Where Not to Look For Change

People don’t change just for kicks. Change is always fraught with risk. Often this risk is life-changing, possibly even career-ending, and in some cases it can spell the end of an organization. Most leaders bring change to their organizations late, only under extreme duress from a transformed market.

For the past month, we’ve hosted fascinating, compelling posts by some of the world’s leading authorities on leadership, management, and change. Shawn and I asked them each to write on a single theme, The Future of Leadership, to give us their take on the issue. Implicit in that theme is the notion that the future will bring a change from the present. Explicit in the name of this website is the notion that we leaders need to Switch our way of thinking and Shift our organizations’ change into high gear.

So where do I get off writing about where change is unlikely to occur? Am I hedging my bets?

Hardly. I’m just being brutally frank. Change is the result of insurmountable market pressure. For that reason, it doesn’t affect all organizations equally, or on the same timetable.

Here are some spots where you are unlikely to see change for a long time to come.

  • Monopolies. When you’re the only game in town, you are free to operate as you like. This typically means the same today as yesterday, and the same tomorrow as today.
  • Commodities. When the only thing that differentiates your company is the price you charge, enlightened leadership simply may not help you compete. I hate to say it, but there are cases where driving out cost can trump all other considerations. …At least for a time.
  • Old-school industries. If all of your competitors operate under the same traditions, a leader may not feel pressure to change. He may be surrounded by advisors who are change-averse. Think insurance, banking, oil companies, airlines. Think the auto industry, which even today is changing at an uneven (and often reluctant) pace across companies.
  • Organizations with a smug CEO. When the leader is convinced he is the deal, change just isn’t going to happen on his watch. If he knows best, why would he change his winning formula?
  • Organizations with a visionless CEO. If the leader simply doesn’t get it…? The topic of change is likely dead in the water. For now.

As you look over that list, you’ll probably recognize that there is a tremendous amount of overlap among those categories. You’ll also realize that I’ve left out numerous examples – cable companies, wireless operators, governmental organizations, healthcare providers…. Indeed, some of these things can incorporate all of the above under a single organizational roof.

And so what? No matter what the topic, be it the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the food we eat, the homes we choose to live in, or the way we choose to lead, there will always be backwaters of change, groups of people that seem resistant to, even immune to, a better way.

If you find yourself among these folks, I wish you well. Whether you fight the good fight to bring modern thinking to your current organization, or you bide your time while looking for a new situation, know that we at the burgeoning community of Switch and Shift are here for you.

There is a better way. From a human side, and from a profit side, the way many organizations operate today is unfortunate – to put it mildly. But change is afoot. And just like the hoop skirt and the knickers, eventually modern ways will come to even the remotest of groups. The question isn’t if. The only question is when.


Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • http://www.thecaremovement.com Al Smith

    Love this Ted. Really amazing how we will hold on to the bitter end and not change and adapt. Sad really. Now, more than ever, companies need to change or go out of business. People, (like the smug CEO) need to realize, its not all about me, I don’t know everything, I need some help. and uh …. we need to Change ! Maybe work on the EGO ? ha.

    What is unbelievable, is the way people will point the finger, blame others and say the economy stinks, my boss is a jerk, this company is horrible, blah blah blah. Complain and moan, but yet do absolutely nothing to CHANGE anything. Two quotes. One from the great Ghandi; “Be the change you want to see in the world” and remember that “Change may start with the letter C, but real Change begins with ME”

    Thanks again Ted. Take CARE.


  • http://www.frymonkeys.com/blog Alan Kay

    Those that are slow to change are are signaling the end of their useful life. It’s the one area where euthanasia could be permitted without the ethics discussion. That would force most of them back to life. For those that passed on to the next life, more useful services would rise up spontaneously to replace them.

  • http://www.frymonkeys.com/blog Alan Kay

    I should explain that my comments (above) were about organizations that refuse to change. And that advocating organizational euthanasia was a metaphor in the context forcing them to change.

    Perhaps I should have instead used another phrase about ending denial, ‘Organizations sometimes need a breakdown in order to have a breakthrough’.

  • http://www.shiftandswitch.com Ted Coine

    I love it, Al. That Ghandi quote is one that I hold close to my heart every day of my life. Your rhyme is catchy, clever, and true – a winning combo! I’m going to quote you.

    Casting blame is lazy. You can be really good at what you do even when your company’s leadership is abysmal – and let’s face it, most leadership isn’t abysmal, it’s merely average, which is to say not particularly good, but… This is a theme that Shawn shares often.

    When leaders cast blame for failure with the economy, lackluster employees, changes in their industry… that’s just lazy and weak. There is no end of challenge and frustration in leadership, but one aspect that makes leading so wonderful is, if you don’t like something, it’s within your power to change it! Show me a leader who is blaming others for his failures, I’ll show you a leader who is on his way out.

    Here’s a third quote for you: “The buck stops here.” Like most Presidents, Harry Truman knew his share of frustration and troubles. But he never blamed others for his failures. We can all learn from his example.

  • http://www.brucesallan. Bruce Sallan

    Change is clearly inevitable but the speed of it has increased so much. I find it hard, at times, to keep up with everything. I fear that’s a tendency of getting older!

  • http://www.shiftandswitch.com Ted Coine

    Two things in concert, my friend: change is indeed much, much faster than even a decade ago. And yes, we’re getting older.

    Keep the broad perspective, don’t get caught up on the details, and it will be easier to ride the wave of change. At least, that’s my plan ;)

  • http://www.shiftandswitch.com Ted Coine

    LOL – okay, both are good comments, but perhaps this second one is less dramatic. Alan, I agree wholeheartedly: organizations that struggle against change often fail; those that don’t experience a painful, but eminently necessary, transition phase.

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