Since the earliest days of commerce, companies have had to adapt and change in order to survive. In a world in which change was evolutionary and linear the prevailing management models of the day enabled companies to plan ahead in a structured and paced manner to ensure market relevance and competitiveness.
Today, change is anything but linear.
In 2003 Ray Kurzweil, the scientist, inventor and futurist, warned*: “The 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress; organizations have to be able to redefine themselves at a faster and faster pace.”
In the intervening 14 years since he wrote those prophetic words the pace of technological progress has accelerated exponentially. The impact of digital technologies and AI are far more reaching than even he envisaged then.
Welcome to the Age of Acceleration.
The great challenge for executive teams today is that the management practices developed in earlier eras are somewhat outdated; they are simply not up to the task of handling change at warp speed. And faced with the constant pressure to meet short-term investor and financial obligations, they stick to what they know and defend the legacy core business, squeezing more-and-more out of it while failing to allocate adequate time and resources to invest in long-term change.
So what to do? How can companies deliver on short-term commitments while preparing the organization and investors for change in the Age of Acceleration?
The deliberate and strategic use of the brand can help manage the psychology of change, build a change-oriented culture and drive the organizational transformation required to succeed.
In this, there are three phases:
Phase #1: Belief
People can’t change unless they understand why. A brand can instill belief in a new strategic direction. Evidence-based thinking can frame the need for change and establish the clarity and confidence necessary for people to believe in the company’s future and work towards it.
Phase #2: Inspiration
Change is scary. Evidence alone does not make the case for change. This is where a brand can be used to inspire employees and explain why change is not only logical but also desirable. Exciting rallying events and campaigns can be deployed to get employees fired up.
So far so good, right? Not really. It is at this stage of the process that, oftentimes, a critical change link is broken.
Policies, resources, processes, and systems are built for yesterday’s business. The excitement created is lost in a sea of contradictions. The detractors are proven right, and the strategic value of a brand as a change agent is compromised (along with the credibility of management).
The third phase in this evolution is critical.
Phase #3: Organizational Transformation
No matter how inspiring it may be, no brand strategy designed to lead a company to a new future can succeed without organizational transformation.
Used as a strategic lens, the brand helps companies to conduct a future-ready assessment to identify the key organizational areas that need transformation:
• What are the current gaps in skills and knowledge required to enact change and fulfill the brand promise?
• What processes and systems affect employees’ ability to deliver on the brand promise?
• What resources are required for change to be realized and for the brand promise to become a reality?
• How should roles and responsibilities be shifted to improve the effectiveness of an organization to deliver on the brand promise?
• How do existing policies enable the desired behaviors to deliver on the brand promise?
By using the power of the brand to drive organizational transformation companies can create a strategic alignment of culture, talent, resources, processes, and systems that can make them better prepared to face the competitive challenges in the Age of Acceleration.
*Perspectives on Business Innovation, published on May 1, 2003.