“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” — W. Edwards Deming
Does your status quo need screwing up? The short answer is: “Yes” — either now or soon.
The longer answer is that this is an era of rapid change and we all need to take a clear-eyed look at the world around us. Carefully consider the realities inside your organization and in the larger context, and you might discover the next drivers of change before they surprise you. In our work with hundreds of organizations in transformation, we’ve seen the benefits of constantly anticipating change — It helps you know when it’s time to start screwing things up again!
Seven Signs It’s Time to Screw Up Your Status Quo
You sense you may become increasingly irrelevant to your clients or markets. This may be due to a new, younger audience with new values, such as Millennial consumers who include environmental concerns and social responsibility in their decisions. Or your audience may be aging out of your market. Or your clients may need new approaches because their audiences are changing dramatically (are any ad agencies listening?). It may be time to listen more deeply to your stakeholders and learn how their desires are not what you assume them to be.
You feel clueless when you hear people talking about new innovations. You only have a vague understanding of new products, experiences, technologies, or terminologies. You don’t know how they relate to your future. It’s time to screw up your sensing and learning systems and develop new ways to stay current.
You find yourself lost in a new, unfamiliar economy.
The “Creator Economy”, “Collaborative Economy”, “Sharing Economy”, “Gig Economy” or “On-demand Economy” is a different era. While experts are still settling on a label for our new economic environment, these names all describe new economic priorities that indicate big shifts in technology and society. How will the larger context of a radically different economy affect your industry? If you haven’t rethought and redefined your future role amidst large-scale shifts, you are overdue.
You have a sluggish organization that is starting to lose steam. Your organization might not be as aligned, excited, hungry, or creative as it once was. Maybe it’s too insular, siloed or political. If your priorities are primarily about milking the ROI, you already may be post-peak and need an explosive, radical shift of the status quo. How could you build more momentum and future-oriented thinking?
Your brand is bland or you’re no longer unique. If you have trouble completing the sentence, “We are the one and only organization that can…”, then you’ve lost your advantage and are overdue for a screwing up overhaul.
You get that fearful feeling in your gut that something dangerous is in your blind spot. It probably won’t be a saber-toothed tiger but it could be a significant unseen threat. Discover it before it discovers you! In most companies that have failed to adapt, people inside the organization ignored intuitions of unseen disruptions. Does your organization listen to those voices or push them aside? If you are not inviting in the maverick voice, it’s time to start.
You feel a bit prideful because you’re at the top of your game. This sounds counterintuitive but during your prime, you should plan to be your own disruption and reinvent yourself for the next chapter in your long-term story. If you make changes while in a position of power, you’ll have the resources and momentum of your prime performance to carry you into the next stage of growth. If you wait until the old business model has lost its momentum, the job of change will be much harder if not impossible. It may sound cliché but is often true: What got us here, won’t get us there.
How do I start screwing up effectively?
If any of the 7 signs ring true to you, it’s time to screw things up.
First, make sure you’re using the right data and fully involve your team, then dive deeper into the dynamics behind each of the seven signs.
Use the right data
When organizations look at the wrong data, it’s easy to be blind to the urgent need to adapt and change. One of the biggest blinders is focusing on lagging indicators that tell you about the past instead of the leading indicators that point to the future. Lagging indicators come from past performance data like financial reports. They help you understand what happened, but won’t tell you what’s coming. Leading indicators give you a picture of the future and let you know if you need to make changes.
Do you know what your leading indicators are? Keep in mind that you can’t adapt to the past, you can only adapt to future.
Consider the cautionary tales of Kodak, Circuit City, Blockbuster, and Borders. These were top brands. However, at their peaks they primarily continued focusing on celebrating results. They didn’t realize soon enough that their so-called high-performance vehicles were only made for one type of track, and each of them were racing straight for the precipice of irrelevance.
… or what about Netscape? Netscape had 90% of the browser market in ’95 and an IPO of $2.9 B, and founder Marc Andreessen was on the cover of Time. By 1997 Microsoft crushed Netscape with Windows and its free Explorer browser. In a few short years, Netscape was only 1% of the market. And then Google and others came on strong and the game was redefined one more time.
Another story of misreading the changing environment is the RIM BlackBerry. Almost everyone paying attention to tech knew that the launch of the iPhone in 2007 was the death knell for the BlackBerry. However, the company was feeling fat and happy because its revenue continued to grow, peaking at $20 Billion in 2011. In 2012, five years after the first iPhone, BlackBerry changed leadership but the new CEO still came in with a status quo mindset, stating… “I don’t think there’s a drastic change needed”. Today, BlackBerry’s revenue has dropped almost 90% from its peak and that new CEO is long gone.
Involve your team
At your next meeting, say to your teammates… “I think it’s time we screwed up the status quo here.” After you have their attention — and you will definitely have their attention — point out one or more of the seven signs that prompted you to start the discussion.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s tough to sell an enterprise on doing the challenging task of changing the status quo; there’s a lot invested in it! But you can enlist leaders and colleagues to explore the realities of the Seven Signs. When people participate in creating a new picture of the future, it becomes like their new baby — and everybody is invested in their own beautiful baby’s future.
7 Ways to Screw Up Effectively
Ok, once you’ve laid this groundwork of looking at the right data and getting your whole team involved, it’s time to start Screwing Up Effectively.
- Discover what needs changing inside your organization.
- Identify the outside forces coming your way.
- Then start screwing up effectively!
1. Irrelevant →Seek Relevancy
Gather a deep understanding of what’s important to your future audiences and what can make you most relevant to their new world. For example, seek out data-driven ethnographic studies that examine value or worldview shifts, and generational differences. Check in on Millennials, Boomers, Modernists, and Culture Creatives, etc. Brand Equity Indicators are also leading indicators that may measure future purchase intentions, loyalty, or identify what role your product or service plays in their lives. Make a list of your relevancy indicators and regularly use them to shape your analysis and decision-making.
2. Clueless → Get Clued-in
Get literate on new technology and start thinking about what it will mean to your customers in the future. Research and identify the technology shifts that will shape your customers’ world and then make it important to your world. Monitor the changing technology shifts, drawing conclusions on how they affect behavior and culture changes. Develop your services and products to be in tune with what they want and how they want it to be delivered. Harvesting tech and terminology insights should be a regular part of your enterprise planning and decision-making AND at all times, keep a savvy Millennial close at hand to keep you in the know.
3. Lost → Be a Pathfinder
Read the zeitgeist and trends. Understand the bigger story of the New Economy to find your path and role in the new era. What are the larger environmental, cultural, and business changes that will reshape the economy? Think globally as well as in your local context. The leading indicators you uncover by a deep dive into the zeitgeist and trends shaping the New Economy can completely reconfigure your future business model. These insights will help you create a new role for your business, as it did when GE’s Eco-imagination initiative turned into a new business model that produced billions of dollars of profit while benefiting the environment or when IBM shifted its business model from computer boxes to services, creating their Smart Planet/Smart Cities services that are improving the way are cities are operating and saving energy and resources.
4. Sluggish → Cultivate Vibrancy
Enterprise health and vibrancy is a cultural condition and cultural indicators can tell you if you have a robust future. If milking the ROI is your cultural mantra and innovation is merely a token effort or a vague memory, you obviously need to change. You will build new leading vibrancy indicators from insights engendered by a deep understanding of what is important to your people and your business co-contributors, which include developers, suppliers, and ally organizations. Listen to them. Talk with them. Gather their ideas and paint a picture of the kind of world that will motivate them, make them happy and productive, and inspire them to innovate. Whether you buy cultural assessment tools or design and build your own, make reading these indicators a strategic imperative, not just a tag-on HR activity. Awareness and clarity are the first steps to change.
5. Bland → Embrace Uniqueness
Understand what makes you unique and gather insights on open, underserved spaces where you will be most valuable. Ask yourself… “What makes us truly unique and where can we use this to standout in the future?” Even if your current brand is now considered bland, you can’t walk away from your brand, and probably don’t need to, but you can give it a new place to play successfully that leverages the best of who you are. We have found that many times enterprises are not really clear on what makes them unique, even if they have been in business for a very long time. What if Sears had leveraged its founding uniqueness for “direct-to-the consumer” fulfillment systems and structured itself do what Amazon does now, before Amazon was ever built?
6. Fearful → Be Courageous
Bravely search for the unseen threat. Compile information on people taking bold steps inside your industry and monitor the movements of those who may be only tangential to your industry now (new things often arrive like a comet from outer space). Invite people in your organization to share their intuitions about possible threats to your future. Open up impact discussions and explore new opportunities. Then imagine future scenarios to design bold plans for screwing up the status quo and to position your enterprise as a smart, risk-taking leader. Make these scenario indices your new leading indicators for you to track, measure and respond to in your decision-making forums.
7. Prideful → Be Visionary
Let your future vision be your guide for measuring success. Your current financial measurements may tell you to be proud that you are hitting prime performance with the current business model and they can even tell you where you can make improvements but they can’t tell you how to create or measure success in an uncharted future. Create a bold vision for the new era that is worthy of your purpose and of the time and energy that will be required to achieve it. The vision you create for a new era in your enterprise story will produce its own set of measurements of success, use these to guide you into the future. On a monthly or quarterly basis, make performance-against-Vision analysis as central to your decision making as your financial reporting. And at every opportunity, use your vision to inspire and connect people to what is important and meaningful.
When done well, the heavy weight of the status quo will give way to the lightness of nimble adaptive renewal.
Is it time for you to screw up the status quo?