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Leading Change As The New Norm

The Priority Leadership Attribute for 2015

13Jan

“Things that should happen don’t and things that don’t happen that should”. Donald Winnicott talking about the early infant development that requires external environmental influences (support, collaboration, nurturing etc) to ‘adapt’ to their world in order to develop the skills for their future path most appropriately.

I can start this blog by listing out the reasons to explain both the need and urgency for business leaders and businesses to adapt to change and adopt the skills to manage change.

The rate of technology, Digital Disruption (I will leave the opinion of that phrase out of this blog!), changes in demographics, consumer demands changing….

That everything is changing is pretty much understood and agreed by most business leaders. What is not understood or outlined with enough clarity perhaps is that this change is both increasing in speed and in velocity – so the urgency is not about change management being a single project where you can procure the services of an expert individual or organisation to effect on your behalf – the urgency is that leading change as an attribute has become arguably one of the most important attributes a business leader should display – and equally change management as a capability and delivery skill at a management level is required to ensure that this change happens.

Leading change as the new norm is very different to leading change is the new norm. Why? Because it’s about consistency, repeatability and something that is a normal consideration within the daily life of a leader. Not something we do in isolation, when all the forces are in place and the consensus is that a single, possible large investment project has been singled out by the business as a priority.

Leading change as the new norm is about understanding that those key forces that once did require single change projects to adapt to the corresponding shift as a result no longer work. Take technology as an example, or a key customer behaviour change, or a significant change in demographic…we’ve had all of them before and economies and industries have adopted new ways of doing things to address them. Today we have a different paradigm, we have change happening in each of these areas and more happening all the time, overlapping, influencing, disrupting. As business leaders, managers and businesses generally, if we do not have the ability to see these changes, have the ability to assess these changes and subsequently act upon these changes as we see fit, then the Darwinism effect comes into play – those that survive will be those that adapt to their environments, those that don’t will perish.

Is it scaremongering to say Adapt or Die? Is it spin-doctor narrative that talks about the need to be a Digital Leader? I don’t think so. So much so that in my previous blog I talk about leadership in a digital age rather than the rise of a digital leader per se.

This shouldn’t be new news to us – as far back as 2002 the following theoretical paper was published on Digital Leadership “LEADERSHIP IN THE DIGITAL AGE” Ernest J. Wilson III

Stating that as we move from an industrial age to a knowledge or networked/connected age Wilson states "Leadership in the Digital Age needs new attitudes, new skills, and new knowledge."

In many respects the honeymoon period is over. The rise of the CDO and Digital Leader has a place in the business world to transition us from managing single shifts to managing multiple shifts as part of daily life, but the urgency is really to widen the net, to start to build and support these skills and capabilities required to see, assess, act and thrive with change, so that we become businesses that have many adaptive leaders, not just one.

2015 is going to be a big year. Businesses that haven’t yet grasped the fundamentals of ‘digital business’ are already on the back foot. The building blocks of a digital business are having the infrastructure and understanding of social engagement, the ability to access and assess data, a move to more agile technology infrastructures and cloud services and of course, an effective exploitation of the mobile opportunity. Just to be aware of these is not enough anymore, these foundation blocks have to be in place to start to take advantage of the more subtle technologies available like gamification and augmented reality as well as the more disruptive and game changing technologies like Internet of Things, Wearables and Robotics. Any business wanting to really take advantage of these maturing digital world elements have to have the foundation blocks in place to succeed. Surely that’s a huge hint to anyone wanting to build a digital strategy.

What does leading change as the new norm really mean – aside from the obvious? What skills, capabilities and attributes are required?

Put simply, leading change as the new norm requires the ability to vision and direct constant change and often effect multiple change at once. Leading change requires the ability to address the human aspect as well as the business aspect. It is no longer enough to lead or manage by monitoring hard numbers; leaders now need to understand the importance of the human aspect more than ever before.

The human aspect of digital business can be thought of in three ways: Empowerment, Independence & Transparency

Empowerment – the ability to try and test new things, to make decisions based upon the access of data and the understanding of parameters, an understanding of change as an enabler not an inhibitor.

Independence – the ability to self learn, and to grow independently.

Transparency – ensuring that access to data and the communication of intent is a business priority rather than a secondary consideration – letting people know…letting people know becomes the primary consideration for a leader of change as the new norm; a leader in a digital world.

For too long now leaders and managers have built and managed businesses through spreadsheets and numbers. Now businesses that succeed are being built and managed by a focus on engagement, loyalty and the presence of those leadership attributes described above.

To ensure businesses are able to thrive in a digital world a new breed of leadership is urgently needed. This needs to happen in two ways, existing leaders must not fear, shy away or ignore the need to do things differently to succeed in different times. New and upcoming leaders should embrace the generation they belong to and adopt those positive open, social and change blasting attributes in their leadership ethos.

If you are a business leader or aspire to become one in today’s digital world you must ensure that supporting and nurturing the ability to lead and manage change as the new norm becomes your number 1 priority for personal development and the development of those leaders and managers around you. This coupled with the business basics mentioned earlier will equip any leader or leadership team with the key ingredients to thrive in this digital world. These are the leaders and businesses that will succeed. It really is time to adapt or die!

In my next post I will be talking about the maturity of Digital Transformation as it moves from the delivery of a single change project to a constant stream of transformations which we term; Adaptiveness.

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