Thursday, May 15, 2008

You Can't Stop the World, And You Can't Just Get Off, Either

Everything is changing. Not a new phenomenon, but an accelerating one.

The rate of change is so great, that more than 50% of US business execs are finally confessing that they are struggling with its pace. And, let's face it, even the rate of change is increasing. I call it Hyper-Dynamics.

It effects everything in our lives, and our companies, much of which management tries to ignore.

Consider some changes we business owners tend to try to ignore.

  • Employee Ability and Aspiration: What an employee once wanted to do for you, he no longer wants to do. He may have matured in his current role, and desires a new challenge. She may now have young children at home, and no longer wants to travel. Children may have "left the nest" and she now wants to travel. The individuals which hold the IP in our enterprises are changing just as quickly as is everything else, but we have no systematic way to deal with these factors, and are inept at adjusting our roles and processes to take advantage of the opportunities these changes afford. Instead, we underutilize the people we have, and we just let then go when are mechanical models no longer require their service in the box we have externally defined.

  • Markets: The entire market has the potential of the international corporation. What was once a regionally valued offering may now be available from a remote producer in China. Outsourcing and off-shoring can render our offerings obsolete. When faced with these challenges, we make the false assumption that we just need to work harder at what has always worked before. We push our sales people to make more calls. We push our service people to work harder. We push our management to work longer.

  • Costs: Energy, healthcare, taxation, insurance, natural resources, and people costs are rising at unprecedented rates. The forces that are pushing them are not even within our control. But we believe that we must make their containment a significant part of our strategic management initiatives. We spend a dollar to save a dime. We focus on financial statements, correcting them, as if they were the business itself.

  • Product value: Whatever I can produce today will be more efficiently produced in the future. Shelf life of ideas is shorter than ever. Windows of profitable opportunity are smaller than ever. But we still function as if we can develop something, sell it profitably, and rest, as though we have arrived at something that will last. We resent the copy-cat, or the competitor that says he does exactly what we do, but at a better price. We gripe about the imitator from the 3rd world who unjustly sells to our customers.

There are many, many more, but these few provide enough to exhaust many the mechanically minded manager.

Our refusal to accept hyper-dynamics will, simply, lead us into disaster. Short term solutions will merely exacerbate our problems. Self delusion just guarantee the inevitable.

My solution? REALLY embrace change. I know it sounds trite, but the mere statement of the words does not prove the reality behind them. I mean embrace, welcome, anticipate, expect, and adapt.

With this, you'll need to grasp the concept of absolutum obsoletum. Whatever we think works today is becoming absolutely obsolete . . . and sooner than I might think.

The solution comes with the change from a mechanical, change resistant organization into an organic, change adapting one. Change from the organization that orchestrates change to one that is able to flow with the change. These are entirely different approaches.

  • Instead of telling your customers what you do, and expecting them to buy, learn to discover what they want and need that you can offer.

  • Instead of determining what your company should be doing in antiseptic board rooms, let the front line employees tell you what their encounters with the real world are telling them.

  • Instead of defining jobs for your employees, telling them what you want them to do, discover what they would do for you and your customers, if they could.

  • Instead of losing sleep and fighting against rising costs, use your people's creative and innovative energies to identify your own company innefficiencies and redundancies.

  • Instead of thinking you have the totality of responsibility or all the answers, free your people to create entirely new, high value offerings for your current customers, and for customers not yet reached.

Besides, you and I already know that the greatest opportunities for excitement, value and profitability exist, not in the middle of the pack, but around the edges, where risk is sometimes the greatest. The rate of change means that yesterday's performance is not the end. Everyday comes with new, high value opportunity. It's up to you to find them, but you need to be looking, hoping and expecting.

And, best of all, you don't need to go it alone. Get your people in the act. Teach them that you value their looking, hoping and expecting. Then, don't ignore what they'll show you.

You might as well make a lot of money, too.

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