Tips for Leading Your Company Through Rapid Change

Business turbulence is a given. Company turmoil doesn’t have to be — if you follow these three tips for managing through disruption.

Industry life cycles are getting shorter as the rate of technological change increases exponentially. Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen some of the world’s most venerable companies — airlines, food producers, retailers — challenged, and in some cases completely upended, by opportunistic entrepreneurs with technology on their side.

Change is constant, and many executives believe that it will become even more pervasive in the near future. According to research from HR consulting firm Mercer, 73% of business leaders expect significant disruption in their industries over the next three years. Only 26% felt that way last year.

Disruption presents both challenges and opportunities, and the line between the two is often quite thin. The companies that are able to navigate disruptive periods successfully often share at least one important characteristic.
Guided by Purpose

A strong sense of organizational purpose helps leaders seize opportunities when they appear, and it’s critical to managing through disruption. Moreover, the way that leaders communicate their vision of the future can determine how employees react to sudden or unexpected change, causing employees to feel either enthusiastic or threatened.

The best leaders don’t seek to preserve the status quo; rather, they accept that change is the status quo. They’re proactive rather than reactive because they’re always focused on executing a plan. In contrast, those that aren’t prepared for change are unable to manage the negative consequences: a decline in employee engagement, a widening skills gap, and a lag in productivity, according to the Mercer report.

Four out of five executives feel they can lead their industries through the digital transformation and threat of new competition. To ensure that you’re among that number, keep these tips in mind:

1. Set your course.

A compelling vision endures even when products and markets change. Most leaders have come to realize this over the past several years, but many have struggled to articulate their vision and purpose in a way that resonates with employees. According to research from Gallup, only 22% of employees strongly agree that their leaders have a clear idea of where the business is going. Without a true north, a company ends up chasing trends and struggling to define its value in a changing industry.

Mandy Ginsberg, CEO of Match Group, defines the purpose of her company as fulfilling a basic human need for relationships: “Even in a technology-driven society, people crave intimate connections, whether that means getting married or just sitting down together for coffee,” she says. “We help people make those connections.” This guiding light has enabled Match to weather the disruption of the online dating industry. From its start in the 1990s as an open-search desktop website to its current portfolio of apps including Tinder and Hinge, Match has continually evolved according to its purpose.

2. Keep employees in the know.

Your purpose amounts to unfulfilled potential if you’re unable to rally your team behind it. As you develop and refine your strategic vision for your company, share it with your team so that employees understand the part they play in bringing that vision to life. Creating a workplace culture that’s anchored in transparency will result in more and better collaboration across teams, as well as more productive employees.

Christine Alemany, CEO of branding and marketing firm TBGA, believes that individual employee engagement hinges on your ability to clearly communicate your vision. “Workers will live up to plan expectations and prioritize them if you help them understand their roles in the company hitting its projections,” she says. Top employees want to feel like they’re adding value to your organization. They can only do that if they understand your objectives and goals.

3. Make learning business as usual.

Employee development is a critical component of any adaptive workforce, and it should be deeply ingrained in your company culture. The best talent expects to be challenged at work, and workers who feel like their careers are stagnating won’t wait long to seek opportunities elsewhere. Not coincidentally, many of the companies that are shaping the future are the ones that provide the most learning opportunities for employees.

Consider Amazon. The retail giant recently announced that it would spend $700 million to retrain a third of its workforce over the next five years. CEO Jeff Bezos and his team know that past success is no guarantee of future growth — and that company development is ultimately a product of employee development. Given Amazon’s track record of proactive business strategy and calculated growth, it’s no surprise that the company is willing to spend now so that employees are prepared for what the future of work holds. In fact, they’ll have a part in defining it.

In contrast to the leaders of companies just trying to stay afloat, executives of the world’s leading companies have an uncanny ability to plan for the future. They’re guided by purpose; they know that the business landscape is mutable. Seek to evolve as the world evolves if you’re aiming for organizational permanence in a changing world.
By Rhett Power