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Times | Flickr - Photo Sharing!It can be argued that businesses were traditionally built to be predictable, consistent and stable. Processes were designed to ensure consistent output and to control employee behavior to produce efficient outcomes. I would argue that in recent years the great recession, technological change and other factors have transformed business as we used to know it, into a more dynamic environment characterized by a faster speed of change than ever seen before.

Here are my 5 success strategies organizations can leverage to survive and thrive in today’s dynamic business environment:

1. Accept that Constant and Fast Change is the New Normal

In recent years the business environment has under gone a transformative shift where a heightened pace of change has become the new normal. As David Burstein author of the Fast Future argues:

The future is coming at us faster and faster, the rate of change is increasing and the amount of change that takes place in a given year is skyrocketing as well. So much change has taken place so fast that our governments, businesses, and other large institutions haven’t always had enough time to fully catch up.”

We are living in a time where anyone has the potential to make an impact. Start-ups can transform technology capabilities and anyone can share a message with the world through social platforms. While change can be daunting, executives need to embrace change and accept that the future is harder to predict than ever before.

2. Leverage the Possibilities of Big Data

Most organizations sit on a mountain of data. Today large, complex data sets can be analyzed to obtain greater business intelligence and statistical information than ever before. This data can be leveraged to improve the customer experience, product/service, logistics, customer segmentation, pricing, customer retention, inventory management and many other factors. David Court, McKinsey Director argues that regardless of whether or not you are a data based company, all businesses can leverage data and analytics to make stronger data-supported predictions and optimize performance by obtaining a broader view of operations. It is important organizations ensure data doesn’t become siloed, so they can fully optimize and take advantage of advanced analytics. Information may not be valuable for long so it’s important businesses exploit it and get utility out of it, to strengthen their competitive position.

3. Constant Innovation

Given the dynamic environment a constant focus on innovation is fundamental. It is important executives recognize that innovations can come from anywhere in the organization. Communication channels need to be open to allow for the free flow of information throughout all levels of the hierarchy. Employees need to be empowered to innovate everyday and share knowledge. To facilitate this change in organizational thinking, employee performance systems will need to be adapted to award innovative thinking as opposed to following corporate created guidelines.

4. Agility

Traditional bureaucratic organizational structures are slow to change and thus not adaptable enough for today’s innovative business environment. Organizations need to be redesigned to be more agile; to adjust in real-time as change occurs.

5. Face Disruption Head On

Almost 50% of the companies in 1999’s FT 500 were no longer in the FT 500 by 2009. It can be argued that while businesses are focused on constant improvement, they don’t always change in the right ways. If we take the case of Tower Records, the former music store peaked and had their most success year ever in 1999. In the years that followed Tower Records continued to improve their operations and efficiency, however they failed to recognize that customer demand could be met better in a new way: through online music; to the detriment of the survival of their business. It is important that companies continually scan the environment in which they operate and constantly research new ways in which they can better meet their customers’ needs.

What other strategies do you think organizations can leverage to survive and thrive in today’s dynamic business environment? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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Recently I was fortunate to go to a Women in Technology event, which hosted guest speaker Nora Denzel. Nora Denzel has over twenty years tech experience having previously been a Senior VP for both HP and Intuit. Nora currently serves on three boards and has been named one of the top 25 women engineers (2012) by Business Insider, one of the top 20 CMOs by Exec Rank (2012), one of the Top 20 computer storage movers and shakers and a SJ Business Journal Woman of Vision. As a key speaker at the Women in Technology event she shared 10 things women do to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to their careers. I related to many of Nora Denzel’s lessons of how to avoid these pitfalls and wanted to share them on my blog, for others to learn from.

1. Control your career PR agent

Nora asserts that every statement we make at work is a press release. When someone compliments you for a great presentation, don’t fall into the trap of pointing out things that could have been done better, as to do so sends the press release “I’m not as competent as you thought”. A far better response when given a compliment is just to say thank you. If you still want to do a post-mortem of all your mistakes save it for a friend or family member or that unfortunate person stuck sitting next to you on a flight.

2. Feel comfortable being uncomfortable

If you have taken on a challenging new role it is normal to be uncomfortable and if you hope to have a challenging career you need to get used to it. A learning curve is at play here and you need to give yourself time to adjust. If after 6 months you still feel uncomfortable, reevaluate at that time if you are in the right position. 

3. Learn how to act

No matter how scared you may feel, learn how to act confident to conquer your fears and appear competent to others. Nora once met NASA astronaut Sally Ride. Sally admitted to having being scared walking into the shuttle about to go into space, yet you would never have known this from watching Sally’s confident demeanor at the time.

4. Attitude is everything

Often we are told that a career path is linear, yet the reality is that career paths often resemble obstacle courses. Having a positive attitude is key to overcoming career challenges and soaring in the face of adversity.

5. Kill Miss Congeniality

At times in the workplace women may be selected for certain gender-specific tasks such as baking a birthday cake. Nora asserts that unless you enjoy such a task don’t take it on. If you do it once you’ll be expected to do it again. Miss Congeniality does not get the corner office.

6. Lighten up and separate

How someone behaves at work may not be a true reflection of who they are as a person. At work everyone plays their role, it’s not personal its just business. Learn to laugh things of and lighten up when you feel insulted.

7. Learn how to ask

Many opportunities are not advertised. Ask questions to achieve your goals. Want to go on an international assignment? Say so to your manager. That way if one were to open up your manager may suggest you, if they already know you’re interested. There is not always a sign up sheet to allow for the most qualified, most suited person to be fairly chosen, so be proactive.

8. Aim high

Where do you want to be ten years from now? Tell your manager(s) your big career goals, to foster a productive career discussion. People tend to be better editors than they are creators and can give you some great advice if you give them some ideas to work with.

9. Embrace criticism

Criticism can be hard to take, often resulting in defensive behaviors, as the recipient feels attacked. Feedback is actually very valuable and necessary in order to grow and develop. To get this feedback you need to view criticism as an area of opportunity. Thank the person giving it so they feel comfortable, then ask clarifying questions to encourage them to fully expand on their thoughts. To solicit feedback when it is not offered consider asking your manager a question such as “how does my performance differ from what is expected at the next level?”

10. Remember what you’re judged on

Results are ultimately what matters most, so always keep the end in mind.

To learn more about Nora Denzel I would actively recommend you visit her website.

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In this blog I’ve written extensively about organization and industry change. I recently read a paper in the McKinsey Quarterly entitled “Developing better change leaders” and wanted to share 4 tips, I learned from this paper and other research on leading transformational change.

  1. Collaborate: Collaboration across departmental and hierarchical boundaries can help organizations to achieve transformational change. The key to getting employees to buy into change is dialogue not dictation. Through dialogue, employees’ concerns can be addressed and ideally eliminated, so they can start to learn how the proposed change will be better. As people become more open, the organization becomes more transparent and trust is fostered, enabling collective solution building and idea sharing to occur.
  2. Map out the change process: While some adaptability will be necessary, by having the change process mapped out and communicating it, expectations can be shaped of what will happen, what could happen and when it may happen.
  3. Find the courage to be honest when having difficult conversations: When addressing the negative impacts change will bring such as layoffs, be honest with employees as soon as it is feasibly possible to do so. Work with employees who will face layoffs to help them find new jobs either within the company or with another company. Provide training, mentoring and support to empathetically engage with the displaced employees.
  4. Use your experience to train and mentor others: Leaders who have experience in transformational change can play a pivotal role in training and advising lower level managers. Such leaders can share their experiences of what worked well and not so well in previous change initiatives. They can then help subordinates to develop the skills necessary to move the organization forward.

While different companies will have different change situations, the above tips offer some generalized guidance. But what do you think? Feel free to add your own tips on leading transformational change in the comments section below.

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