Monday, September 12, 2011

Riding the wave of change

Surviving in today's economy is as slippery as a surfboard.
Today, the biggest obstacle we face is change. Business models have to change. Companies have to change, which mean, in order to survive, people have to surf the crest and roll of changes.

Our ability to cope with this 'business tidal wave of change' may mean the difference between a relevant career and one that slips and gets buried in the next big wave of upsets.

In the book, A Sense of Urgency by John P. Kotter, the theme of change is abundant. From the preface on, Kotter pegs our ability to change with the ability to survive, except he calls it the ability to operate with a sense of true urgency.

In his research, he noted that in the cases where “substantial change was clearly needed” 70% of launches to change not only faltered, but absolutely failed, but 10% of the launches achieved more than anyone could have imagined.

What separated the 70% from the 10%?

Organizations that were able to “create a high enough sense of urgency among enough people.”

Kotter sketches the outline of relevant people in an organization and asks us to assess their sense of urgency. Then he asks us to support our answer with evidence. The evidence has to be more than working hard. Frantic activity can be false urgency. It's that flurry that happens right after the boss cracks the whip.

For over a decade I worked as a salesperson and saw the short-term and long-term results of cracking the whip. Inevitably, it launched unsustainable effort and a frightening atmosphere on the sales floor.

The next few years, I managed salespeople, some who survived the latest devastating economic downturn and some who did not. On both sides of the fence—sales and management—the demand for urgency rose to tsunami levels and threatened to drown those not getting on top of the curve of the wave.

Earlier this year I asked the question, “What opportunities exist and what risks?”

When a career is on the line, a sense of urgency can be extremely high. But if a salesperson operates with desperation, the end result is less than satisfactory for everyone involved in the transaction from inside the office all the way to the customer and back. And if the salesperson operates in a bubble, believing that the problem is everywhere else, the results can be just as devastating.

The opportunity at hand is learning quickly how to ride the wave of change, and recovering quickly when we fall off our flimsy surfboard and rebalancing.

It's recognizing opportunities at hand, embracing the risks and realizing we need to operate with a sense of urgency.

Who have you seen 'surfing' business changes and surviving? Drop me an email, I'd like to explore this topic more.