8 Statements Leaders Make When Facing Change (And the Fears They Represent)
Problem: The rate of change happening within and outside organizations is putting pressure on leaders, their existing models, and their preferred ways of thinking and operating.
Opportunity: Adjust and adapt before the changing marketplace realities crush current business models and result in a defensive, reactive leadership posture that produces a self-fulling prophecy.
Resolution: Confront the fears behind the thinking that is keeping senior leaders from living into their full potential while leading through a time of unprecedented change in business structures, assumptions, practices, growth, revenue, and value creation.
The most important factor in determining an organization’s propensity to grow is whether or not senior leadership has a bias toward growth. I’d like to say this is often simple, overt, and easy to spot. But leaders have learned how to disguise their discomfort with transformation and change inside language, disciplines, and expectations that all but ensure actual growth never happens.
The speed of change is accelerating at a rate much faster than any single leader or team can understand, process, analyze, assimilate, and integrate into the organizations they lead.
This has not been much of a problem thus far. The marketplace realities that many senior leaders have experienced throughout their careers have not changed that much over the past several decades. But the speed of change is accelerating at a rate much faster than any single leader or team can understand, process, analyze, assimilate, and integrate into the organizations they lead.
It’s not their fault. No one said this was going to happen. But even though they didn’t ask for it, it’s happening. And while it may not be their doing, a lack of adaptation will ultimately be their undoing.
If change is the new normal, then agility is the new business strategy.
The next decade or two will bring about massive changes in how organizations are constructed, engage the market, build brands, relate to employees and contractors, develop and serve their customer or client, design and deliver products, etc. There will likely be no part of a business that will not be swept into the change cycle around digital transformation, even if they are not a digital business.
Transformation is not something that happens through external measures. Rather, it is a process by which we confront the thinking that is holding us back.
But before we can ever hope to dig into change strategies, there must be some reconciliation of thinking that is holding leaders back from living into the growth potential that is right in front of them. Transformation is not something that happens through external measures. Rather, it is a process by which we confront the thinking that is holding us back.
We must do this because our thinking shapes the frame in which we interpret the world around us. And if our thinking is flawed, outdated, or baked-in assumptions that are no longer true, then we will miss the queues we need to see to initiate the change required to make the transition from now to next.
Here are eight statements I hear from leaders facing change and the fears behind those statements:
“We need to cut edge initiatives and redirect those funds to existing lines of business that are in decline.” The fear of failure is real. But every established program began as an edge initiative. The only difference today is you won’t have decades to develop your prototype, mitigate risk, and then deliver your product or solution to market.
“Data is helpful, but I’m trusting my gut on this one.” The fear in this is that the experience a senior leader brings is no longer valuable. This is not true. Rather, data allows you to challenge or validate our intuition to increase the speed at which you can bring our solution to market.
“We can’t afford to implement acquisition strategies right now.” The fear in this is what would happen if you abandon the financial forecasting and models upon which you’ve created operational dependencies and planning. If you’re not growing your pipeline, you’re dying.
“Our strategy is to go back to the basics and do what we know how to do.” The fear in this is that you aren’t sure how new strategies will ask you to grow and change as a leader. And you aren’t sure you have the energy for that change will ask of you. But looking for growth as you’ve experienced in the past is a strategy that ensures failure.
“We can’t afford to focus on lifetime value.” The fear in this is that you don’t yet fully understand how to organize around the customer experience. This impacts attribution models, departmental structures, and even threatens our ideas of what something as simple as a campaign looks like.
“Everything is a priority and everything must perform at projected revenue levels.” The fear is not being sure what to focus on when and what success looks like. When you don’t have clarity, the perception of risk multiplies and you exchange a bias for action for a bias for excuses.
“I value my leadership team because of their loyalty and years of service.” The fear in this is that reality you might have to confront the fact that your current team isn’t the right one for the next season of growth and change. That’s tough. And deep within senior leaders is also the fear that they themselves might not be the right leader for this next season.
“We are committed to achieving the kind of growth we know, understand, and are prepared to experience.” The fear in this is the loss of what you remember the success of the past to be. It’s natural to want to repeat what you’ve experienced in the past, especially if it was positive. But you have to remember that even past experiences were new breakthroughs at one point.
Be brave. The alternative is just too scary.
Fear is a normal and natural part of the leadership experience. Leadership is hard, especially when you are the person everyone is looking to make the right decision. In a culture of change, the bias should be toward growth, learning, and well thought out experiments. If you value compliance, predictability, and the familiar, then you aren’t leading. Instead, you are a prisoner of the prototype of your personal preference and professional experience.
You will have to hold loosely to the things you understand today to make room in your thinking and decision making to discover new approaches, methods, and insights that will create new realities and growth opportunities for you and the organization you lead.
This season of change and transformation is asking you to be courageous and brave. It’s asking you to go where no one has been before. You will have to hold loosely to the things you understand today to make room in your thinking and decision making to discover new approaches, methods, and insights that will create new realities and growth opportunities for you and the organization you lead.
As one of my mentors is fond of saying, “Look it in the teeth, even if it bites back.”
Ben Stroup is Chief Growth Architect and President at Velocity Strategy Solutions where he helps leaders design, develop, and deploy smarter business growth strategies. Ben is a futurist, disruptor, and data champion. He leads a team that takes a structured learning approach to business challenges, which allows them to assist leaders in bridging the gap between ideas, innovation, and revenue—taking ideas from mind to market.
Velocity Strategy Solutions is an on-demand, next-generation business strategy and management consulting firm which provides clients with a relentless focus on data, execution, and results that positively impact the bottom line. Velocity delivers integrated people and revenue strategies combined with a disciplined approach to growth architecture that elevates the capacity of leaders, teams, and organizations to succeed and win more.