Want stability in your organization? Move fast. No. Even faster.
In his book, Thanks For Being Late, Thomas L. Friedman recounts the advice from an Olympic Kayak medalist: To enhance stability in rapids it’s important to move as fast or faster than the current. Every time you rudder or drag your paddle in the water to steer you lose momentum and that makes you more vulnerable to flipping over.
This should be a warning for leaders who believe that they take the safe route when they choose a wait-and-see-attitude when things heat up. I am not promoting that we jump on every band wagon traversing the horizon, and if you know anything about me, you know I’m a plan freak, but keeping up with technology is becoming the single most important competitive edge for companies of any size. When I say keeping up with technology, I include upgrading tools, but it’s the mindset of expecting, managing, and even pushing for even faster change, that I am addressing here.
How often are projects put on hold while you implement the reorg; the new ERP system; the migration to Office 365; the latest acquisition? Stressed? Think about this: If Moore’s Law doesn’t care about your need to find islands of time to get settled in the “new environment” now, how do you think it will feel like in five years or ten? Now imagine that things will change more in the next ten years than they have in the past forty. For many, that’s a reasonable assumption.
The new environment is: move fast now. Ironically, it’s also the old environment. Heraclitus, in about 500 BC. commented, The only constant is change. And so it goes.
But it’s different now. Change is happening so rapidly that we must scrupulously re-examine and adjust our companies’ cultures to not fall into the trap of promoting the idea that change comes in the form of projects; little packages that are neatly planned, executed and integrated. Instead, we should be heralding in a new age of permanent flow. Actually, flow sounds too relaxed. Tsunami?
We still, and forever — mark my words, will need priorities and deadlines, but as technology propels us at greater and greater breakneck speeds, it will become increasingly important that individuals are given more responsibility for judgement and decision making. Steering from the top, as one president will soon learn, is over. An organization fighting to navigate rough waters by attempting to go against nature will, like a kayak, flip over because the uncontrollable flow of technology runs too quickly to navigate top down and trying to slow it or ignore it, as the case may be, only creates instability.
To compensate, organizations will need to better communicate goals and objectives at much faster velocities. More than ever, connecting with company values (not the ones on the wall, but the ones that are supported and referred to on a regular basis in all parts of the organization) will need a resurgence and its function raised to a higher status than is usually the case.
This requires us to not only upgrade communication tools, but also educate and support the soft skills that all too often take a beating around budget time.
What does this mean from a practical standpoint? It means that if you haven’t mapped out your workflows to enable rapid continuous improvements; if you are not becoming flatter as an organization to shorten the distance between the leadership and the ground forces; if you continue to do massive reorgs (waterfall) instead of continuously adjusting (agile); and if you keep pushing off projects based on what your organization can absorb instead of making projects more absorbable, your kayak is going to flip.
We used to say, Embrace change. Today it’s: Don’t stop to embrace change. The mindset, therefore, should be: Paddle faster when the flow is going too fast. Counterintuitive? Not really. As long as you’ve got a value-based culture, capable direction, great teams, continuous improvement, and your eye on the customer, you’ll still be paddling because inertia will be on your side. The alternative is much worse.