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Effectively dealing with change means waking your sleeping dog!

 Oct 29, 2018 11:00 AM
by Chris Ward

Doing things the way they’ve always been done is the default position for many people. As the saying goes, it’s the devil you know. That devil might not be terrific, but it’s a lot less scary – and possibly less risky – than doing something differently. Or doing a different something.

Avoidance is never a sound strategy

We all know people who are pretty good at recognizing an amazing opportunity, or a real threat. But if you think of the status quo as a sleeping dog, there are many who subscribe to the view that it’s best to let it lie… to not rock the boat or do something that might come back to bite them on the backside. In other words, to do their very best to avoid change. But quite frankly, given the speed with which things are changing, the choice can come down to waking the dog or suffering some adverse consequence.

Creating a sense of purpose and urgency

Real change can never be mandated from the top. Let me correct that – it can be mandated but that doesn’t mean anything will change. If different ways of thinking or doing are going to take hold, you need the buy-in and support of employees from all parts of an organization. The more significant the change, the more intransigent some people will be. But if the required effort is a big one, it stands to reason that the downside risk of doing nothing is also big. So, the first order of business must be to create sense of purpose and urgency… to convince employees that the opportunity or threat is real… that action is required.

In my experience, an organization's ability to effectively deal with change demands a champion at a very senior level… provide sound reasons for waking the corporate canine… and ultimately gain the active support of the employees who must be on board for the planned change to become a reality.

But there is something even more fundamental – a vision for the business and where it’s headed.

What, no vision!

I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m always surprised when I come across a business that doesn’t have a vision. Or doesn’t share an existing vision with employees.

People choose to follow others because, in large part, they share that individual’s hopes and dreams for the future – in other words his or her vision.

One of my first jobs after graduating with my MBA was with a national retail chain. Shortly after joining I was promoted to head up a toy buying group. I remember asking my boss what he saw for the department… where he saw it going. His response was pretty simple… make sure your ‘shrinkage’ is less than 1.5% this Christmas. Toys was not one of his favourite departments, and as long as I kept merchandise loss under control in the 17 stores for which I was responsible he would be happy. As you might imagine, this was absolutely not the conversation I was hoping to have about the future of the department I’d been parachuted into.

No vision, no future

As a footnote, my employer was Eaton’s. Once a major factor on Canada's retail scene, it’s a company that is no longer with us. That’s no accident and, while this is not the place to explore what happened or why, one thing has always been clear to me. A business without a vision that employees understand and buy into is pretty much doomed to struggle and ultimately to fail.

So back to that sleeping dog. If you’ve got one lying around your business, give it a nudge. There will never be a better time to shake up your status quo and make plans for shaping the future you want to own.

Chris Ward

Chris Ward is a Co-founder and Principal with Strategic Retreats. Over the past 25 years he has facilitated business and brand strategies for professional services firms, industry and trade associations, charities and SMEs; and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews and dozens of online surveys for organizations of all types and sizes.

Strategy, Strategic Thinking, Strategy Facilitation, Strategic Planning, Strategy Execution, Leadership Coaching  



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