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How to change at pace

Pace of changeThings are changing, and the pace of that change is accelerating.

Twenty years ago, 16% of adults in the UK had a mobile phone, now it’s 93%. Back then, the internet barely existed exist, yet in November last year, it accounted for 18.5% of all retail sales, and half of that was through mobile.

Online platforms are changing the way we shop, travel, learn, work and live; your customers’ lives, loves and dreams are in captured in myriad databases around the world; and media, banking, healthcare and our entire concept of employment, are all about to go through unprecedented transformations. Meanwhile, the values-led digital-native millennial consumer is your new corporate buyer, the teenager in a Boston bedsit is your biggest competitive threat, and Brexit is just beginning to bite.

You and I could probably fill the rest of this page with examples of the seismic shifts happening in the world, and whether these particular examples affect you or not, is entirely beside the point. Change is coming, and every business needs to continually innovate and increasingly, to regularly reinvent itself, if it’s to survive and thrive in this turbulent and changing new world. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

A friend of mine recently started taking lessons with a golf coach to improve his game (there’s a point to this anecdote, trust me). I’m one of those unenlightened people who sees golf as a good walk spoiled, but in a rare show of interest I asked how much he’d improved. His reply surprised me: “It’s getting better now, but the first week or two it went off a cliff.”

Apparently, the reason he’d been struggling was down to his grip. The coach got him to change it and, to start off with, it made things worse. He stuck with it, and after a couple of weeks of coaching, his game got back to where it was before, only now it had the potential to get much better. “I had to go through the dip to get to the other side,” he explained. “That’s why you get a coach. If I’d been on my own, I’d have given up and gone back to my old grip, and I’d never have improved.”

Most of the businesses I work with are great at doing what they normally do, but they find it much harder going when they need to start doing those things in a very different way or, indeed, when they try doing radically different things. It’s the curse of the dip.

We’re comfortable doing the things that we know how to do. We feel successful when we’re doing things that we can do well. So, there’s often a quiet anxiety when we’re asked to do something very different – we fear, and indeed we often find, that we’re not as good at it as we want to be, and that reflects on our standing, our reputation, and our self-esteem. So, we back out of the dip with a plethora of aversion behaviours, the most common of which are the three Ds (Delay, Divide and Dilute). You might recognise them.

Delay: the recurring need to wait for more information or more detail; for resource to become available, or a new recruit to lead it; to bundle it into a bigger project that someone else will do.

Divide: the willingness to take ownership, but only of the part of the work that they understand and can do, or that directly affects their department, taking everything else out of their scope.

Dilute: the redefinition of a suggested project into one that’s already happening irrespective of whether it achieves the new aim (see also: answering a question that’s easier to answer than the one that was actually asked).

Spot them, name them and address them, but remember: your people aren’t doing this to undermine you. They’re doing this from a rational fear – they don’t know where to start, and they don’t want to screw up. And it’s that same fear that stops them asking for help when they need it most – fear of failure, of exposure, of being seen as unable to do it on their own. I see this fear in a lot of middle managers, occasionally in executives, almost never in CEOs. Which probably explains why it’s usually CEOs, occasionally Execs, and almost never middle managers who ask me for help.

Your business will need to change, to adapt, and maybe to completely reinvent itself – it’s as inevitable as death and taxes. Deep down you know this and you may be already working on it, but if you’re finding it slow going, it’s probably because your people are avoiding the dip. They need help to get through it, but few of them will have the awareness and confidence to ask.

So, if you want change, first ask yourself this: how will you get your people through the dip?

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