“Xenophobia” is the technical term for the fear of the unknown. It is what makes the disruptive forces of the 21st century extremely frightening, particularly for businesses and organisations that until now have thrived in a predictable and controllable environment. Business disruptions are particularly dreadful because no one knows what form the disruption will take. No one really knows when it will arrive. But every company needs to brace itself both emotionally and organisationally for this imminent journey into the unknown. How do you prepare the organisation to respond to disruption?
Recognise Threats as Opportunities
“Every problem is an opportunity in disguise,” said John Adams, the second president of the United States. That’s precisely how companies should regard disruptions. When Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft in 2014, he inherited a company that was generally considered to be obsolete. Microsoft’s dominance as a packaged software company had been eroded by younger, more nimble, more Internet savvy companies such as Google and Amazon. And yet by 2020, Microsoft had the largest share in the cloud computing market, larger than that of Google, IBM, and Alibaba, combined!
Nadella recognised that Microsoft’s days of dominating software sales had come to an end. But more importantly, he saw that they could leverage their technology and expertise to pivot into the market for cloud computing. And in this market space, their opportunity to dominate had only just begun.
Create a Sense of Urgency
You don’t know when the next disruption will hit so you need to be ready at all times. The organisation needs to create a “permanent” sense of urgency that keeps its people on a constant state of alert. Experts preach that establishing a sense of urgency is the first step of the change management process (CPM). It helps people see the bigger picture behind the need for the change, compelling them from complacency to real action.
Create a Culture that Embraces Disruption
The organisation needs to institutionalise the day-to-day behaviors that help to quickly identify potential disruptions and encourage taking action. But it also must be made clear that such initiatives do not take place in a vacuum. Constraints and guidelines need to be put in place according to the organisation’s clear strategic choices on what it will and will not do when disruption takes place. Impose clearly defined parameters within which people are allowed to innovate, and you’ve got the elements to establish a culture that can withstand business disruption.
Develop a Strategy
When the time comes and the organisation must respond to whatever is disrupting the business, it must do so not to defend itself against the disruption, but to exploit it. “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” may be such a business cliché, but in this case it’s absolutely true. The organisation needs a roadmap, or compass, at the very least, as it makes its way toward parts unknown.
Get Everyone on the Same Page
An innovative response is just part of the solution. But it’s no guarantee of a company-wide buy-in. The next important step is to convince your people that the plan is the correct response for the organisation. And keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a perfect strategy. You’ll need to keep your eyes on the market and adjust to it, and change the plan if necessary.