Today’s organization is also under more pressure to change than in any previous period of history. This is not just true for large multinational corporations, but also for mom-and-pop stores and non-profit organizations. If asked for a single phrase to explain the drastic changes in our world, it would be the “snowball effect”.
Every single day or, perhaps more aptly, every single minute, humankind is building upon its own inventions. Every moment, thousands of individuals in countries across the world are being added to the global talent pool and contributing their ideas and innovations in every imaginable way. The cumulative effect of this human contribution has been to feed levels of revolution in every aspect of mankind.
The end of the Cold War was the point when the snowball started rolling very quickly down the hill. Finally, the world had decided to agree upon the single viable economic model – the free market economy. Globalization has brought many more countries and their companies into the global market. Liberalized trade and tariff policies have increased international commerce.
Technological advances like the Internet have lowered the entry barriers for small start-ups to successfully compete with the market leaders. Whereas in the past, it was hidden in tomes in libraries, knowledge is now universal and extremely accessible. While a Google website allows one to search for any piece of obscure information, it is being digitized by thousands of volunteers in websites like Gutenberg.net.
Changes in tools, technologies, and methodologies have changed the rules of operations and the marketplace. The needs of customers are also constantly changing in this new world. Today’s consumer is exceptionally fickle – they are quick to move on to the next product or company if it offers greater benefits or removes any pain. Technology is quickly eroding any idea of long-term lock-in of a customer.
Everywhere one looks, there are real-life examples of rapid change. Technology has eliminated millions of jobs not only in the manufacturing sector, but also in other areas. For example, voicemail and Palm Pilots have replaced secretaries, TurboTax and QuickBooks Pro have reduced the need for tax consultants and accounts, online banks are killing brick-and-mortar ones.
What does leadership do in terms of rapid change? The simplistic answer is “accept” change. That is a given – the leader must do that or else the market will help the leader learn that very quickly. The only people left today who really fear or oppose change are the ones who are unprepared to meet change. And that is the real struggle.
The leader has to first recognize that while rapid change can be highly disruptive, it offers new opportunities for success at the same time. For example, globalization has opened several world markets for a company’s products and services. It has also increased the number of potential partners and vendors that a company can ally with to find economies and cut costs.
The question is how to take advantage of change and how to stay ahead of it. That brings us right back to the “listening and learning” concepts. Real leadership must have the right, unadulterated information coming from every possible category of information sources. This information must be used to repeatedly drive innovation within the company.