How Disruption, Change, and Uncertainty Make Us Better

Years ago, I had a client who told me that his team is better and their performance higher when they were in a period of crisis. Why? Because they come together to fight a common challenge–it gave them a sense of urgency to solve problems and eradicated the silo mentality. What if we behaved like that all of the time? It sounds exhausting I know but the truth is, our world is becoming a place where disruption, change, and uncertainty is happening much more often and to a greater degree each day. According to Magnus Penker, the CEO of Innovation 360, “Here is an uncomfortable truth: In time everything in your life as you know it will perish. This is true of your relationships, your jobs, and perhaps, especially so, your business. It is not nihilism; it is just reality. But rather than taking this state of affairs as a defeat, I propose instead that it is actually a wonderful phenomenon. Radical innovation can result in massive returns and breakthrough results and if you do it right, less risk too.” Whether you agree or you don’t (and although a bit shocking to consider, I agree more than I don’t) we must be equipped to not only change but turn it to our advantage. How do we do that?


1. Challenge our own thinking. The average life span of companies has contracted by 2/3 over the last 50 years and over half of the companies in business today are over 18 years old which means they are likely in the maturity phase. If your organization hasn’t substantially upped their game and updated how they deliver value, chances are you are on the backside of maturity. How do you challenge your thinking? How do you find new profitable growth ideas? How do you know what the market gives you permission to do that you aren’t currently doing? With marketplace intelligence. What trends are emerging that will influence how you do business significantly? Coming from Hallmark Cards and seeing the impact of the internet is a life lesson I won’t soon forget. If you are in retail, travel, or hospitality the last year has been devastating. The disruption to date has often stemmed from technology, shifting values of new generations, and now is compounded by an international health crisis. We cannot assume that what we did yesterday is what is needed now. Ask yourself what would kill your company and what would double it. Set aside what you do now and ask what customers really want. Don’t limit the discussion to what your current capabilities are; explore the potential.


2. Determine how to achieve your organization’s potential. Making big changes is scary, and they are even harder when you wait too long. Resources become more limited in maturity and more capital to fund change is often hard to find. In an ideal world, you will rethink your model while still in the growth stage. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Most companies hang on to what they know far too long because the little signals are missed–things like declining sales from a block of customers, or startups that are using new tools to reach customers, or research and trends rejected for a variety of reasons but mostly because it doesn’t fit the historical view of the world. There is a great article published in Harvard Business Review that categorizes the type of disruption faced by different industries and suggests the strategic shifts necessary to address each type. The point being is not IF you are in disruption, it is HOW you are dealing with it. To determine how to achieve the organization’s potential, ask how you would get there from where you are today. What would you add? Drop? Do more or less of? That includes skills, capabilities, technology, processes, etc. Think outside-in. What would a savvy competitor without allegiance to your current model do?

3. Prioritize and Reallocate. This level of change is not a small thing. It doesn’t happen in a day or a year. Figure out the critical path by drawing a straight line between your future and your present. Start with what will move you the furthest the fastest toward that future OR in some cases, setting up a critical path by addressing what you need in place to move forward. Sometimes we must fix a foundation before we can build on it. Major in the majors. Ask yourself if you take something on, will your customers notice? If not, don’t do it. Only do those things that will get noticed and appreciated and add value to customers (meaning they will pay for it!). As you lay out the next 3-5 years of change, put your resources where your priorities are. No matter the size of the organization I repeatedly see companies who say they want to grow or accomplish certain things, but they keep spending money the way they always have. That won’t work. You can no longer continue to give each department the same money as last year and then give everyone equal increases. You can’t dole out IT resources on an equal basis. You can’t treat all customers the same. You need to be prepared to invest in the most leverageable initiatives and resources if your company is to achieve significant goals. The good news is if people understand why the budget changes are being made—”it is not your turn this year sales department to get more new hires because we need to get out in front of the product offering first, so you have something more exciting to sell”—then people understand it is a timing issue and not a value issue. They are a part of a team and for now, they are in a support role.

4. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. If we learned one lesson in the past twelve months, I hope it is that communication is essential to morale and performance. You can never have too much of it. It is the key to engagement and participation. Without it, you are sub-optimizing results because everyone can’t contribute. And the kicker is—it’s FREE. Most organizations don’t have good communication regularly. They tell people what they think they need to know or what to focus on to do their job. That is limiting. People need to know where the company is going if they are going to contribute to it getting there. Can you imagine being sent onto the basketball court without knowing the play? Take a hard look at how well your organization communicates. Ask the people on the front lines what they think and what they would like to know and find a way to make it happen. A valued mentor of mine once said the job of leadership is to be a “broken record”.


2021 is the year for accepting the degree of change all around us and acting on it. Develop your game plan, leverage your resources, and enable participation. You will be surprised how much more you can accomplish.

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