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A Futurist’s Guide to Preparing Your Company for Constant Change

Here is an excerpt from an article written by April Rinne for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

Credit:  Cactus Creative Studio/Stocksy

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As we look back, 2020 and much of 2021 were a wake-up call for how much and how quickly change can happen. But they were also a warm-up for what’s ahead — not necessarily another pandemic with multiple variants, of course, but flux of every imaginable stripe.

The future will not be more stable or certain. The future — whether that’s this afternoon, next week, next quarter, next year, or the next decade — is now defined by more uncertainty, more unpredictability, and more unknowns. Individually, we wonder (and often worry) about our jobs, our well-being, and our children’s future. Organizationally, we grapple with business model disruption, digital transformation, and the Great Resignation. Societally, we face unprecedented changes to our climate, economies, demographics, and political systems (to name but a few). These changes and their effects will multiply and intersect.

As a futurist, I spend much of my time helping companies, executives, and teams make sense of the forces shaping the future and prepare responsibly. The objective is not to predict the future (which is a futile quest), but rather to be ready for many different possible futures that could unfold. In this role, working and traveling across over 100 countries for more than 25 years, I’ve seen time and again how every organization struggles with change in different ways. However, there is hope for organizations that plan in order to get ahead of change.

The time to prepare for change is not when it hits. It’s before it hits, and during times of relative calm. Reacting to change in the moment keeps you forever on the defensive, and the consequences can be severe. You’re unable to see where the future is heading because your attention is consumed with dodging the next curveball. This exposes your organization to unnecessary risks and overlooks new opportunities. It’s a recipe for frustration and lagging performance at best — collapse at worst.

While finding “the right time” to prepare for change can be difficult, there are myriad ways to get started. Here are four steps leaders can take to prepare their organizations to thrive amid constant change.

Conduct a “change audit”

Holistically assessing your organization’s readiness for a world in constant flux provides the foundation for a future whose only steady state is more change, yet few leaders do it consistently. A change audit seeks to provide clarity on multiple levels.

First, where is change hitting hardest in your organization, industry, team, and customers’ lives? It’s easy to silo changes into specific departments or functions, but this often misses key dynamics and interdependencies that can make change easier to gauge moving forward. Get clear on which departments or functions are consistently more change-ready than others: Who has excelled over the past 18 months, and why?

Second, what kinds of changes are most challenging? Humans tend to love changes we opt into (a new job, relationship, or haircut) and fear or resist changes we can’t control (layoffs, a breakup, or a health scare). These dynamics often transfer into the workplace, with outsized implications.

Finally, what are your organization’s impediments to navigating change well? Common candidates include:

  • Team burnout and/or anxiety: It’s harder to assess uncertainty when we’re exhausted. When we’re tired, we’re more likely to develop tunnel vision and feel anxious.
  • Lack of trust: When change hits, trust will get you farther than any other single resource. Consider: Who do you turn to when you don’t know what to do? To your trusted relationships. And do you trust all employees to act in the organization’s best interests and uphold its values in both work and life?
  • A “just deal with it” culture: Are all levels of the organization (including leadership) not only allowed but encouraged to show up fully, including when they feel vulnerable? When things don’t go as planned, is that seen as loss, or a learning opportunity?
  • Insufficient metrics: The ability to navigate change well goes beyond dollars and cents. For example, how much are exhaustion or trustworthiness “worth?” They don’t show up in any budget line item, yet they’re invaluable. Where and how do you account for such things? In a constantly changing world, metrics must go beyond short-term benchmarks of productivity and quarterly returns.

Ideally, a change audit includes input from all talent in an organization, from the most seasoned executive to the newest joiner. Not only does this underscore an inclusive culture, but the fact is that everyone has unique wisdom and perspective when it comes to change.

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We have before us a new set of opportunities — and new urgency — for navigating change well. Leaders and businesses need to radically reshape their relationship to uncertainty in order to sustain a healthy and productive outlook. As we look toward a future in which the only “steady state” is one of more change, it’s time to open your flux mindset, upgrade your organization’s “flux capacity,” and prepare to thrive in constant change.

 

  • April Rinne is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and ranked one of the “50 Leading Female Futurists” in the world by Forbes. She is a change navigator who helps individuals and organizations rethink and reshape their relationships with change, uncertainty, and a world in flux. She’s a trusted advisor, speaker, investor, adventurer (100+ countries), insatiable handstander, and author of Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change.

Here is a direct link to the complete article.

 

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