On a golf course, many golfers aim far left of their target because they know they have a slice swing. Others aim way right knowing they have a hook swing. Either way the goal is to hit the “middle” of the fairway. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
In a somewhat similar manner, start-up companies (or fast-growing organizations) need to understand their organizational tendencies. Every business has biases in its perspective with different strengths and weaknesses. In my golf analogy, companies can be a “slicing” organization or a “hooking” organization. Yet, both their targets (goals) are still the middle of the fairway — on the short grass.
One of my management methods has been to “over-correct” the tendencies of our groups, aiming far to one side or the other of the target, expecting to land somewhere in the middle. This is because embedded organizational behavior and biases are difficult to change.
Continuing with the golf analogy, when a swing coach makes the slightest change to your back swing, it feels completely wrong. Internal perception of anything different other than ingrained muscle memory feels completely exaggerated. Organizations all have a lot of “muscle memory”. People are used to working a certain way, and change is uncomfortable. In order to be innovative, however, organization must be able to change old perspectives and habits quickly. Aiming farther left or right of the target is one way of recalibrating to the target in a fast-moving industry.
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Sometimes I envy those who are satisfied traveling alone on life’s journeys. How easy is that? You get to choose where you want to go, which route to take, what pace you want to travel. You don’t have to convince anyone else. You don’t have to build consensus.
I often think about this in business terms. One of the reasons that I’ve been involved with six startups is for this very reason. I’m confident that I understand developing market trends, especially around digital marketing. I set the vision and off I go. Along the way, I take on partners and companions but the vision has already been set and people are joining the journey because they agree with the business plan.
Much more difficult is changing the direction of your journey midstream with a new vision. Now, you must convince people who didn’t initially sign up for the “new” vision. It has to be compelling and yet simple enough for everyone to understand. You need to be patient, persuasive, thick-skinned and articulate. And in many cases, you have to admit that the original direction that was set was wrong. Basically, you need to be a leader, which is hard work.
I respect those effective managers who are able to implement a new strategic direction that keep large organizations viable. They move people, which is the only way to move “mountains”. This article, “Good Leaders Acknowledge What Can’t Be Done” (Harvard Business Journal), explains how ”even when things clearly aren’t going right, strong psychological tendencies keep the average leader from admitting it and correcting course.”
The ability to acknowledge that a new strategy is needed is in of itself quite a unique skill. Then, to course-correct and effectively take a whole oragnization on a new journey would be showing superior leadership skills. Think about all the great corporate turnarounds today (Starbucks, IBM, Apple, etc), and the companies that need new strategic direction right now but are struggling to make changes (i.e. publishing companies). The difference is in the leadership.
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Natural law says that the ability to adapt and evolve are the keys to survival. In today’s business with technologies disrupting the environment, this has become even more obvious.
Inability to adapt fast enough has for ever changed the viability of many newspapers and magazines. An internet start-up like TMZ has completely changed People Magazine’s status within the market place. Netflix continues to disrupt the market for Comcast and Dish Networks. The iPad and other tablets are shaking up Microsoft’s business model.
Executives now need to organize around the ability to change and adapt. Many company executives see the trends turning against their companies, but still cannot course correct because of the way they are organized – bureaucratic systems that protect the status quo.
I’ve had various instances in my executive career trying to course correct the company’s vision. Moving people in a different, unfamiliar direction is not easy. The message for the need for change has to be clear. Some level of management/personnel changes need to be made to lend credibility to the message. The new direction has to be compelling. There also needs to be a clear way of keeping a scorecard on the changes that is visible throughout the organization.
The fast changes in the business environment is only going to be accelerated. Make your organization’s ability to adapt quickly into one of your strategic advantages.
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Sometimes in the cycle of a business, drastic structural changes are needed for an organization to leap to the next level of development and growth. Such changes are never easy and some companies altogether fail to recover from such an event.
There are three key principles can help an organization maneuver through such drastic changes.
- Compelling Vision: There needs to be a clear and compelling vision behind the change. If the reason is just to cut costs to only improve the financials, you’re just bailing water out of a sinking ship. Good luck. People may understand this rationale, but it is not inspiring. What an uninspiring tone to set during a difficult time of change. People will feverishly rally together in times of uncertainty if they believe that their actions will lead to bigger and better things. Be clear with a compelling vision.
- Be Decisive: Implement the changes quickly. Take too long and the leadership quickly loses credibility within the ranks. Obviously, the proposed changes came about for a reason. Don’t lose sight of that while making the needed changes.
- Make the tough personnel decisions upfront – as much as possible. At uncertain times, people need to focus on objectives ahead with confidence. Do not let the team waste energy speculating about further personnel changes. Let them rally around the vision that was outlined.
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Absent of clear information, people generally presume the worst. Therefore, in time of change or crisis, it is good to over-communicate with facts, as well as contextual information.
Unfortunately, it is during these times of change that leaders are buried in the day-to-day and communicate the least. Often, unsure of next steps or too wrapped up in effecting change, we are hesitant and forgetful to be transparent with information.
So, clearly, it is when we need to communicate the most that we communicate the least, causing a crisis situation that further spiral out of control.
Here are some communication priorities during such times:
- Address the situation at hand with frankness. By speaking clearly and realistically, you as a leader can build credibility that the situation is truly being recognized.
- Put the current situation in context of the bigger picture. Usually, change causes both progress and pain. Both needs to be understood in context.
- Clearly outline a plan to address the current situation. Let people know that there is a plan in place and the leadership team is being proactive to remedy the situation. Also, a clear plan dismisses unhealthy rumors that arise.
- Recognize people’s efforts during the change. Some great talent rises to the top during such times. Re-enforce the attitude, behavior and efforts of such people.
- Walk everyone to the “light at the end of the tunnel”. Hope is eternal.
- Communicate more than you think you should.
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