Lead by Embracing Change

Why did I ever agree to move to a new office space? David stared regretfully at the stack of space plans on the desk in his cluttered temporary office. With so many of his internal employees living in the suburbs, it had made sense at the time to move out of the city. But due to complications, they’d had to move to a tiny temporary space, and the challenge to lease adequate permanent space had taken numerous hours away from his real work. David wished he were back in his spacious former office in the city.

If you’re like many leaders, the thought of change can evoke emotions of fear, annoyance, discomfort, and especially stress. By nature, even leaders can tend to be creatures of habit and want to stay inside their comfort zone. No change is easy whether it’s big, such as losing a major account or having to conduct a massive layoff, or less drastic, like breaking in a new employee or updating your accounting software. Yet change occurs, welcome or not, and presents the choice to either retreat from the pain and bury your head in the sand . . . or run forward and embrace what’s ahead.

But how can you honestly welcome the pain of change? The better question may be, how much suffering can you stand? Jeremy Hunter, a mindfulness professor at Drucker School of Management, challenges his MBA students with this formula: PAIN x RESISTANCE = SUFFERING. In other words, while change may be painful, the more you resist it, the greater the degree of suffering you’ll bring upon yourself.

The demise of Blockbuster in 2010 is a classic example of the pain that comes from resisting change. Katie Ratkiewicz of Human Capital Institute points out that Blockbuster’s model had seemed outdated for some time.

“Blockbuster seems to have failed to adequately adapt their business model. From a leadership perspective — were the executives focused on the right things? Were they not acknowledging the technology trends that seemed so prevalent to us all? Did Blockbuster suffer from a lack of business agility? What made it so hard for them to position new products, services, or delivery models to an already strong customer base? . . . From a human capital perspective, I’ve been wondering, where were the innovators? Where were the great thinkers that “push the envelope?” Where was the market research?”

If only Blockbuster had taken advantage of the opportunity to purchase Netflix for $50 million in 2000! Instead, their leaders failed to embrace change and, as a result, ended up with a painful bankruptcy debt of $1.46 billion.

So what can you do to turn change from an enemy into a friend? Adapt your mindset, advises Inc.com columnist Geoffrey James. “Change equals growth, not pain. Average bosses see change as both complicated and threatening, something to be endured only when a firm is in desperate shape. They subconsciously torpedo change … until it’s too late. Extraordinary bosses see change as an inevitable part of life. While they don’t value change for its own sake, they know that success is only possible if employees and organization embrace new ideas and new ways of doing business.”

Another piece of advice is to readjust your focus. At a recent Convene summit, Rick Warren, renowned author and speaker, shared that he and his wife, Kay, have stopped looking at life as a series of hills and valleys. Instead, they view life as a set of railroad tracks, where one rail represents the pains and challenges of life, while the other represents the joys and good times. Both are present at almost every moment; seldom is a situation entirely without opportunity for good. By choosing to focus on what you can gain from the circumstance and not on the pain the change is causing you, you can enhance the quality of your life day to day.

To complement your new perspective, learn to anticipate, says Paul Shoemaker, professor at Wharton and author of Brilliant Mistakes. “Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack ‘peripheral vision.’ This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:

  • Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
  • Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
  • Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better”

Shoemaker also advocates doing whatever you can to get honest feedback, and be prepared to shift course quickly if you realize you’re off track. “We can take some tips from Netflix,” Ratkiewicz adds. “We have to stay relevant, we have to continue to re-evaluate our model, and we must, must, must keep an eye out for the ‘next big thing.’ We can never get complacent. It’s important to stay close to our core audience and customer base, so that we don’t miss important clues about what their buying preferences are for the future.”

In David’s case, making the move from the city to the suburbs turned out to be a great process. Having to rent temporary space and move twice wasn’t preferable, but the more spaces his relocation team looked at and rejected, the more specific they got about defining what they really needed. For one thing, David discovered that window offices increased his staff’s morale and productivity! By the time they finally found a great location and signed a lease, the entire staff couldn’t wait to be in their new window offices with a balcony overlooking the new shopping mall. Even David had to admit that the ten-minute drive would be worth all the pain it took to get the new lease.

Yes, leading your organization in the face of change promises to be challenging. It won’t always be easy to view change as inevitable, focus on what you can gain from the experience, and try to extend your vision to anticipate what may be ahead. The choice is up to you: you can resist change and increase your pain level as you fight to maintain the status quo . . . or embrace the discomfort, grow through trial and error, and even gain from the new opportunities that change can bring your way.

Want to do more thinking about change? Read about how Harley-Davidson completely restructured its organization and won back employee loyalty.

To learn about how some other organizations are embracing change, read The Tides of Change.

By Marcianne Kuethen ©Amtec 5/08/2012

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