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Maximizing Continuous Change: Leverage, Adapt and Embrace

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan has had an unprecedented impact, both locally and globally. In Japan, many manufacturing operations as well as other services were disrupted. Transportation infrastructure was damaged. Companies such as Sony Corporation and Toyota had to stop production temporarily. Regionally, the Emerging Market stocks fell driving the benchmark index to its biggest weekly drop in a month. In London, shares in the European insurers fell sharply in early trading on Friday after the massive earthquake, one of the biggest ever recorded.

On the other side of the globe, people in the Middle East fought for a taste of democracy, challenging status quo and existing political leadership. People in Egypt were marching in one voice, gathering support using the Internet technology of social media resulting in the longest sitting President, Hosni Mobarak leaving office eventually. Similar events in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Libya are unfolding, the final outcome is unclear, but certainly will change the business as usual attitude of not only the people and organizations in the region, but worldwide in this global village that we live in today.

The above events are just examples of the fluidity of current market place. Change occurs on a daily basis in leaps and bounds. Change is a continuum. Change is constant.

Not only do changes occur in politics, but changes occur in every facet of life. Beginning with the industrial revolution in the 19th century and continuing through the present time, for example, we have seen changes in technology, agriculture, healthcare, education, finance and military that has profound impacts on the way we live and do business.

Organizations need to effectively respond to change; to confront and to address the 'defining moments' constructively in order to stay relevant, or even just to survive.

Take the television, computer, internet and mobile telephony for example, developments in these areas not only have shaped the way we communicate, but also the way we conduct businesses nowadays. Advertising, marketing, sales and procurement are done much faster than previously and online too, in most instances. Turnaround time in providing customer service has certainly improved. Performances and results can also be monitored more effectively.

Changes in the way we use energy have resulted in overexploitation of the energy sources, some would say. But, these are changes that now drive us towards renewable energy and energy conservation initiatives. Limited and diminishing fossil fuels results in us develop nuclear technology. However, nuclear accidents such as in Chernobyl, Long Mile Island and Fukushima make us change our perspective on this relatively new energy source. For example, Germany has decided to exit nuclear energy by 2022 and make the switch to supplying electricity via renewable energy instead. While we may not abandon nuclear technology altogether, we are sure to change the way we handle this technology from the perspectives of engineering and design, operations and maintenance as well as fuel andwaste management.

Organizations need to face the changing faces of business head-on. Our strategy in addressing change is based on a three prong approach of leverage, adapt and embrace.

  Leverage: Recognize Change. Position Change As A 'Lever'

First and foremost, when change happens, organization must recognize (acknowledge and collectively agree) that change exists and something needs to be done about it. Once, collective recognition is achieved, it has to constructively position change as a 'lever'. Lever, in this context signify a means to achieve an end.

Microsoft's decision to embrace the Internet in the 90's is a good example of how organization effectively recognizes and responds to change in order to stay relevant. During that period, it took Microsoft two years to seriously recognize the impact of the Internet in the market place. Understandably, as a market leader that had enjoyed superb successeswith Windows for more than two decades then, it was hard for Microsoft to visualize how to make money from the Internet. While the marketplace got crowded with both old players embracing the Internet strategically and new players entering the market to realize the Internet potential, Microsoft kept its focus and priorities on the development of Windows 95 and Microsoft Network (MSN).

That situation changed though after a few key events unfolded. The spotlight was on Netscape in 1995 when its stock price soared from 28 to 58 on the first day of its initial public offering which in turn launched a bull market in the Internet stocks. It also secured a Microsoft-like dominance in the web browser business. Blue-chip customers started to build websites with Netscape server programs. The developers' communities were excited about Java, the software that would make it possible to write programs as well as web pages over the Net.

Bill Gates, the Founder of Microsoft, finally issued the infamous Internet Tidal Wave memo on May 26th 1995 declaring that the Net was the most important single development since the IBM PC. Microsoft took a 180 degrees strategy change to embrace the Internet and to extend the Windows capabilities to the Net. The Internet Tidal Wave memo created a mega sense of urgency for everyone in Microsoft to swing to the new direction of embracing Internet at a lightning speed. It was indeed a wake-up call!

The 'embrace and extend' strategy of Microsoft called for all product groups to embed the Internet capabilities in all their product development. In this scenario, Internet acts as the lever, in which all product development strategy is based upon.

Effective communication is a key critical success factor in positioning change as a lever. A well planned, structured and customized messaging for different groups of audiences is a must to ensure that everyone in the organization understands what's expected of them and the role that each one should play.

Careful considerations must be given on the best method to deliver the communications to different target audiences as well. One size does not fit all. For example, Gates issued a memo on the overarching direction to his senior leadership team or direct reports, followed by a few meetings and retreats after. A leader in the product group would have tailored sessions in alignment with the overarching direction. As far as the rest of the employees, communications came in many format such as closed circuit TV broadcast, email speeches, videotapes and DVDs/CDs.

  Adapt: Make Suitable To Requirements

In this stage, organizations need to take actions for leverage to happen. The required action is provision of infrastructure and readiness.

In providing infrastructure and readiness, organizations need to determine the basic underlying framework required for the change to happen. The keys in evaluating this must include, but not limited to the following:

  • Honest assessment on the current situation
  • Visualize a target model of the future direction
  • Evaluation of 'resources' covering these areas:
    • Time - how much window of opportunity does the organization have?
    • Financial resources - required resources vs current resources
    • People / Skill sets - required skill sets vs current skill sets
    • Capabilities - required capabilities vs current capabilities
    • Partnerships - who is needed, to do what, and how the partnership should be cemented

Readiness to adapt will require organization to prepare the suitable tools or methods to communicate and evangelize change. The key foundations needed are:

  • To select 'change evangelist(s)'. Change Evangelist (CE)will be the organization change agent and will play an instrumental role in affecting change within their respective groups. The effective CEsteam need to have the right combination of capabilities within the team - relevant knowledge about what's happening outside the organization / group, credibility and stature within the organization, leadership skills, formal authority and managerial skills associated with planning, organizing and control, accurate information about the internal workings of the organization.
  • To design specific change initiative and properly name it. The named change initiative should consist the following details:
    • Change objectives
    • Change message from the organization leader (eg: CEO/ President / Prime Minister /Director General/Governor)
    • What success will look like from (1) organization perspective (2) rolebased perspective
    • Change roadmap and milestone
  • Select a 'Quick Win' to ensure continuity of change effort as it
    • validates the change visions and strategies
    • creates positive momentum to the entire change effort
    • motivates people to carry on
    • takes power from the cynics
  • Prepare learning materials of the change initiatives for employees with targeted message tailored for respective groups
    • The learning materials ought to be high quality content that can touch the emotions of the audience. It must deal with the senses - seeing and feeling rather than analyzing and thinking. In the previous example, Microsoft acted to change its strategy when it saw the Netscape price soared from 28 to 58 on the first day of its initial public offering. This event touched the souls of the Microsoft employees and created the fear that the competitive threat was real. Something needed to be done urgently.
    • The approach in developing this content is about demonstrating (show and feel) benefits rather than a logical analysis of what change can achieve. Frequently, people are unaware of their actions, their interactions and their physical movements. Two types of 'show and feel' can be developed:
      • Demonstrate benefits of the changed behaviour in a high impact scenario that touch the audience emotionally
      • Demonstrate how things are done presently. Seeing how things are done presently will open their eyes to question themselves on why things are done in a certain way and motivate them to create a more effective way of performing tasks.
  • Conduct road show to evangelize change.
  • Recurring dialogue on the change progress to be conducted within small group and led by the change evangelists.
  • Set up the platform (portal, social media, face-to-face meeting) for employees to provide feedback on the challenges that they face in affecting change

  Embrace: Able and Willing to Adopt

Mahatma Gandhi quotes - "You are the change you want in this world" - is the best description on what's needed within this stage.

Change starts within oneself. This stage deals primarily with the employees. The key challenge is not everyone is able and willing to adopt change fully due to reasons unique to them unless they understand and 'feel' the benefits that they can derive from it. Two key imperatives within this stage are:

  • Internalization of the value that changes start within oneself.
  • Receiving continuous demonstrations on the benefits of change.

The above is best achieved by demonstrations (show and feel). Change Evangelists need to keep on doing the following continuously, to facilitate others to embrace change:

  • Identify a solution to a problem or a problem in a change process
  • Show people in a concrete format, making use of the senses - see, hear, touch, smell
  • Touch people's emotions
  • Share the key wins. Make them visible
  • Keep doing it!

As stated earlier, organizations need to effectively respond to change; to confront and address the 'defining moments' constructively in order to stay relevant, or even just to survive. Fear of change is normal, but for the sake of your business, it should not be left unattended. We advocate that you follow the three pronged approach of leverage, adapt and embrace.