As we all know by now 2020 and 2021 have shown how much and how quickly change can happen. However I believe they also stand as warning signals of what’s ahead. The future will not be more stable or certain. The future — whether that’s this afternoon, next week, next quarter, next year or the next decade — will very likely be defined by more uncertainty, more unpredictability and more unknowns.
As a business consultant, I spend much of my time helping businesses and their executive teams make sense of the forces shaping the future and prepare responsibly. The objective is not to predict the future (which is a futile quest), but rather to be ready for many different possible futures that could unfold. As I keep repeating, the time to prepare for change is not when it hits. It’s before it hits, and during times of relative calm. Reacting to change in the moment keeps you forever on the defensive, and the consequences can be severe. You’re unable to see where the future is heading because your attention is consumed with dodging the next bullet. This exposes your business to unnecessary risks and overlooks new opportunities. It’s a recipe for frustration and lagging performance at best — collapse at worst. While finding “the right time” to prepare for change can be difficult, there are myriad ways to get started. Here are some pointers that can help business leaders prepare their organisations to thrive amid constant change.
Take stock of the present situation
Holistically assessing your organisation’s readiness for a world in constant flux provides the foundation for a future whose only steady state is more change, yet few leaders do it consistently. Assessing the present situation helps you understand where is change hitting hardest in your organisation. It’s easy to silo changes into specific departments or functions, but this often misses key dynamics and interdependencies that can make change easier to gauge moving forward. So you need to get clear on which departments or functions are consistently more change-ready than others: Who has excelled over the past 18 months, and why? Second, what kinds of changes are most challenging? Taking stock of the present situation also helps you get to the bottom of what is stopping your organisation from navigating change well. Is it because your teams are burned out and anxious or is it because there is a general lack of trust?
Having a change mindset
All too often, business leaders assume that change can be “managed” and controlled, as if in a vacuum. However in today’s world in flux, change management is insufficient. Leaders must start with their mindset about change. Navigating change well is both art and science. It requires the right strategy and the right mindset. If your mindset is rooted in change and you’ve become comfortable with it, then you can’t help but see every change — good or bad, big or small, expected or unwelcome — as an opportunity for growth and improvement. Having an open change mindset shows up in many ways, from how we speak about change to how strategy, policies, and talent priorities are set. Leaders play a key role in signaling that mindset matters.
Embed and integrate change into the organisational culture
At the broadest level, truly thriving in constant change means putting change at the core of what you do. It means a shift in mindset, assumptions and expectations. Rather than feeling stressed and anxious when change hits, you’re ready for it. Instead of chasing an illusion of control, you have clarity about what really matters. As “certain uncertainty” becomes the norm, there will are many ways for business leaders to meaningfully upgrade their approaches to change. Updating organisational mission statements and cultural values to reflect a world in flux is a good starting point. But integrating flux into organisational culture must be rooted in actions, norms and practices over time. Rewarding employees for their flexibility when they forge new solutions and new ways of being instead of merely trying to bounce back from setbacks is surely a winner. Another point is to value the mindset of team members as much as any other skill if not more. Give more responsibility to employees who can lean into uncertainty, trust what it can teach them, and guide others toward key insights. That way, when change hits, rather than just thinking only about the worst-case scenarios, employees will also have developed the practice of asking: What’s the best thing that could possibly happen?
We have before us a new set of opportunities — and a new urgency — for navigating change well. Leaders and businesses need to radically reshape their relationship to uncertainty in order to sustain a healthy and productive outlook. As we look toward a future in which the only “steady state” is one of more change, it’s time to open your mindset, upgrade your organisation’s preparedness to deal with and thrive in constant change.