Reality Check: How to Stop Trying to Square a Circle
The world has changed in major ways in the last few years, with important implications for organizations. Despite the resulting upheaval in virtually all major areas of life and business, many people continue to cling to the notion that things will return to “normal” if they can just weather the current storm, so they resolutely keep doing what they have been doing for years – i.e., they are trying to square a circle. Here is the truth: change is the new “normal.” This means that the things that made organizations successful in the past are unlikely to be the key to future achievements. The playing field has changed, and organizations whose leaders who fail to adjust to the new reality are engaging in a form of organizational insanity. As a result, their organizations cannot possibly be successful.
How can leaders stop trying to square a circle and face their situations realistically? In no particular order, here are six suggestions to begin that process:
- Realize that assumptions have expiration dates.
Since the environment has changed, it’s safe to say that the bases on which leaders made decisions in the past have changed. This is a great time to take a close look at what your organization is doing, why it’s doing those things, and how it’s doing them.
- Recognize that the things that enabled the organization to be successful in the past won’t necessarily work now or in the future.
Begin by taking a step back and defining “success” for your organization and painting a clear picture of what it looks like. Then find new, viable ways to achieve that success.
- Stop putting your head in the sand in the belief that ignoring reality will keep it at bay.
Having a strategy to guide the organization is one thing; sticking tenaciously to it in the face of major change is another. Living in denial about changes that are occurring all around you does NOT make them disappear. Make sure your strategy is realistic in light of the current environment.
- Develop multiple contingency plans.
Situational agility is key to success in this world of permanent “white water” conditions where the only certainty is change. In this age of global interdependence, the sources and types of change can come from anywhere. As Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.” Look beyond the immediate environment for other points at which change may derail your organization’s success.
- Embed accountability processes into the organization.
One reason why people cling stubbornly to the past even when it doesn’t serve them well any more is that there is little or no accountability for mediocre or even poor performance. When situations and environments change, there must be mechanisms in place that demand appropriate adjustments to keep the organization on track for success.
- Have a strategy in place and implement it.
Although situational agility is important, there must be an overall framework that provides the boundaries within which it operates. Developing a strategy that requires leaders to articulate a clear “big picture,” identifying the measures of progress and success, and adjusting the plan as necessary puts the leaders at the helm of the organizational ship rather than leaving its fate to the vagaries of the storms that it encounters.
Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.
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