Lead Change by Deleting Status Quo Assumptions
POSTED : February 7, 2017
BY : Dave Wieneke

Everyone’s Uber moment lies somewhere ahead. Leaders know digital disruption is an implicit burning platform in every business. Your choice is whether to start leading change now—or wait for a threat to align your team on defense.

In other words, overcoming inertia is the prerequisite for digital leaders. The more senior your role, the greater the scale of comfortable patterns and group-think you should feel obliged to test and potentially change. But you can’t do this alone. To rally fellow travelers on the road to transformative change, you need a vision built on recognized goals for business growth and winning with customers.

Disrupting the status quo starts with saying ‘no’

The delete key is inevitably the designer’s best friend. For business leaders, the equivalent of the delete key is deprioritization—and it’s every bit as pivotal. The assumptions you challenge or do away with today are what clears the way for change tomorrow. For example, what if you focused on competitive research instead of a pitch deck? What if you scheduled meetings with prospective customers at an event, instead of spending time relying on speaking opportunities, on the off-chance that the right people will be in the room?

In an overloaded world, where simplicity is the good manners of our age, the delete key is where change starts. Managers who endlessly add ambitions predictably spread their bets and teams too thin. Most of us know this failure pattern, which I’ve grinningly come to call The More-On Syndrome. See if this sounds familiar.

A tyranny of bright, shiny objects and fire drills creates a transfixing shell of urgency. It makes strategic change or optimization unfathomable. In time, being too busy to change becomes a kind of engineered denial. Not all change is wise, but nearly all change is resisted. And the shell of urgency is a tough headwind to add.

It’s difficult to break this pattern because deciding what not to do is a value judgment: the value of the status quo vs. the value of change. Changes don’t always work, and at the start they’re almost never as popular as the status quo. Often, the pain you have now is more trusted than the improvement that might come in the future.

Inspire growth in people, organization & markets

Forward-looking leaders can overcome this resistance to change by getting key stakeholders aligned around a shared vision focused on the strategic value to the business. That means recruiting others to help define and drive process. This adds their insight for making smarter changes, and it adds their support—which can be critical.

It’s also critical to maintain laser focus on the business rationale for disrupting the status quo. As you start setting strategic priorities—and deleting urgent distractions, make it a habit to ask, “How does this initiative square with our firm’s long-term approach to earnings growth?” It sounds simple, but too often, the answer to this fundamental question is not effectively communicated. And if there’s ambiguity in this strategic first principle, lining up for change is riskier.

Few things bring companies together like earnings—they’re the gravity that keeps them orbiting customers. Checking proposed initiatives for their future impact on earnings growth enables you to focus your investments on the customers and products that matter most for your organization’s long-term success.

The Kellogg School of Management makes this kind of growth thinking the core to its brand. And yes, they even host a Growth Forum that brings two thousand business leaders together. I’ve been a fan of Professor Mohanbir Sawhney since the late ‘90s, when I first met him at one of Kellogg’s Digital Frontiers conferences. He’s one of the folks behind the Growth Forum and is co-author of Fewer Bigger Bolder, which extends my case for focus and smart growth.

Increase the value of relationships

There’s an additional set of hand-holds you can use to help any business prioritize. Take an outside-in look at how connecting better with customers creates earnings. This helps ground your efforts in fundamental business goals and measure progress in a currency the full company recognizes as essential. The quality and depth of engagement you have with your customers is a better predictor of future business success than pipeline value or booked sales.

Organizations increase the value of their customer relationships in one of five predictable ways, which we’ll call Wieneke’s Customer Value Buckets:

(Give value bucketing a try and let me know what you think!)

Customer relationships are durable corporate assets

Buying journeys are the customers’ and always live in the larger context of their lives. But customer relationships are yours. And as most successful organizations recognize, these relationships hold greater value than any material asset.

The trust of patients, the partnership of investors, the dedication of your team’s professionals—these are more essential than any of the purchased goods that Accounting lovingly depreciates. So why not take stock of your relationships and invest in them preferentially, just as you would with other business assets?

Management rarely engages productively on tactics, and without clear first principles, you could be left arguing over the equivalent of “the machine that goes ping!” Such a gap is greater than just not having a playbook. Without a shared approach, different parts of the organization can end up playing in entirely different sports.

Grounding your plan for transformative change with earnings and the customer interactions that drive them is a pragmatic way to set priorities and focus as your organization’s leaders line up for action.

Looking to disrupt the status quo in your own organization? See how a customer-centric digital strategy can help you align stakeholders around a shared vision for change and provide an operating model for executing that vision.

Tags: ,