Why do organizations repeatedly react to rather than plan for change? Why are leaders often stupefied by the glaring realization that their workforces are aging, or that their customers have “suddenly” switched allegiances?
Consider the example of Mike, a manager working in the wholesale grocery business. Mike sought my advice to lead his department through change. He had just received a list of his company’s soon-to-be retired employees. The names included individuals from the sales department; the group that he had managed for the past 15 years. Mike explained that although he was aware of the fact that members of his team would be leaving, his company’s succession plan had only accounted for the departure of senior leadership.
As we discussed his challenges in more detail, I learned that my client is ultimately responsible for a database worth 70% of the company’s revenues. The salespeople leaving his department have long-term relationships with their customers, accounting for the majority of sales. Mike expressed concerns regarding the timeline to successfully navigate the departure of key personnel, to find new salespeople, to reallocate accounts, to recruit new talent, and to inform customers of staff changes. In short, he does not have a plan in place to manage the exodus and its impact on the business.
Sadly, Mike is not alone. He described an all too familiar scenario of an organization that knew the writing was on the wall. Many leaders find themselves scrambling to deal with the changing dynamics of their workforces while attempting to manage the impending disruption simultaneously. The fact that Mike’s company took a myopic view toward succession planning was not the main issue. Rather, it was the lack of strategy to fully anticipate change as well as respond to a fluid business environment that were at the core of his company’s predicament.
There is one common denominator for all leaders facing similar challenges: Instead of leading change, they are led by it. Many headaches could be dramatically reduced if organizations proactively adopted the following forward-planning approaches:
Make on-going business education a priority for managers
Successful organizations cannot operate in a vacuum. The pace of change necessitates a deep understanding and appreciation of business and technology trends, essential leadership skills, and knowledge regarding workforce demographics. Without awareness and information, your business will invariably be positioned to continue reacting, rather than anticipating changing market conditions.
Evaluate your level of intuitiveness regarding shifting customer needs
Are you taking pre-emptive steps to update your offerings and be where your customers are going?
Customer satisfaction and relationships with clients do not guarantee customer loyalty. It is not uncommon for customers to take their business elsewhere for reasons that are not always fully understood. This is because in today’s business environment, customers are often one step ahead responding to new technologies that provide ease of use, immediacy, and cost effective benefits. When a new player moves into your traditional space, offering innovative solutions to meet your existing customers’ needs, their allegiance to your people and products may quickly become obsolete…unless you remain ahead of the curve.
Frequently revamp your recruitment, retention and retirement models
The alarm bells have been ringing loudly and clearly for years regarding the impact of an aging global labour force. Despite the fact that this is no longer a surprise, the preferred strategy for many leaders in almost every industry is to bury their collective heads in the sand and defend the status quo. As a result, organizations remain ill equipped to attract, recruit and retain new talent, as well as manage the retirement process.
Mike’s example serves as a great reminder regarding the importance of anticipating change. Harnessing a progressive, innovative strategy to manage your workforce and remain competitive is the new imperative for survival.