Change doesn’t have to bowl your people over, according to Jeff Mike, who explains how to harness change as a force for driving innovation and adaptability
The adage “the only constant is change” has never been truer. But it’s not the same as it used to be. Where once you could count on periods of relative stability between change events – launching a new product, entering a new market, adopting a new business model – that time to breathe has largely disappeared in today’s world – which has important implications for innovation.
Change is not only constant but its pace has also accelerated. Information and communication technologies have given us access to virtually everything on demand. The expectation is that organisations will be equally accommodating to the needs and expectations of a broader range of stakeholders and even step up to a broader role in society, acting as social enterprises as well as business enterprises.
So, if constant change is the new normal, does that mean your organisation is in a constant state of disruption? The short answer is “yes” – there is no longer a point where “you’ve arrived” and the period of change is behind you for a while. But, there is an opportunity to shift your mindset: Instead of making change the end goal, make it your goal to be adaptable, to equip your organisation and people to keep up with change as it happens or even stay ahead of it.
How do you become adaptable? By enabling innovation. Adaptability and innovation go hand in hand, and both have become differentiators for organisations. Here are three ways to foster both.
1. Create space for adaptability and innovation to thrive. The old mindset where organisations, and HR in particular, strove for efficiency and consistency made more sense when things were less dynamic than they are today. While there’s certainly still a place for efficiency, organisations also need to make room for adaptability. That doesn’t mean the whole organisation needs to adapt, but there should be pockets in the organisation deliberately focused on rethinking how things are done and inventing new ways of doing them. John Hagel of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge explains this idea well in his Scaling Edges perspective.
Different functions in the organisation may lend themselves more toward efficiency or toward adaptability. For example, functions that handle transactional or high-volume work can be more focused on efficiency, while functions involved in research and development or problem-solving can lean more toward adaptability (see below).
2. Think “work in progress” instead of “finished product.” The rapid, relentless pace of change makes it impossible to accurately predict very far into the future. Even if you set a course for where you think you should be one, three, or five years out, you’ll likely have to change direction, probably more than once. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start the trip. A big part of innovation involves experimentation. So take the first, minimum viable step – release the new product to customers, launch the new benefit program for employees, enter the new market – with the idea that you will continuously build on that beginning by collecting data, ideating, and refining based on what you learn.
If that sounds too risky, you can temper risk by being thoughtful about the boundaries of allowable risk. Perhaps the risk of getting less than 100 per cent positive feedback when you’re testing a new feature/product/offering is acceptable, but the risk of losing a customer over it is not. Set the appropriate parameters for your organisation, trust people to work within them, and reward them when they do, understanding that you are rewarding innovation and the willingness to try new approaches, not perfection. Leadership is key in this new context, where leaders aren’t commanding and controlling but giving workers the freedom and safety to bring their creativity to work to solve problems quickly and in the moment.
3. Enable learning in the flow. To be able to adapt to constant change, people have to learn as they go, and organisations need to get a lot better at enabling this type of on-demand, in-the-flow learning. In fact, the evolution toward learning in the flow and continuous reskilling to keep up with disruptions emerged as the top Global Human Capital Trend of 2019.
Notably, 86 percent of survey respondents rated this need important or very important, but only 10 percent said they’re “very ready” to address it. By making learning accessible, personalized to the individual, and relevant to the work being done, you can make adaptability and innovation as constant as change itself. An added value is that by enabling people to learn, be adaptable, and innovate, you elevate their experience at work, making it more meaningful.
Mindset over matter
Change is inherently disruptive, but so is innovation. Why is one seen as negative and one positive? Why not use the constancy of change as an engine to drive innovation and to bring out the best in your workers? Let it push your organisation to become adaptable so you can respond to change as it happens, and enable innovation as a way to stay a step ahead.