Dancing with Change

One of Richard Branson’s buzz phrases these days goes something like this… A company that stands still will soon be forgotten. While Branson brands himself as an eccentric entrepreneur in perpetual motion, I think his statement rings true for organizations who want to thrive in the long-term even if they aren’t interested in launching space tourists into low earth orbit. The projected statistics certainly support the rhetoric. Five years ago, a study from the Olin School of Business at the University of Washington predicated that 40% of 2014’s Fortune 500 companies would be extinct by 2025. While this prediction is far from being realized, the intent is appreciated. The corporate landscape is in a state of flux. With the continual rise of ecommerce and web-based technologies, bricks and mortar retail outfits and other “fixed” corporations see the handwriting on the wall… Become nimble or prepare for a gruesome death. What does this mean for the manager or executive? Survival in the corporate space will require nimbleness; those who can “dance with change” can thrive.

Learn More than the Tango

All of us have our corporate comfort zones. Usually, if we are exceptionally skilled in a particular facet of the corporate life – like project management – we prefer to work from within the comfort zone. From the comfort zone, we delegate tasks beyond our skillset to those far better equipped to complete the task than we are. You stay in your lane and I’ll stay in mine. Often, this traditional approach works. However, the frenetic pace of life in an increasingly digitized world does not always allow time for a siloed/lane approach to work. If, for example, a potential client likes your sales pitch but wants to see some visuals on the possible impact of the product or service, you need to be equipped to provided the information almost immediately. Referring the request to a graphic artist or IT professional for delivery later, may mean the loss of the sale. Immediacy is the name of the game in 2019.

In this era of immediacy, your job is to determine your underdeveloped business skills and develop them. Your job is nimbleness. If your presentation skills rock but your follow through is dismal, develop skills that will help you close the deal. Work in a context that has you rubbing shoulders with non-English speakers? Learn the language. Are you constantly handing off project tasks to the tech whiz in your department because you can barely launch the web browser on your own laptop? Take a class. Invest in your corporate value by broadening your skillset. Be a generalist among specialists. Doing a lot of things well is far more valuable in frenetic landscape than only having one dance in your repertoire.

The Best Dancers are Flexible

If the forecast produced by the Olin School rings true, the next 5-10 years will be turbulent in the corporate space. AI, for example, appears to be one of the next big things on the horizon. Imagine an intuitive machine handling a sale or troubleshooting the problem with a faulty design and then launching an appropriate solution without human assistance. What could that mean for your current position? Or think about the corporate rise of new generations who bring a vastly different set of priorities and skills to the board room than their older colleagues. What could a changing of the guard mean for your career?

Now that you appreciate the importance of making yourself a nimble manager or executive with a diverse repertoire of skills, prepare yourself for the sea of changes that will eventually arrive in your setting and others like it. Corporations will restructure. Vision, goals, and objectives will be modified as the environment demands the change. Capable people will receive pink slips long before they are beyond their usefulness in the business. Will you react rigidly to the change, anchoring yourself to personal priorities and approaches that are no longer relevant? Or, in the alternative, will you dance with the change? Will you look and listen for the arrival of the change, prepared to move with the current and pick yourself up if you miss a step or too?

Branson is right of course. Stillness in an era of remarkable transition is a recipe for irrelevance. If you can’t dance, you will be forgotten. Dance.