Any type of major, unexpected change can throw an organisation completely off course. But as Anita Douglas explains, making time to plan for the unknown, can make testing times a lot easier for everyone involved.
Once seen as the sworn enemy of success, change is a word that stirs up a range of emotions in leaders.
Yet change, or rather the ability to change, or pivot, or adapt, is fundamental to ensuring the long-term health of most businesses.
So, what is it that makes change so unpalatable for some? Often it is the perceived short-term impact on the ability of a business to operate effectively during the change process.
Leaders and their teams fear the unknown, a descent into ‘crisis mode’ management and reactive working practices, a loss of certainty and an impact on profitability.
For some that have been through the cycle in the past, operating in crisis mode and working towards recovery can seem never ending. And ‘firefighting’ that it is the only leadership state that exists.
Finding the headspace and time to transition back to a more planned and measured state is something they can only ever dream of.
As a result, change paralysis can ensue; businesses delay implementing change and stagnate. This can end up being far more damaging than any change event would ever be.
When we consider all of the likely causes of change that exert themselves on a business, they can ultimately be grouped into two types of change event.
The first are change events that are planned, such as a product enhancement, or an organisational restructure.
These events are typically driven by internal strategy, planned well in advance and overseen by a leadership team who have control over the activities, timetable and outcomes.
Whilst these types of change events can be problematic and divisive, they rarely end in catastrophic issues.
The second type are those events that are unplanned; where previously unknown market or environmental factors demand a change.
By their nature, they are unexpected and these events usually require swift, decisive action to respond to issues outside of the sphere of influence of the leadership team.
Presented with these external factors, it is often here that we see businesses waver, choosing to stick with the status quo rather than address the issue. Ironically, it is common for inaction in response to these types of change event to be as a result of poor experiences in previous, planned change activities.
Unfortunately, delay here can lead to a less efficient operation, a loss of market relevance and, in extreme cases, the failure of the business.
During 2019 we saw examples of this every day. For example, bricks and mortar retailers that haven’t adapted their business to compete with their online rivals.
The good news is, it is possible to reduce your exposure to the second type of change event described above.
With the right leadership approach, you should never find yourself dealing with a change event that isn’t planned for. To do that, you need to reset how you think about change and instead create strategies for change centred around known and unknown, rather than planned and unplanned.
Planning for the Unknown
A recent Training Zone article highlighted that successful organisations today place less value in setting out three-year strategies to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’, but instead rely on a vision of getting to ‘Z’, accepting an unknown path to get there.
That does not mean that those successful organisations do not have a plan. On the contrary; it is highly likely the leaders of these businesses have a detailed approach to move them towards ‘Z’.
They are not only planning for the challenges that they are aware of; they are planning to be able to tackle those bumps in the road that they don’t even know about yet.
In this approach, instead of planning the minutiae of every operational activity, leaders in these businesses are instead building capability and contingency planning that directs how they will manage and respond to change.
If you want to ensure that your organisation can tackle change effectively, you need to have spent time on both the hearts and minds of your team.
Alongside making sure they are technically skilled in their respective roles, you need to have a workforce that is resilient in nature, that will work tirelessly in pursuit of the goal.
I’ve spoken previously in a previous blog about some of the things that you can do as a leader to build a resilient and energetic team.
Make sure that discussion about the ‘what ifs’ gets sufficient airtime so that the team have time to think about how they’ll respond when they need to.
Just because you don’t know what the issue will be, doesn’t mean that you can’t plan how you’ll handle it.
Stress, crisis and recovery shouldn’t be taboo words. Consider how each component of your business – and the people in it – might be affected by an external event.
Take the time to work with your senior team and define your plans for change and crisis management and containment. Consider what models might exist that can help you, such as Kurt Lewin’s Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze model, so that everyone knows what process you’ll follow to define the change required in your business.
That way, when the inevitable happens, you’ll have a plan you can call upon, leaving you and the wider team the headspace to define the specific actions you need to take to address the issue.
Expect that you will need to spend time in ‘recovery mode’ but define what that will look like, when it will start and when it will end.
By planning ahead you’re developing the agility of your business, giving the organisation the best chance to get back on top.
Change is part of leadership. Facing it ahead of time and planning effectively will ensure you don’t fall into the trap of just reacting to events. Don’t ignore the unknown; give yourself time, give your people time and you will come out stronger.
Sources – workinginthezone.com | trainingzone.co.uk
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