Season 4: Thriving in a changing world

Les McKeown Founder & CEO, Predictable Success

3 ways to navigate complex change

When historians come to fully document the events of the last few years, I suspect their biggest challenge will come in trying to convey the sheer volume of change that has happened in less than a decade. It’s like someone pushed the “fast forward” button and forgot to lift their finger.

From my position as a growth coach and consultant, I’ve had the privilege to watch world-class leaders in all types of organizations navigate massive change over the last few years, and I’ve learned three important principles:

  1. You can no longer plan for the status quo

    Pulling up last year’s business plan and updating it for this year no longer cuts the mustard. We no longer live in a world where “rinse and repeat” is a recipe for success—instead we live in a world not just of “zero-based budgeting” but “zero-based thinking”.

    What to do about it:

    The old MBA standby—the PESTLE analysis—is a simple and highly powerful tool in managing change. Learn to sweep the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legislative and Environmental landscape regularly and involve your team.

    If you dimly recall learning about PESTLE at college or university, dig out your notes. If it’s the first you’ve heard of it, Google is your friend—there are a ton of great, easily implemented PESTLE templates out there that you can use to get started today.
  2. Success doesn’t lie in what you know you know

    It’s not the change you can anticipate that will get you (or if it does, that’s on you)—what wreaks havoc is the change you never saw coming. It’s your job to minimize your blind spots—which means curiosity is no longer optional.

    What to do about it:

    Get (even more) curious.

    Given you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already a naturally curious person. To borrow Nigel Tufnell’s famous phrase: “Turn it up to 11”. In particular, read, watch and attend events outside your core area of knowledge, and outside your industry.
  3. Snow melts at the edges

    Change rarely starts in the C-suite (or the founder’s office). Just like an iceberg melts from the leading edge, change is happening right now—at the very edges of your business.

    What does this mean? It means you can’t manage change at a whiteboard—you have to go where it is. (Hat-tip to my friend Rita McGrath, professor of management at the Columbia Business School, who has written wisely and engagingly about this in her excellent book, See Around Corners).

    What to do about it:

    Turn MBWA into LBWA.

    Tom Peters coined the phrase “Management by Walking Around” (MBWA)—meaning that you can manage people more effectively by meeting them where they are, than from the closeted environs of the C-Suite.

    It’s never been more important to know what’s going on at the “edges” of your business (even if there’s only four of you!), which means that you no longer can just engage in “Management by Walking Around”—you must embrace “Leading by Walking Around”. 

    Go to the “edges” of your organization—to the front lines, not just to see what the change is that’s happening, but to engage with change there. Meet it where it is, not on a whiteboard in your conference room.