There was a time for many businesses and other organisations, when the essence of good practice was to develop a way of doing things, get good at doing it that way and repeat, with only minor adjustments. There was a time in business when innovation was a bad idea, full of risk and downside. There was a time in business when if you were going to innovate you followed the “skunkworks” model, put all your innovators in one place and hoped that they wouldn’t come up with anything too disruptive.
Those days are gone. Change is all around us, technical and sociological changes on the outside are driving transformations to entire market eco-systems.
Take energy as an example; For all of our lifetimes, energy has been a pretty stable mix of coal, oil, gas and nuclear. Distributed by trains, trucks, pipes and wires. Within the next ten years, that will change substantially to solar, wind and storage. It will be distributed on a smart grid where buyers are also sellers.
The stable sectors of oil, gas, haulage, shipping, automotive, electricity generation, coal are already being turned upside down. Denial of the true nature of the transition is so strong in some of these organisations that they believe absolutely that it is just another market cycle and that it will pick up again. Some oil businesses like Dong Energy are leading the charge, others are so poorly equipped to change that like Shell and VW they are lobbying to hold back change. The ones best able to change are the ones with a future.
The answer is that we need our businesses to not only be good at doing what they do, but also to be good at change. To be adaptable.
There is a nearly universally accepted myth that says that change is difficult and risky and that culture change is nearly impossible. This is profoundly wrong-headed and untrue.
Change is easy. The problem is not the change is difficult. The problem is that most organisations have not invested in the skills that make it easy.
In a reasonably stable market environment, it makes sense for organisations to invest in managers. Managers organise people and processes to ensuring that the right outputs occur reliably. What organisations don’t do in a stable environment is invest in leaders. In a stable environment, leaders are seen as disruptive and risky.
In very many organisations leadership is desperately poorly understood. So poorly understood that the terms “management” and “leadership” are frequently used interchangeably. They are not the same, they are profoundly different activities.
However “activities” is what they are – neither is necessarily a full-time position. Part of the skill of leadership is to also be able to manage.
Leadership is synonymous with change. If someone is leading then change is happening. The skill of leadership is specifically to make change happen and to be effective at that the leader must also make culture change easy, must also make behavioural change easy, must make it easy for people to change habits.
Managers do not lead change, they resist it. That is their role.
Changing habits of behaviour and interaction is the essence of culture change.
Organisations that want to have a future, have to invest in adaptable, skilful leadership that can inspire teams and engage organisations. Organisations have to become continuously adaptable and reliable to achieve sustained success in a disrupted market place. Most market places are now or soon will be disrupted, by advances in technology and by social and legislative changes that are already happening.
The Business Transformation Network has posted this article in partnership with Holos Change.
Neil Crofts is a business consultant who has inspired and motivated hundreds of organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written four published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a facilitator, coach and consultant who inspires and motivates organisations to create and curate the kind of leadership and culture that lead to sustained success. Through global consultancy Holos, Neil helps some of the largest corporations in the world to optimise leadership and culture.
In previous lives Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish.
Specialities: Cultural Innovation and Authentic Leadership, especially familiar with finance, IT, transport, health and energy sectors