Will You Anticipate Change in 2017 or Be Left Behind?

Anticipating and preparing for change is the essence of competitive advantage. Every business faces a future in which the only certainty is change: the rush of new technologies, increasingly demanding customers, changing values and skills of the workforce, geopolitical instability, and increasing complexity in the global marketplace.

Developing the mind-set and ability to change is a formidable challenge. Organizations have established ways of doing things. People get set in their routines. Business flows in cycles that often don’t follow these routines in timing. Bulls follow bears; bears chase bulls. There is opportunity to enhance one’s competitive position in every phase of those cycles but you must change rapidly.

You can feel the organizational pulse rate by the speed with which high-performance organizations commit to action, allocating and reallocating resources (time, talent, and capital) to pursue new opportunities. Decisions are made quickly, and vision is translated into action. However, many companies don’t seize opportunities prompted by change because they cannot see opportunities prompted by change. They are so busy making the most of yesterday’s opportunities, they cannot see today’s or create tomorrow’s.

Managers at all levels must cope with sudden shifts in the rules of the game. Are you prepared to handle sudden, radical changes in business conditions that create business discontinuities?

The pace and complexity of change will only increase in 2017. Time will compress, and windows of opportunity will narrow. Continuing change and dynamic pressures appear to be the only certainties for the future. Don’t wait…anticipate!

Here is the next skill that must be mastered…focus.

True motivation for change comes from some desired objective—a vision of what is possible as a result of the change. Most successful change begins with a business-driven sense of urgency—the recognition and identification of a compelling reason and the successful mobilization of change variables. Creating and communicating the vision is an important process for both the leaders of the change and those who will most be affected by it. The mission and vision describe the outcome as well as the purpose underlying the change. Management must paint a simple, clear, and compelling vision with which people can identify. Where will you be in five years? In ten years? Are you doing things now that will get you there?

The vision clarifies the nature and direction of the business, what it aspires to be, and where it is going. It dissipates the fog of drift, opportunism, and management by crisis, replacing it with purposeful, goal-directed management. A clear vision of the mission and objectives, along with shared purpose and clear goals, acts as a steering mechanism. Without well-focused goals, the organization and its members are adrift. With no focus on the future, people focus on the past and present. They must instead focus on present and future opportunities.

Just as your vision defines which opportunities will be pursued, your vision also defines which opportunities won’t be pursued. There is a wide range of opportunities for future business development facing every organization. No organization can pursue all options simultaneously. If it does, scarce resources become dissipated, as do the energy and creativity of those involved. Focus is lost, and with it goes the discipline to achieve the vision. In my experience, many companies get the first part right and the second part wrong. They are clear on which opportunities to pursue. However, they do not define which opportunities will not be pursued.

The most important role of a leader is to provide that kind of clarity. This is especially true about priorities. All leaders need to establish a strong sense of direction; address the key issues and opportunities they face; develop a common vision of what needs to be done and a viable plan to do it; and accelerate the heartbeat and pulse rate to make the right things happen faster. Are you clear on what is most important? Are your people clear on it?

The absence of a vision and strategic priority-setting process is, in my view, the single largest barrier to success. Activities and efforts are inconsistent and lack focus. Companies stumble from crisis to crisis. Excessive short-term orientation coupled with constrained thinking undermines focus on vision. Leaders must clearly delineate strategic priorities. Know what to say yes to and what to say no to. It matters.

You either shape the future, or the future shapes you! You can choose how you will face change. You can lead or be led by change. You can dodge, resist, and avoid change while trying to survive, or you can anticipate, promote, and lead change to your advantage. Your success depends upon which path you choose.