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November 5th, 2019

A few weeks ago, I met with the CEO of a European based Global business and as we opened the conversation, he asked me for my take on the current situation in the UK.  Thinking about it, I realised that the current situation had been going on for quite some time and that we’ve been operating in somewhat of a vacuum for the last four years.

The referendum results surprised many and created somewhat of a panic; followed by a snap election that was supposed to help the Brexit process but created more ambiguity – putting political parties and their leaders seemingly in a tailspin.

The reality of the situation that we are in is that most people have little idea of what is likely to happen soon, resulting in people reluctant to commit to medium term plans and even less so to give insight into life beyond the current horizon.

As of last week (end of October 2019) at least we know that there is going to be an election in the UK, but I suspect that most people anticipate a close result that may reinforce the logjam that we have now.

As a coach and consultant to many organisations, I am particularly struck during these uncertain times about how much people really value certainty and when it is hard to come by, how they are often comforted by the past (even if it wasn’t that great) because they knew how to deal with things.

Many years ago, when I was first starting out in my career in management consulting, I was fortunate to be working with a trainer, John Delves, who was licensed to run ‘Tom Peters’ programmes.  Having invited John into our business, he challenged our thinking about how we saw our business world and how our paradigms might be getting in the way of us succeeding in the height of a challenging recession.

The turnover of our long-standing business was expected to halve, and profit expected to disappear unless we faced up to the fact that we were not agile enough to cope with rapid change.  To use the analogy that was common at the time, “we were an oil tanker of an organisation that took an age to slow down and miles to turn around.”

How could we become more agile? 

We realised that being able to cope with uncertainty and challenging long held views of how successful we had been might help, but sadly making half the workforce redundant would also be necessary.

For a business that had been around for decades, this was a real challenge to our mindsets.

Fast forward 30 years to today, and I still see and hear some leaders expecting the future to be like the past.  The ones that think that way, are likely to trip up, as you cannot walk into the future looking backwards.

What lessons did I learn from my friend John Delves and Tom Peters great book ‘Thriving on Chaos’.  Learn to tolerate ambiguity, especially in situations like the one we are in today, where you don’t control the certainty, but you can lead in these situations.

So,

  • What do we know?
  • What does that mean for us?
  • What are we in control of?
  • What are we going to do about it?

Challenge your paradigms

Our rigid view of how it must be is only set by our mind’s perception.  There are people who wait for the situation to correct itself, and there are those who adapt and change what they do.

Think fast, test fast.  And, if it works, use it! If not, ditch it! 

  1. Be agile in thinking about changing your ways. Come up with radical ideas that break the mould but don’t wait too long to find out if they do or don’t work.  Best to know early so you don’t waste your time
  2. Be open minded. People who are good at change have minds that are not closed to situations and options.
  3. Innovate and adapt. Finding new ways of doing things is essential.  Your customers are doing it so why not you?
  4. Give people inside the business the freedom to think outside the way that things have been done. Empowerment is essential in times like this.  The capability of your teams to find better ways of doing things is incredible.  Its usually leaders and managers that stifle their contribution.
  5. Focus on the needs of your customers and become experts in delivering what they need rather than concentrating on what you are trying to sell them.
  6. Know what differentiates you. However, you must recognise that your competitors are likely to be able to match you or even beat you. (By the way, if its on cost, you may be in for a tough ride as everyone is trying to make things cheaper, so this differentiator is quite short-lived).

Conclusion

Peter Drucker’s well-known quote may be hard to read but the reality for those of us who lead businesses couldn’t be more relevant today. We need to face up to changing what and how we do things!

“Within five years, if you’re in the same business you are in now, you’re going to be out of business.”

Mike Notman is a highly experienced Change and Organisational Development specialist and has delivered significant change programmes in a wide range of larger private companies and public bodies since moving into consultancy in 1991. Having established a commercial consultancy for Leeds Metropolitan University in 1993 he went on to establish and lead two national consulting practices on behalf of major accounting firms. During the last 25 years Mike has focused on developing organisational structures, leaders, senior teams and corporate cultures to improve efficiency and effectiveness in business and operational performance.

MCA Awards 2019 WinnerBourton Group LLP the award-winning Operational Improvement Consultancy – read more about our award winning project here.

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