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Change is inevitable. Are you ready for it?

How to adopt a proactive approach so change works to your advantage, rather than your defeat.

The success story of Netflix is a well-known business fairy tale: in 1997, they were a DVD rental service whose great innovation was mailing shiny circular discs directly to customers’ homes. 

Ten years later, they pivoted to streaming and helped shape the entire culture around consuming movies and television. Their ability to adapt is the stuff of legend. But what about those companies that ride the waves of change—successful “surfers” responding to the shifting seas?

In 2003, long-standing toy company LEGO was on the brink of bankruptcy after years of overspending on unpopular innovations. Adding bells and whistles to their traditional sets was complicating their legacy, and they were failing to meet consumer needs.

Then, Danish business executive Jorgen Vig Knudstorp was brought on to lead the company. He pulled the organization back from the cliff by listening to their most avid brand enthusiasts, creating themed sets in collaboration with mega franchises like Harry Potter and Star Wars, and diving into the film business themselves.

The result of that successful change? LEGO is one of Europe’s leading companies, outpacing legacy brands like Ferrari. 

Change is inevitable. Knowing how to adapt to and embrace it is the key differentiator between organizations that thrive and those that meet their own defeat.

The two approaches

Constantly shifting economies, technologies, and cultures can feel intimidating. But knowing those evolutions are coming no matter what means there’s only one smart way to look at them: as opportunities. Seizing them provides a window into further growth and strength.

There are two change management approaches, according to Harvard Business School's Online Business Insights Blog: adaptive and transformational changes. Adaptive changes are the tweaks that come over time—the low and slow version. Transformational changes respond to changing tides; outside pressure has forced the organization to shift significantly in a shorter period.

It is critical to understand which framing best applies to your current opportunities. Knowing where you stand will help you utilize the following methods and tips for navigating change. Are you on a slow and steady path, or do circumstances require you to act quickly?

What the best change managers do

Only 30 percent of change programs fulfill their intended goals, according to “Leading Change,” the 1996 book by John Kotter that helped define the field of change management. To avoid being part of the 70 percent that fail, leaders must remember the qualities that help them and their teams successfully enact change. 

Here are five things the best change managers do:

1. They can clearly identify point A and have a vision for point B. You have to know where you are and where you are going. What’s the current state of things? Define it—alongside your team, not on your own. By establishing a mutual understanding of current conditions, you can map out where you want to go. Without a clear destination, change will feel less like a challenging but worthwhile journey and more like traveling on a rudderless ship.

2. They model flexibility for their employees. Incorporating an attitude that embraces rather than dreads change is vital. Showing you are open to new facts and ideas and that additional information can alter your mind and behaviors helps others trust your judgment. If you can’t show your team how to adapt to change, they will follow your lead, for better or worse.

3. They talk as much as they listen. You need to craft a story that compels your team to take on change enthusiastically because it benefits the company, and themselves, in ways that matter. However, leaders must be strong listeners to understand what’s meaningful to employees. Knowing your team’s concerns can help you maintain transparency and target your message to dissuade fears and create ground-up enthusiasm. Communicate frequently, but ask questions and listen just as often.

4. They anticipate roadblocks and prepare accordingly. Problems are inevitable during any change process. (In fact, they might be the reason the change was initiated in the first place.) Rather than leading with the idea that problems are to be avoided, you should communicate something different: issues are to be expected. Being ready to pivot in the face of obstacles helps contribute to a successful evolution.

5. They confer with a trusted counsel. Brainstorming with team members on recalculating the organization’s direction isn’t just fair. It’s smart. As the old proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Taking in multiple viewpoints creates a well-informed vision ahead of change. 

Evolving is the answer

Adopting these best practices doesn’t just make you a better leader; it also helps you make the right change. It fosters growth, leading to more efficiency, productivity, security, and strength for your organization and employees. Understanding and accepting the inevitability of change allows us to embrace a robust management plan that helps us surf, not sink.



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