Jeff Schwisow (pictured below) is a Melbourne-based strategy specialist, speaker and the author of Projectify – How to use projects to engage your people in strategy that evolves your business. In this guest post, Schwisow says businesses need to take control of the massive change around them…
To thrive, and perhaps even survive, in today’s highly dynamic environment, requires constant, future-focused activity that allows you to plan and adapt to the change and uncertainty that lies ahead. The most successful businesses will be those that are intentional and strategic about managing their adaptive activities. This means adapt your business to the change that is happening in your ecosystem as well as adapting the opportunities within the ecosystem to help your business change for the better.
The danger in business today
As nearly every business book currently written will tell you, the pace of change in today’s business environment is greater than it has ever been. But this has been true for decades. For a long time, the ‘current’ environment has been more dynamic than ever before. What is different in today’s business world is the pervasiveness of that dynamism. Now, it is not just the so-called disrupted industries or single elements of your business that are being impacted by the pace of change, it’s happening everywhere, in every industry and at every level of business.
Technology is at the heart of much of the changing landscape because it is so engrained in every element of our businesses. Technology influences the way we communicate, the way we market, it drives our business systems, it shapes product development and manufacturing, and, for many organisations, it defines how we interact with our customers.
But it’s not having the best technology that creates a competitive advantage – it’s the businesses that adapt technology to meet their strategic intent that thrive.
The rules are changing
Our traditional management approach is quickly becoming an inadequate competitive response to this changing business landscape.
It is no longer acceptable for businesses to wait to explore a market trend or a new opportunity only after the market – or a competitor – has demonstrated that it is a safe path to follow. Today, by the time you see that a business shift is ‘safe’ for the majority, it has already reached a point where your organisation is scrambling to keep up with the shift.
Conversely, simply following a business trend or jumping on a technological bandwagon is rarely an effective response either. Unless you fully understand the business benefits of a trendy new business approach or how to create value with a new technology, you can easily fail to deliver a positive return on your investment of time, energy and capital. Worse yet, you can generate unintended consequences that can take years to repair.
Importantly, most organisations have a risk perspective on change where they only acknowledge a problem or threat exists when it becomes a BIG problem or threat – one that has confirmed its existence by manifesting itself as a negative business performance result. Reacting to change in this way puts you perilously behind, in a race that punishes those who can’t maintain the pace.
Create technological adaptation that’s outside-in and inside-out
It’s easy to get caught up in embracing technological change for technology’s sake – to adapt your business to the outside technological world. But the most effective businesses adapt emerging technologies to serve the needs inside the business – the strategic goals and the operational environment. This creates two-way adaptation where business direction is used to assess the potential impacts of the changing business landscape and shifts to that landscape are used to set the course of the future business direction.
To create this outside-in, inside-out adaptation requires a learning mindset. By constantly learning about your organisation and your business environment, you acquire the knowledge to make informed adaptation choices. ‘Outside’ learning includes staying abreast of technological development, understanding your customers and tracking market trends. ‘Inside’ learning should include operational improvement opportunities, enhancements to the customer experience and identifying potential new products or services offerings.
As you explore technological improvements, utilise the knowledge and experience of the people on the frontlines of delivering business value – serving your customers, creating what you make, or maintaining your day-to-day business operations – to define what will make the business stronger. Then rely on the people that know the most about the technology to explore ‘what’s possible’. In this way technology enables business value rather than requiring the business to adapt to a new technology.
Business change has long been synonymous with strategic shifts initiated by the organisation. But in today’s cause-and-effect world, business change is no longer a choice. Your business responds to this evolving dynamic whether you choose to or not. Your challenge is to take control of the direction of that change and create an opportunity to adapt to adverse conditions before they negatively impact you and your bottom line.