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Change: the elephant in the room

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Nothing stands still. We can deny it and cling to a false illusion that it’s somehow possible to pause time, but inevitably life is transient and things change. It’s how you hold change that’s the important bit.

In previous articles I have banged on about mindset and it’s not simply because I am fixated with this but your mindset really does underpin how you see the world and live your life.

So, if we accept that change is inevitable, then why do we resist it either unconsciously or overtly? Fear is pretty much responsible for the way we shy away with caution or boldly fly in the face of this reality with the adage that ‘this is how we’ve always done things’. It’s a belief that has brought many organisations to their knees through failure to accept that life evolves.

The harsh reality

In waking up to the fact that change is constant, it’s possible for us to handle it in a different way and create better outcomes. While we can’t control the future, we can alter the relationship we have with change and learn to embrace it rather than fear it.

Good (or bad) things may come your way by chance, but you may also find you get a lot luckier if you learn to lead with an appetite to relish change and turn obstacles into challenges. A leadership approach that is energetic, inquisitive, open and underpinned by calculated risks doesn’t happen without adopting a growth mindset. 

Challenge is the backbone of change

I used to work in a building that had the words “Where all think alike nothing changes” emblazoned on the walls. It wasn’t just a statement of intent, it was a mindset that was part of the very fabric of the organisation and its people. Innovation is borne of challenging the accepted and recognising that change brings opportunity.

This encouraged fierce debate and discussion was often extremely ‘lively’ but we had an unspoken pact that such conversations would always end with agreement and civility.

Striving for excellence

We all talk about striving for excellence but what does ‘excellence’ really mean? I find it nebulous and unquantifiable. Also, if we don’t achieve this ‘Holy Grail’ then surely it leaves us with a sense of failure?

I constantly tell my clients that I’m much more comfortable with the notion of ‘continuous improvement’. It has an energy and momentum to it and it requires buy-in from everyone. It can be measured, it’s realistic and it is a catalyst for positive change.

Survival instinct is a killer for creating opportunity
A survival instinct might sound courageous and bold. In reality, if you only strive for survival you are effectively treading water and, in a highly competitive business landscape, that is synonymous with going backwards.

Beware the dangers of a survival instinct:

-    You lose vital competitive edge
-    Team members give up because they see no way forward
-    If those team members happen to be your biggest influencers you’re in big trouble
-    It leads to a disease called complacency, which starts to become a habitat for comfort zone dwellers
-    This leaves you wide open and there is potential for competitors to sprint past you

What do you do with the glue that doesn’t stick?

As leaders we need to make sure that we recognise opportunities for positive change, that we are resourceful when needed and that we plan ahead to optimise change.

In the 60s Dr Spencer Silver accidentally invented a substance with less adhesive qualities than planned. But what do you do with a glue that doesn’t stick? Well, it wasn’t until 1974 that Arthur Fry realised the potency of a low-tack substance if the purpose was changed…and so post-it notes came into being.

The moral of this story is that it’s not what you have that’s the issue, it’s how you are approaching it. Lateral thinking is drawn upon by the most adept and creative entrepreneurs.

Planning is also central to success in order to factor in potential ‘curve balls’. In preparing for the Youth Cup Final of 2008, I witnessed a leader and his team preparing a group of players and staff for one of the biggest games of their tenure. It was equally important for the club to play its part to develop a script to support preparation for the game. No stone was left unturned and nobody ‘flew by the seat of their pants’. This planning included the following contingencies:

1.    Lining up the ducks when it came to preparation factors – every aspect of prep was considered, such as setting the tone for pre-competition work, the venue and playing surfaces

2.    Ensuring the team, staff and players all bought into a clear vision, creating the environment, gathering information and ‘bigging up the players’

3.    Developing the game plan as well as a ‘Plan B’

4.    Executing the strategy  - bringing the plan to life and making it happen

Go for the gap

In James Kerr’s book, Legacy, about the legendary All Blacks, he uses the phrase “go for the gap – when you’re on top of your game, change your game.” This is the most poignant reminder to us all to keep looking for the next opportunity. High performance environments are those that never rest on their laurels but are always alert and looking at better ways to do things.

Top tips for embracing change

To summarise, here are some ‘tips from the training room’ on how to make the most of change:

-    Recognise that change is inevitable – it’s going to happen so get used to it

-    Be the glass half full person to see the challenge and not the obstacle

-    Develop a leadership culture that supports the ability to challenge the accepted and voice differing opinions (I call this ‘move to improve’)

-    Identify the reason for change and understand why there is a need to do things differently

-    Clearly envisage what the future will look like and ensure this can be shared by others

-    Develop a robust plan to execute change – don’t just talk about it but do it

Peter Lowe

By Peter Lowe

Peter is the former head of development at Manchester City FC, and is the founder of First Team Ltd.

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