The hows and whys of "Change or Die"

By William Seidman Over the years I’ve worked with a number of companies facing bankruptcy. These companies and their executive teams shared some characteristics—they were in dying markets and they were resistant to change. A company that successfully adapts and saves itself from a dying market does so by changing quickly and effectively. Companies that struggle in the changing market usually share similar traits: they had a CEO or a team of executives who were very good at what they did in the old market and wished to continue doing what they had been so good at in the past. This expertise worked against them by making it hard for these CEOs to realize that the skills that got them great success were actually a negative for making a substantive change. This was because they were trying to manage the organizational change in the same way that they were managing ongoing operations, and they literally could not conceive of leading a transformation as being a completely different set of leadership skills. It wasn’t working. In a few cases, the leadership team recognized that they needed help leading the transformation, but didn’t know enough to distinguish between various “consultants” who were vying for the job. In all of the cases, the companies brought in mainline consulting firms, and sometimes lots of other advisors. I realize that, to the executives, all the change advisors sounded the same even though there were considerable differences. Because the executives’ lack of experience, they couldn’t tell which advice was meaningful and which was not, so they tended to go with the conventional wisdom—again managing organizational change in the way with which they were already comfortable (but not necessarily the most effective route). Unfortunately, very few consultants or others really know how to drive a large-scale change, and the conventional wisdom is, in many cases, wrong. With all good intent, executives listen to these consultants and most don’t do what is recommended. In many cases, even if they were to follow the advice of the consultants, it wouldn’t work because the consultants are sticking to the old ways. At some point, executives are going to realize that leading a major transformation is a specialized skill and that they need to learn what this really means. There is a great book on this subject, Clayton M. Christenson’s The Innovators Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. It is recommended reading for any CEO or executive whose business is undergoing or in need of a transformation.]]>

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