Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Balancing innovative change and ongoing reliable stability and consistency 1: a basic dilemma

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 26, 2016

Effective business strategy and operations: effective business management in general, can be viewed in large part as finding and achieving a functional effective balance between competing and at times conflicting requirements. This dynamic plays out in essentially every area of a business and at all levels along its table of organization (however visualized for that.) And only part of that dynamic is captured in how a business’ goals and their expenses are selected and prioritized.

My goal for this posting is to provoke thought about a particular aspect of this dynamic that is sure to arise as important and for any business that faces change or a need for it. That means any business, regardless of industry and regardless of profit, nonprofit or not-for-profit status, that faces competition and that seeks to evolve and improve. And it means any such organization that faces and seeks to serve a market whose members seek out and even demand new and improved – or even just new and different: any market that seeks out change in what is offered to it.

• How can you as a business leader or owner, better map out and determine where to accept the added costs and risks of change, and where would you better stick to a current here-and-now approach?
• And when you deem change to be a better path forward, where and how can you know if this would best mean more step-by-step evolutionary change, and when would this would best mean more dramatic, disruptive change?

I have touched on a number of specific points that are relevant to this challenge and to addressing those questions in this blog. But my immediate source of impetus for writing this posting now, is a conversation with a mid-level manager who I have known for years, who often finds himself whipsawed by sudden change and its uncertainties.

Let me be clear here; this is a highly skilled professional engineer and manager who works in a very rapidly advancing technology arena. And he works for a business that actively seeks to be an industry leader there. He, I add, is professionally successful there too and he is valued by his employers. So change per se is not the problem in this; change is where this professional and the business that he works for, find opportunity. Product and supporting service evolution are both essential to success in that business, and expected. The problem that my colleague told me about, is not one of change per se or even the challenge of disruptive change. Both are in fact actively sought after and certainly when they can be leveraged to this business’ advantage. The problem that this one manager and others who work there face, is one of avoidable, unnecessarily disruptive change: change that employees at all levels on the table of organization can and do see as being problematical for themselves and for their business, for how it is approached and carried out.

Partly this is a matter of how change is viewed, accepted and actively pursued, from the top of the table of organization and its executive suite. But at least as big a piece to this challenge is in how change decisions and their likely and possible requirements and consequences are communicated in the organization, or not communicated as also happens.

• At least as big a piece to this challenge is in how change is not effectively communicated about, and with too many of what conversations that do take place not including some of the key people there who would be most directly affected by it.
• And that means this challenge becoming one of uncoordinated and problematical business execution too.

And to follow up on that point, this is where communications failures become business risk, and it is where overall business risk becomes jobs and careers risk for those who have to adjust and accommodate to change that they only know will be significant, but where their role in it is not considered – and where its impact upon them isn’t either.

I write in this posting of employees and managers who see change as a necessity, but who all too often see it as problematical too, for how it is actually carried out in ways that are risk-creating for themselves. They can and do see less communicated and coordinated change as threatening their jobs there, and both individually and through increased risk of mass layoffs and downsizings – that this business in fact at least periodically goes through. (Note: this is where sometimes more meaningful terms such as “creative destruction” can be inappropriately invoked as what can be more of a substitute for actual planning.)

I have occasionally written about downsizings and related change consequences in this blog, and how these events can and do arise. And I have noted and at least briefly discussed how a perceived need for this type of action can arise when executive leadership planned and led, intended change is not thought through or communicated where it should be (see for example, Downsizing and Mass Lay-Offs as a Symptom of Strategic Failure.) And I have written here repeatedly of the need and importance of two-way communications in an organization and the consequences of not allowing for or supporting feedback, and from initial change planning on through post-change reviews of results and consequences achieved (see, for example, my series: Communicating More Effectively as a Job and Career Skill Set, at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 342-358. I wrote that series with a focus on the individual and how they might better communicate. But the basic principles offered and discussed in it apply at the overall organizational level too and certainly insofar as a business sets and adheres to expected communications standards within its overall system.)

• When even just a fraction of the people who work at a business see themselves as possible victims of downsizing there, that impacts negatively upon everyone there and on the business as a whole – as everyone there wonders if they too, might actually be at risk and through no fault of their own and regardless of how well they perform or are performance reviewed there.

This impacts upon the business as a whole, as employees and managers who are in effect running scared try to stick to their understanding of tried-and-true, and of what is safe for them to do there and in self defense if nothing else. So creativity and innovation dry up, and so does a great deal of that business’ capacity to effectively respond to change, let alone initiate it.

And I have written and offered this narrative, at least up to here as what could easily be a single stand-alone note on one particular challenge that businesses can come to face, and as a single selectively drafted case study. But I also offer it as more of a situationally specific case in point example of a wider-ranging set of issues and how their management or mismanagement can become problematical.

I am in fact offering this posting as a first installment to a new series, in which I will address the question of more precisely how a business can shift into the type of risk-creating dysfunction, that my colleague friend told me about for his employer as briefly touched upon here. My larger goal for this series is to discuss business tactics and their scope and range, and strategy and their scope and range, and knowing when and where one should give way to the other – the basic dilemma of this posting’s title. I am going to start that in my next series installment with tactics, and tactical planning and follow-through.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory.

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