normal part of modern business life. They can take responsibility for helping their people make sense of the change. Create experiences for their people to embrace change. Take responsibility for the narrative and the story of the change. Design the way ahead. Set a vision. Set a destination and hook all communications into this nicely designed future. Help their people to focus. Help them to feel safe. Lead their people towards that place. Inspire them.
I suggest this is what great leaders do.
It’s a growth mindset.
As Jim Rohn famously preached “for things to change, you have to change”. What Jim means is that the way we look at things affects what happens around us.
If we look at change negatively it will grind us down. If we embrace it we might just be able to use it to create amazing opportunities.
Safety makes space for ideas
When people feel safe to make or suggest changes and they understand the direction of travel. When they know what is allowed, what is expected and desired then they help. They come up with ideas - safe in the knowledge they are behaving and acting in a way that the leader wants. The number one killer of creativity is fear.
And in the landscape of change, we need ideas. Products and services are becoming commoditised at record-breaking speeds.
Change is something that you can make. Or it is something that can be forced on you. It can be something you are doing. Or that is being done to you.
Those brands that embrace change will succeed. The businesses which create space for free-thinking for creativity and change ideas and then champion and reward those who come up with new things will win. Leadership teams which allow each other to be vulnerable and to risk putting forward new ideas will be the ones that come up with the next big thing.
The truth is we have to accept that we are in a landscape of constant change. And our business cultures need to be designed around this. Not simply to accommodate and communicate change. But to make change happen.
Make change meaningful
It’s like we are on a train. We can either create a meaningful story of the destination we are heading and admire and enjoy the view. Or - we can be in a state of panic as we watch the cityscape around us move not knowing where we are going or how we get there. Change anxiety. Change fatigue. Change panic.
If every change can become meaningful for staff and customers you will succeed.
I guess what I’m trying to say is - as change is a constant we need to harness it. We need to embrace it.
If we don’t it’s going to happen. People will change things sporadically. It won’t make sense. There will be change chaos. For customers. For our people.
As we go forward we will indeed venture into new areas we have never gone before. Risks will need to be taken. Especially if we are going to create something very special. Something new. Something revolutionary, disruptive and innovative.
We can rely too much on what is in our rear mirrors. What we learnt at University. What other people have done. What our competitors are already doing. Profitable change will need to come by taking a leap of faith towards an idea. Towards our vision of an improved changed world. Businesses talk a lot about innovation but in my experience, not many have the guts to empower their people to truly do new things. This has to change. For things to change.
How can leaders make change meaningful?
It’s all in the story we tell. The story we tell ourselves, our leadership team, our people. The story will help us and our people make sense of things. It will inspire us. It will help us to build valuable customer-centric brands. It will help us be resilient. It will help us focus on the right areas and make the right changes.
Storytelling is a crucial tool for leaders. Stories help everyone align. They help us to make sense of things. They help to inspire. Excite. Encourage. Leaders need to use this tool to communicate. To make change meaningful.
Creating artefacts, diagrams (everyone loves a diagram), roadmaps and ways to simplify the multiple changes happening all at once around us is key. We have to make the noise into a harmonious symphony. So that every change has its place and there is a place for every change.
We have to set a north star. A purpose. A reason. We have to align our people around it. We have to explain (and keep explaining) the change we want to make and why the world will be better with that change in it. We have to have a simple and clear narrative. A story which inspires. An authentic plotline. We need to carry this in our hearts and minds. We then have to design the way forward, hooking each initiative into that narrative so it makes complete sense. To us. To our people. To our customers. And we have to make space for our people to come up with new ideas which can also link into that narrative.
The key is to simplify. Keep it simple. Clarify. Tell a story.
One thing is for sure. Change here to stay. So let’s befriend it, embrace it and harness it. Let’s change the world for the better.