Throughout my career I have been fortunate to experience lots of extreme change and business transformation, both as a team member, but also as a leader. For starters, when I kicked off my career in the Eighties, we had no emails, no internet and no one had mobile phones! Through buyouts, M&A’s and turning non-performing businesses around, I have learnt huge amounts about how important it is to adapt, manage change, and the different ways in how people behave when change happens to the business around them and more importantly themselves. Change is a constant, but why does change happen? Business leaders never seek change for change sake, they seek change in the pursuit of “Better”. No one in their right mind would disrupt anything, including business to make things worse. Change can be tough for everyone, as the saying goes, ‘the only people that really embrace change are babies with dirty nappies!’ But for the purposes of this blog we will replace the word “Change” for “Better”.
We all want to work for great companies. One of my favourite business books is Jim Collins “Good to Great”, where the opening line is “The enemy of Great is Good”. The thinking behind this line is that when we are good at something, most of us accept it, and to go the extra mile to strive for Great is a step too far for most. The reason for pursuing ‘better’ in business is to seek the path from Good to Great incrementally.
When we strive for ‘Better’ in business, there are always winners and losers! Some people will thrive from the changes and their careers will go into overdrive, some may not really feel a direct impact and others may unfortunately be casualties from the change. For a new strategy to be effective, it needs to be embraced, and those who can’t or won’t, either leave or when leaders are brave enough to do the right thing for the bigger business, are let go.
The way great leaders lead, is all about the people in the business. Clients, projects and performance all fall into place if you get your people and the culture right. As Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great,
“In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances, the right people need to be on the bus in the right seats for it work.”
In every situation I have experienced, those that thrive during the pursuit of ‘Better’ embrace the new strategy, and those that struggle, usually harp back to the old ways, normally with rose coloured spectacles, even when the old way was killing the team, moral, culture, and business performance. According to Alan R. Hirsch in his report, “Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding,” nostalgia is a yearning for an idealized past — “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory — not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out.” The strugglers remember it this way, and were maybe in a comfort zone, left alone and probably unaccountable, this new way of working can be uncomfortable, and therefore, in their opinion, won’t work.
So, where does Thanos, the Universes ultimate baddy from the Avengers come into it? Well I was recently watching Avengers End Game, for the second time on Disney+ as I sit in COVID Stage 3 Isolation. I originally watched it on the big screen, and I must I say loved how it brought everything together from the 22 movies. Avengers Infinity War blew me away, but End Game was a piece of writing genius in such a complex universe of characters. And for the second time, the story moved me to tears! What can I say, I’m a sucker for a great story line, even if it’s a superhero movie, especially when it’s about strong relationships!
On this second viewing the ultimate baddie, Thanos, said a line that I hadn’t noticed in my first viewing, and it got me thinking about striving for ‘Better’ and how people deal with it.
*SPOILER Alert! – The following paragraphs talk about Avengers Infinity War and End Game plots, so if you haven’t seen them and do not want to know what happens, please stop reading!
So, a quick summary of Avengers Infinity War. Thanos has a theory that civilisations across the universe are destroying all resources and killing any hope for a sustainable future. If he collects all the Infinity Stones (Stones with special powers), he will gain ultimate power and be able to ‘snap’ his fingers and randomly and indiscriminately destroy half of every living thing in the universe. His view is that this will bring balance back to the universe (his definition of ‘Better’), where if half the population are not over consuming the resources excessively and destroying the environment, over time, balance will be restored and we will all live happily ever after!
He succeeds in getting the all the stones, ‘snaps’ his fingers, and half of every living thing in the universe turns to dust, including half of our superheroes! The film ends and we are left with a cliff hanger for the next movie.
In Avengers End Game, we fast-forward 5 years and we see that life on earth has gotten worse, not better. The surviving half of the world’s population are struggling with the loss of their loved ones, and they cannot really move on. Add to this the effect of half the world’s talent being lost, industries and markets have struggled to adjust, and the world is falling apart. Even the wildlife and ecosystems have struggled with such a drastic impact. Without going into too much detail about time travel, Thanos sees that the world is struggling and that his prophecy hasn’t come to fruition.
I guess it’s important to note that Thanos is insane! However, his rational as to why his plan hasn’t worked is interesting. His pearl of wisdom reasoning behind the failure is
“As long as there are those who remember what was, there will be always be those that cannot accept what will be!”
This got me thinking about when we strive for ‘Better’ in business. Especially when a business goes through extreme change. As I said before, striving for ‘Better’ is tough because change can be tough, especially personal change if that is required, some embrace and others question and reject.
But when striving for ‘Better’ fails and many of the ‘old guard’ reject it, does Thanos’ theory ring true? Can those who remember, and maybe embrace the old way, especially when people look through rose coloured spectacles with almost nostalgic remembrance, embrace the change, if they cannot accept what the positives of a ‘Better’ future might be?
It’s an interesting point and one that needs to be managed by leaders very carefully to ensure success.
Some solutions when striving for ‘Better’ can be quite drastic, but my experience shows that those people who cannot embrace the changes required and new ways of thinking and working, become disruptive and blockers of momentum and progress, and hence, cannot be part of the solution. Some will question and understand the benefits and others will embrace it.
The key to success is strong leadership with clear communication. The right leadership is critical in gaining trust and inspiring the team to understand the benefits of the new ways, giving a vision of what can be if the whole team works together to embrace and deliver the pursuit of ‘Better’. It’s a fascinating journey, and when done right so rewarding.
It would be great to hear your views on leading change and how best to get your team to embrace it.
About The Author:
Mark Bray is Director, Mentor and Business Coach with over 30 years’ experience working in the construction industry in the UK, US and Australia.
Marks passion, (His Why), is to inspire people and teams to be better than they believe they can be. Through true leadership, questioning the status quo and as a committed mentor, Mark strives to bring positive change and results of the highest order.