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.