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The No.1 thing every leader should know about strategic change

Whether a change has a positive outcome is less determined by the change itself, and more by the attitude of those responding to it.

In business and in our personal lives it seems like everywhere we turn, someone is telling us how much change is coming and how big and scary it is. Robots, the ‘Internet of Things’, industry disruption, regulations, elections, self-driving cars, big data, bitcoins – and so the list goes on….and on….and on.


Despite its negative portrayal in the media, change is often positive and leads to greater certainty and predictability. For example, things we now take for granted like:


  • knowing where we’re going – When was the last time you followed a street-directory to find your way to a new location? GPS technology has made our trip to work or taking a long-journey more predictable than ever.

  • knowing if we need an umbrella – Meteorological radars tell us when the rain is coming, how much there will be and when it will stop.

  • knowing how healthy we are – Imagine being born in the 1900s without the medical tests and diagnostic tools available today.

  • knowing when to be at the airport – Flight tracking means that we can see where every flight is in its journey and don't have to spend hours waiting at the airport for a delayed plane.

  • knowing where our kids are – OK…I probably should say where our kids ‘say’ they are. My point is, our children are only a phone call away.


So what does this have to do with leadership?


As leaders, the way we think determines our behaviour and when it comes to major change, our initial mindset determines future success. In short, if we think a change is negative, it will be negative. While sometimes the opportunity is not obvious or the threat of a change might feel overwhelmingif that's all we focus on, that's all we ever see.


Consider the example of a significant regulatory change.


When governments change the rules, it can be resented by an organisation and perceived as being negative. The internal change therefore becomes driven by ticking-boxes, not creating value. When this happens, tactical processes are often put in place to deliver the regulatory requirements and inadvertently cause barriers for the processes that were previously creating value. Efficiency is reduced, customer satisfaction is threatened (or eroded) and employees' jobs become more frustrating. Ironically, the combined effects often increase the level of organisational risk and work against the fundamental principle of regulation i.e. risk reduction.


For all these reasons, it's critical leaders maintain a balanced perspective and are not swayed by ‘the sky is falling’ mentality that resonates so loudly in today’s business environment. It’s also why the No.1 thing all leaders should consciously remember, when they encounter a change, is:


“Every change brings with it opportunity, but only if you look for it”.

So, next time you come across a change in your industry, regardless of what it is or how scary or unappealing it appears, ask yourself (and your team):

  • where is the opportunity here?

  • for whom is the opportunity the greatest?

  • how can this change make our customers’ lives better and our organisation stronger?’


Insist on identifying at least three opportunities. Doing so will ensure you not only see opportunities for your own organisation but also those available to others (i.e. potential disruptors).


Try it out. The results will surprise you. 


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About the author:


Kate Christiansen (www.katechristiansen.me) is an author, business leader and passionate change-advocate who has spent twenty years adapting organisations to major strategic change. Her writing empowers leaders by fostering insights, challenging thinking and providing practical strategies to succeed in an ever-changing world. Kate's latest book 'The Thrive Cycle: Unlock The Adaptive Organisation Within' will be released on 1 September 2016. 


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