Records to cassettes, CD’s to MP3s… The idea of rapid change in business and culture is something we should be used to by now. As technology and tech culture influence more and more aspects of our daily life, the notion of becoming skilled in the art of change thinking is clearly one of the most vital traits needed in leadership today. The pace has become faster and the distance between major changes in the market is shrinking with each milestone. Business leaders have accepted this and, for the most part, believe they’re embracing it. Yet there are 3 killer blind spots that leaders (and leadership teams) can have when it comes to change thinking within their organizations:
- The horizontal blind spot. Some leaders are tempted to confuse bustle and activity with change and innovation. Simply because everyone’s busy and talking “big ideas” doesn’t mean anything truly substantive is happening. This blind spot confuses horizontal movement (frantically re-arranging organizational furniture) with vertical movement (genuine change that moves the organization up to the next level) because both can involve a flurry of ideological activity.
- The hierarchy blind spot. In this blind spot, leaders believe that change is something that occurs top-down instead of ground-up (imperial hierarchy vs. organic grassroots). I feel that leaders are constantly pulled in this direction, to simply dictate change from the top and then wait for change to magically trickle down to the rest of the workforce. Nothing could be further from the truth however. True change needs a groundswell from the bottom as well as influence from the top in order to affect the entire organization and alter the mindset and behavior of the organization as a whole.
- The GPS blind spot. Is it possible to get used to constant change? To become numb to it? Absolutely. Yet, what happens to our sense of direction in a culture of perpetual change? You can lose your bearings; lose your place on “the map.” You know this is what’s happening when your workforce starts asking questions like, “Are we still changing?” or, “Where are we on the roadmap? Are we done?” Others may ask, “Is now the time to change or did we just miss it?” A culture of change needs to come with a Global Positioning System (GPS). Constant communication about progress, where you’re going, what you’ve accomplished, and what comes next is critically important to avoiding this blind spot.
Let’s be clear about the good news though: There are a lot of things that are NOT going to change. Ever. Because they’re valid and timeless… and they work. In the case of what I do at Ciena, we are changing quite dramatically and quickly, this is clear. Yet the fundamentals remain the same; our core strategy, our core beliefs, our customer focus and relationship-based engagement model. Granted, the mechanisms of how we achieve these fundamentals will change (and rightly so), but our commitment to these foundations of our business will not.
Change for the sake of change is never the right course of action. Don’t just rearrange the furniture. Don’t assume that change will happen simply because leadership decrees it. Don’t be vague about where you’ve come from and where you’re going. Armed with the right perspective and committed to the timeless ideals of what makes your organization great, well-established companies can not only survive in this culture of change, they can thrive.