Three A’s For Embracing The Complexity of Change

By Govert van Sandwijk · February 14, 2019 · Posted in: Careers, Design Thinking, Leadership Development, Strategy Facilitation, Time to Grow

The ability to lead change is one crucial aspect of growing your company. But there’s a lot more to it. While you’ll find plenty of frameworks for ‘getting from A to B’ successfully, the most enduring elements of change management are going to be mental skills. That is, learning to cultivate a mindset for leading change.

It’s one fundamental way of thinking that will stay with you throughout your career as a leader. Whether you move between companies or countries, up the corporate ladder or seek out entrepreneurship opportunities, only one thing is constant.

In other words, paradoxically, unpredictability is now almost always predictable. Here are three ‘A’s that will help you cultivate a mindset of openness—the very first step to being a great change leader.

Acceptance

John Kotter is one of the most notable figures in the field of change management. His work on Leading Change has considerably impacted the way businesses everywhere approach the topic. Nonetheless, it’s to be taken with a grain of salt, and most practitioners will already be aware of this.

Why? Because embracing change means being resilient. Not stubborn, and certainly not resistant. And that means there’s very often more than one set way to approach change—one 8-step model, applied inflexibly, doesn’t take the unexpectedness of change seriously enough. Resilience in this context means being able to accept the dynamic ways our environment shifts, and learning to be alright with it.

As an example, it was definitely fine for Kodak to feel some collective sadness as consumers started the shift to digital. Interestingly Kodak was the first to invent a tech very similar to the later digital photography. Rather than letting go of their cash cow and accepting this change, sadly for Kodak, their strategies failed to embrace this shift. In January 2012, the company filed for bankruptcy protection. Now, when’s the last time you bought a Kodak?

You may see striking similarities with global thinking, one of the three skills our leadership development programs impart. The two are inseparable, and utterly indispensable in our constantly evolving world.

Adaptability

Leading change means adapting. Well, clearly. Nonetheless, it’s easy to misinterpret this by applying the concept too narrowly. Adaptability starts well before you implement anything, and it’s most important at the cultural level.

Ever held a meeting where everybody stands up the whole time? Perhaps not, and there are probably a few reasons this wouldn’t work. But ask yourself how quickly you dismissed the idea. How fast would your teams dismiss it if you pitched the idea? Did you even look further into it? (FYI, some evidence shows that sit-down meetings take 34% more time but produce no better decisions.)

Take this idea and apply it to your own organization at a higher level. How fast are we to dismiss ideas? Are our processes, supply chains, our change management approaches themselves open to adaptability?

This last one is super critical, and it’s why I opened this article with a mention of John Kotter. Unique organizations need to acknowledge that there are no ‘best ways’ to go about change—and that includes ‘n-step’ models. Sure, Company X may have tried ABC approach with amazing results, but your company is unique. In short, our environments change, so should our change management approaches really be immune?

Anticipation

Get ready, take your marks…how well would Olympic runners perform if they didn’t hear have these cues?

Organizations are no different, which is why we bother to strategize at all. But how do we future-proof against the unpredictable? Well, a lot of the best risk-management approaches have one thing in common, which is that they encourage outside-the-box thinking. You don’t have to be an expert in real options analysis to start honing this skill.

Start by accepting that change is ubiquitous. It’s inevitable and comes in many forms, so be open to this. This gives us flexibility; only then can we build in mechanisms that won’t implode at the slightest hint of change.

As leaders, we start by broadening collective mindsets, so they can anticipate many potential futures. How you choose to plan for these will depend on your company, but this ability to anticipate is a powerful first step.

Takeaways For Leading Change

We need cultures that are open to adapting. That aren’t 100% closed to ideas which seem bizarre at first glance. Let’s start by accepting the constant that is change, which will better prime us to anticipate…the unexpected.

At the end of it all, we can laugh it up at Elon Musk’s plans for Mars. And, admit it, lots of us are. But who’s not going to be completely, utterly fascinated if they bear fruit?

Learn about our Leading Change Program by getting in touch. Or, join our Time To Grow Global community on LinkedIn.

Govert is Time To Grow Global’s Managing Partner, specializing in Strategy Facilitation, Leadership development and Organisational performance. Reach him on our Time To Grow Global LinkedIn.

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