Embracing ambiguity – 3 keys to successful change management

Embracing ambiguity – 3 keys to successful change management

The world is evolving rapidly and change management needs to be at the top of corporate agendas to ensure long term survival.

The commercial environment and the nature of work undergoes tremendous upheaval - driven by technological change and disruption not seen since the Industrial Revolution.

In a world of volatility and uncertainty, embracing ambiguity is the name of the game. Business executives who fail to proactively lead change management are jeopardising not just their organisation’s long term prosperity, but its very survival.

According to Boston Consulting group, 75% of current Fortune 500 companies will no longer be on the list by 2020 simply because of an inability to change with the times.

Will your organisation be the next Nokia?

History is detailed with the stories of once-powerful organisations that failed to evolve – few more telling than the experience of Finnish company Nokia.

Once rated as Fortune 500’s 20th most admirable company in the world, Nokia enjoyed a commanding 48.7 per cent stake of the global market. Yet by 2013, Nokia’s market share had dwindled to just 3.5 per cent.

As CEO of Nokia, Stephen Elop, noted when announcing Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia earlier in 2016, “We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost”.

With the benefit of hindsight it can be easy to form judgements on how Nokia lost its way – and there is no shortage of speculation on this. But as The New Yorker noted, it ultimately boiled down to a failure to transition into a new era.

The plight of Nokia should serve as a warning for today’s business leaders: Accept that change is the new normal and make change management happen. If you don’t, your opposition will.

So how can you embrace ambiguity and remain relevant as a leader?

Change can be unsettling but it can also bring opportunity. Being able to embrace change and see things differently is a vital skill in today’s world, and it will set you apart from others – both within and outside of your organisation.

Here are three key steps that can be implemented to remain relevant as a leader in the face of ambiguity.

1. Recognise the key skills needed in today’s environment

Kerryn Fewster, Director of Change Management consultancy Change2020, believes the first step towards remaining relevant in our changing environment is to recognise the top three skills that will be essential by 2020: problem solving skills, critical thinking and creativity.

Today’s technology movement makes these skills essential. A wealth of functions can be completed in a single click, but even as the pace of technological innovation and workplace automation increases exponentially, the ability to solve problems and think creatively and critically is something technology alone can’t match without ensuring the right skill sets are owned by your team.

2. Evolve for change in the workplace

Change in the workplace demands a fresh approach – what worked yesterday may not be so effective tomorrow. Fewster suggests making an investment towards building relationships, and encouraging your people to do the same. This is an effective way to learn about the operating style of others.

In a rapidly changing environment, critical thinking can be your best asset. The past is no longer an accurate guide to the future as the need to continually deal with the unexpected will grow. Build a team who can think outside the square. Organisations increasingly need individuals who thrive in the unknown and are able to adapt to new business situations.

3. Make time to reflect

If you cannot afford a massive overhaul, then start small. Encourage employee motivation by making a habit of considering what worked effectively each week with your team, and where things could have been done better.

Be prepared to seek feedback from colleagues who will give an honest appraisal of what could have been done differently – and discuss alternative, more innovative approaches you may not have previously considered. Part of change management involves keeping an open mind. Though equally, be prepared to follow your own judgement. Fewster notes, true leadership is not about being popular, and navigating ambiguity inevitably involves making courageous decisions.

Reap the rewards of change management

It can sound like a tall order in a busy work environment. But the rewards are there.

Embracing ambiguity and thinking differently are key stepping stones to solving complex problems. Harnessing your own creativity – and the creativity of your team, can be the difference between your organisation struggling against the tide, versus becoming a market leader.

Business leaders who understand market trends can anticipate where the market is heading and help their organisation fulfil these new demands. Leading change rather than simply reacting to change is a powerful form of change management that helps companies to be among the top performers in their industry.

Change can certainly be challenging, but seeing things differently and embracing new ideas and approaches will help you survive and thrive in the fluid game of ambiguity we now find ourselves in.

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