How Organizations Must Learn to Deal with Radical, Disruptive, and Disorienting Change

Dealing with Radical Change

We live in times when change is the only constant. Indeed, organizations now compete in an external market landscape where the time to market is in the months and not years, as earlier, and where each new technology or trend that emerges leads to another round and wave of disruption.

Just look at around you and you would understand how CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) are under pressure to deal with the problems of immediacy as well as creating longer term value.

For instance, take the case of Apple and Samsung which release newer and upgraded versions of the Smartphones every quarter instead of how Blackberry and Nokia used to do every year.

Put yourself in the shoes of Tim Cook of Apple and see how he is under pressure to constantly innovate and be ahead of the curve.

Further, take the example of Facebook which lost nearly 25% in market capitalization just because it failed to meet analyst expectations of higher profits.

Indeed, Facebook, which is one of the FANGs or the So-called grouping of Big Tech firms (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google), has been the darling of the investors for its ability to post profits in the higher 40% bracket for a long time that any slippage below has led to a massive dumping of its stock. Picture yourself as Mark Zuckerberg and imagine what he would be thinking when his company though making huge profits is still pilloried by the market.

The Challenges of Disruptive Change

The examples cited above indicate one form of radical change wherein nothing is permanent and what matters is your last performance.

For instance, the Indian IT (Information Technology) bellwether was for a long time considered the reliable and respected indicator of which way the winds in the Indian IT Sector were blowing.

Not anymore as it has taken a beating in recent years due to its inability to read the signals about changing market conditions and hence, lost out on its leadership pole position. This is an indication of disruptive change wherein hitherto safe and reliable firms bite the dust just because they were not ready for disruption.

When disruption can mean anything from lesser known competitors taking market share to sudden leaps and jumps in technologies, we can expect to see more of such examples.

Indeed, Infosys, under its new board and CEO has now tied the salaries and the bonuses of its top executives to their ability to bring in the business from the digital technologies. While this move is welcome, it remains to be seen as to how effective it would be.

Navigating Disorienting Change

We have covered radical and disruptive change. Now, let us take a look at disorienting change wherein organizations, big or small, long established or newbie’s, and reputed or little know find themselves in the middle of the storms brought about by extreme volatility and turbulence.

Take the example of many SOEs or State Owned Enterprises across the world and in China and India in particular.

You would see that they and their employees, long used to cushy salaries and perks at the state’s expense and who were inefficient yet kept in business due to political reasons now find themselves staring at the abyss as the Punch Bowl or the goodies are now taken away from them due to the simple reason that the state is no longer capable of sustaining them.

Indeed, as the example of the Indian Public Sector Airline, Air India, shows when fossilized organizations living in the past are exposed to disorienting change brought about due to changing market conditions, the result is that they are no longer capable or confident of surviving the storms of change.

How Change Agents Help Organizations

Thus, as the examples show, the present age is characterized by radical, disruptive, and disorienting change and this is where organizations have their task cut out in dealing with such change.

This is more the reason why Change Agents who are capable of dealing with these challenges are important as they have the necessary insight and intuition into how they can drive change and at the same time, help their employees deal with the effects of such change.

Change agents succeed because they have the necessary narrative and the vision and the ability to actualize them through a missionary sense of purpose and grounded in values. Further, change agents bring with them the necessary freshness and the ability to unclog the organizational arteries that have been ossified by inertia, lethargy, and bureaucratic modes of working.

Indeed, for organizations that are suffocating under the combined effects of the three types of change discussed here, change agents open the windows, reorder the rooms, and make the homes livable and thriving, to use a metaphor.

Thus, it is indeed the case that organizations must welcome change agents and let them shake up the organizations a bit to drive change.

Cultural Challenges

Lastly, it needs to be mentioned that in addition to the aforementioned challenges, cultural attitudes are another potential barriers to change as can be seen in the rise of nationalism, tribalism, parochialism, and patriarchy.

Thus, change agents must balance the old and the new and at the same time, do not let partisanship submerge the organizations in a heap of contradictions.

To conclude, the contradictory and intersecting aspects of the changes we are now seeing can only be handled with clear and articulate leaders who can see patterns where others see mazes and who can find a way out of the morass where others are lost.

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Change Management