Some things just don’t seem to make sense. The sign in front of the cafeteria stating; “As of 9:00 today the noon luncheon will be held at 1:00,” tests our sensibilities. It seems to be immune from the sensibility test. For example, former US President George Bush’s statement, "It's no exaggeration to say that the undecideds could go one way or another.", or another US President Bill Clinton’s quote, "If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure.” Some declarations feel good in presentation but suffer from a lack of content. Words are tools to convey thought and even make them sound better. For example, Colonel Oliver North Congressional testimony, "I was provided with additional input that was radically different from the truth. I assisted in furthering that version." In today’s rhetorical world the sensibility test may seem obsolete. With the disruptive character of change becoming normal, the challenge of parsing reality is important.
The examination of prevalent technology changes reminds us that the issues of change are not that different. Business has always experienced change of one kind or another. The role of businesses in this kind of rapidly changing technological environment is really not that different than the role of strategically effective leaders has ever been. They need to be creative and inclusive. They need to be driven to deliver. They have to behave as trusted leaders. What is differ today is that leaders no longer have the luxury of time, which makes leading effectively more complicated.
Leaders are the primal element in navigating the complexities of the constantly changing technological and global world. They must possess or develop some unique tools and characteristics that facilitate the change journey. Douglas Ready in an article for the Harvard Business Review[i] said; “We know that two-thirds of large-scale transformation efforts fail. But that’s not a terribly helpful piece of information unless we’re looking for confirmation that this is hard, really hard.” Transformational change leaders must take time to know the culture and recognize embedded tensions and paradoxes.
Ready points to some common contradictions leaders face when driving transformation efforts. The first is revitalization versus normalization. At the core of every change initiative is the desire to breathe new life into the organization and revitalize ways of thinking, behaving and working. But one change initiative often morphs into many, and before long employees become “tired of change”. Second is globalization versus simplification. Doing business today means doing business globally, but the complexities brought on by globalization are often in conflict with the need to make it simple for customers.
Thirdly, is innovation versus regulation. Many organizations, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic, will be encumbered with trying to do business, let alone innovate, under increasingly crushing regulatory environments. In light of a world that has been closed for the pandemic will their business model remain relevant after the open for business sign is put out. Optimization versus rationalization is the fourth paradox. Customers not only have more power today, in some industries, they seem to have all of the power. Organizations are struggling to provide solutions that are better, faster, cheaper, and increasingly customized. Leaders are caught in a seemingly endless struggle to reconcile the tension between optimizing benefits to customers while rationalizing their costs of doing business. The work from home paradigm has created some amazing cost benefit revelations that might make "normal" have an entirely different definition.
Finally, digitization versus humanization. Advanced technology is at the core of virtually every company’s business model today. Yet, the onset of pervasive digitization is occurring at the same time that individuals are yearning for a sense of meaning in their organizations.
Successful transformational leaders embrace these tensions even though they make the challenge more complex. There are no easy answers; however, the leader’s core commitment to reconciling these tensions is the vital piece of transformation. We must be aware of the sensibility test and as Danny Ozark from manger of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team, "Half of this game is ninety percent mental.”
[i] Douglas A. Ready, 4 Things Successful Change Leaders Do Well, HBR, January 28, 2016