The story is told of the CEO who calls his CFO to authorise the travel and associated costs of an expensive training programme for some core members of his team. Aghast at the high cost for the programme, the CFO remarks, “We are spending all this money to train them. What if they leave our company even after we have spent all this money?” The CEO was calm and responded, “Ah, but what if we don’t train them and they stay?”
Adaptive thinking, compelling yet versatile leadership, and the notion of a learning organisation are all concepts that are becoming critical in operating and growing a business. A business is an entity that provides a particular solution to the needs of a category of people within a society. How a business chooses to provide that solution can be what distinguishes and especially, profits the business. From the expertise and competencies of your team, to the detail of service delivery, to the form and content of leadership of a business. These should be adaptive.
You need to be dynamic
Businesses must be adaptive because societies are dynamic. The people that form societies, that is your clients, evolve. Thinking, wants and needs all adapt and as all of these adapt, businesses need to also adapt. Businesses need to make themselves relevant to the needs of that society. The what, why and how of your business needs to be constantly examined because of this dynamism.
The biggest challenge is that whilst most businesses believe they understand this, they often fail to practice and actualise it. This is not surprising. Change is difficult and yet change is needed. To change what, how and why your business does what it does is first of all a lesson in humility. Secondly, it is a tremendous exercise in self-examination, and third it will mean an uncertain transition period. I think this is why there is so much resistance to change, it requires all of us to do things in ways that we are not familiar with. And we all know that unfamiliar territories are as daunting as they are risky. But nothing that will grow will do so without a transition period.
Metamorphoses: the constant cycle of change
Maybe what we need to do as businesses in seeking to apply change, is to simply view change as a growth path. Without change we run the risk of not growing. Even when we change and do not grow, it’s still important to try. We are more likely to grow if we do change because the status-quo is not giving us the result that we want.
The problems of today are caused by the solutions of yesterday. And what many businesses continue to do is to provide the solutions of yesterday to today’s more advanced, stickier problems. To be relevant in business, we need to be more open to change, we need to be responsive to change, and we need to actually seek and want to change. This often requires new learning. It often requires bringing in a third party to support you in identifying and then structuring the business change that you need along your value chain. It will then require instituting new work processes, new ways and means –and ultimately it will begin a process of individual and organisational learning.
Create your future
It is this new learning that actually has the power and the potential to exponentially grow a business. The future is not a place we are going, it is a place we are creating. When a business takes a decision to really change and be more acutely responsive to the needs of their clients and stakeholders, that business has started a process of creating a new future. You don’t create new futures by doing the same thing the same old way. You create a new future from new learning out of an observation and real understanding of what society and our clientele needs from us. This goes further by taking a decision to work with that new learning through the development of better and more responsive products and/or services, ways of working, and systems and processes.
The success of that change process is implicitly linked to the core leadership and management team understanding the need for change. Your team needs to desire and buy into change. You cannot play lip-service to change and expect to grow. This speaks to the wider notion of the ability of a leader to inspire her team to see the need for change, to want change, and to execute new change processes, thinking and doing as they daily execute their tasks. This ability to inspire, to motivate, and to support your team to see the positive externalities of the change you need is what stands you out a leader. The power to take people to a place they have not yet being, and getting them excited about arriving there.