Category Archives: Change

The Future of Change

Has the nature of change really changed? In her just released book, “Imagine It Forward,” former General Electric Vice Chair Beth Comstock points out that “what started out as seemingly isolated, episodic incidents has come to resemble an epidemic…the nature of today’s challenges cannot be solved by yesteryear’s tried-and-true expertise.” Our world no longer works that way. She writes, “The coming onslaught of ever more digitization, and automation, and artificial intelligence – it means virtually every industry is coming to its point of reckoning.”

Future of Change Sphere

Why does this matter? One reason is that human beings are bad at changing. Yet, they are surprisingly capable of adapting. Wait, what? Isn’t changing the same as adapting? Actually no. Adapting is becoming accustomed to new conditions, while changing is all about becoming something entirely different. It has been said that it is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent, that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Steps To Change

Have you ever noticed that special, warm, certain feeling you get when visiting with an old friend, a mentor, or perhaps that special member of the family? I got that feeling in abundance this week when I had the opportunity to discuss John Kotter’s work on change with a great group of leaders. Kotter is a favorite among business people. The quality and caliber of his thinking – the wisdom he has extracted from his experiences – resonates at so many different levels. His work is both thoughtful and profound.

Kotter, trained as an electrical engineer at MIT, earned his doctorate at Harvard, and joined the faculty of the Harvard Business School. In the universe of “publish or perish,” Kotter has excelled. He wrote one of the Harvard Business Review’s all-time best-selling articles and has, over the past 30 years, produced 18 books, many of which rank in the top 1% of sales on Amazon.com. His work speaks authentically to the challenge of leadership and change. So, what does it take to create real lasting change? Kotter offers a road map of sorts in his best-seller, “Leading Change.” Kotter says there are eight crucial steps leaders must take to assure success:

  • Establish a sense of urgency
  • Build a guiding coalition throughout the organization
  • Develop a vision and strategy
  • Communicate the change vision
  • Empower employees to take broad-based action
  • Generate short-term wins
  • Consolidate gains to produce more change
  • Anchor the new approaches into the culture

If you’ve ever undertaken a change effort, you know it is not for the faint-hearted. There are just so many opportunities for sabotage at so many levels within an organization. On more than one occasion – even in the face of certain collapse – individuals and organizations cannot and will not muster the necessary resources and energy to change. Need an example? Look no further than Sears Roebuck. Frustration doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

Change is daunting. It is often thrust upon us – these days without much warning it seems. It is an enormous catalyst for expanding your success and assuring continuity. Unexpected change created by the actions and decisions of individuals or entities outside our control is the most challenging, oftentimes because it is so unexpected. Oddly enough, change you can see on the horizon is challenging too. Fear, paralysis and resistance often force poor choices.

Think about public and private colleges and universities for a moment. First, there was the rise of private, for-profit colleges and universities vying for students, financial aid funds and prestige. Then came the growth of the lifetime learning movement catching colleges off-guard. Both the non-profit and private sector took to the marketplace with fresh offerings. Then came online degree programs. With the fast rise in popularity and the benefit of education software, online payment systems and high-speed Internet access, public and private colleges were able to ride the wave.

MOOC Future

And now it’s MOOC – massive open online courses offered by leading colleges and universities such as MIT, Harvard, George Washington University, Rice, Emory, Brown and others. While still in its infancy, MOOC certainly suggests investments in “bricks and mortar” may be coming to an end. MOOC proffers a dramatic rise in quality, diversity and depth of educational content not seen outside the walls of the Ivy League ever.

Change from the outside. Adaptation. Small victories. Innovation. And now, change from the inside. It’s worth pondering your own organization’s future in the context of both types of change. It’s also worth thinking about the ways in which current business models no longer fit our collective futures. Bring your sense of mindfulness, awareness and imagination to bear on what’s to come. Be part of the future.

Leading Into Oblivion

Wired 4 Leadership|Leading Into Oblivion“Where were you when your greatest failure took place? Like many people, you were probably nowhere to be found. No really–think about it. While failures occur with surprising regularity, few are recognized as such until long after the senior management team, Board of Directors, staff, or member has left the room.”

The natural distance between decision-making and the delivery of outcomes leaves room for all sorts of misdirection and mischief. More troubling, there is oftentimes a huge disconnect between our decision-making methods and the assessments we deploy in measuring outcomes. All too often we seek wisdom in hindsight and deploy rationalizations to fit the moment. How often have you heard people say, “I knew that would never work?”

For the purposes of illustration let’s take the example of a nonprofit whose Board decides to spend half its cash reserves for a fast-track 12 month effort to emulate their richest and most successful trade show competitor as a way to improve its fortunes. Their competitor is one of the world’s largest and most successful industry shows with over 700,000 attendees worldwide at eight different global locations. Its annual revenues are well north of $350 million per year.

What would convince the Board of a modest sized nonprofit with a small industry show they could compete or even emulate such a behemoth? It’s hard to say definitively, but the concepts of hindsight bias and competitive escalation offer some insight. While society often recognizes and awards competitive behavior in people, in a group setting a discussion that dissolves into competitiveness often triggers impulsive decision-making behavior using faulty decision-making frameworks fraught with danger. When discussions become centered on what the group “always” or “never” does alarm bells should be going off in your head. Calling for a timeout may be the most prudent decision of all.

Calls for action based on risk-seeking such as “we’ve never tried this before” or suggestions the organization is “always too cautious” warn of competitive escalation. Group discussions stuck in the “always/never” model of debate often miscalculate and escalate their commitments before realizing later on, the enormity of the risks they have created for their organization.

While such conversations often start out innocently enough within just a matter of minutes the agreed upon targets of selling say 100 new memberships has escalated to selling 500, because they have “never” tried to sell this many before and who knows what’s possible unless we try. The foolhardiness seems obvious, but surprisingly groups will come to consensus around outrageous goals with little regard for precedent especially in the absence of hard data.

Many nonprofits require exhaustive preparation of “fiscal notes” before any decision is taken. Doing so makes certain all known and potential risks and costs are fully explored and identified. While the fiscal note policy can create some lag on decision cycles, the process also serves to protect the decision-makers and the organization from catastrophic risk and failure. Competitive behavior often compels people to only acknowledge information that confirms their position while ignoring that which undermines it. Increasing one’s commitment to a previous course of action demonstrates predictability, which is often viewed as a favorable attribute by others. In truth it’s way closer to being a “rookie mistake”.

So how did competitive escalation play out for our nonprofit group With the wind of a $1 million investment decision at their back staff  ran full speed toward the goal. New staff was hired, an advertising agency placed on retainer, contractors, event experts, a huge convention center commitment and even an in-house concierge service to ease pressure from the long work hours at headquarters were all put in place. But twelve months and a $1 million, the trade show that had been launched with such great expectations had resulted in a net gain of less than 50 new registrations. The effort was a colossal failure. Within weeks the ad agency, nonprofit CEO, and most of the newly hired staff were fired. The Chair of the Board stepped down due to the “pressures of business.”  With the harsh lessons of unrestrained competitive escalation weighing on its financial future, the organization merged and disappeared.

5 Strategies to Strengthen Member Value

5_Strategies_to_Strengthen_Member_ValueHow do you reverse a declining membership trend in a profession suffering through serious contraction? What if its members’ are passionate about their work and in it for love, not money–but annual income is low and the perception is dues are high?

When it comes to strategies to strengthen member value the short answer to this challenge is you can’t—at least not without making significant changes in how you go about assessing and communicating with sparkling clarity real member value. Defining ways to turn member’s passion into personal and professional aspirations is at the root of the member value conundrum. In this sense, form truly follows function. And that’s what’s missing from the conversation these days.

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