The temptation to set stretch targets to achieve company goals within a short period of time is indeed something that the most realistic of leaders cannot resist. There is, however, a certain limit to which such change initiatives can be actualised as real solutions, as most complex problems are hardly going to be solved within short time-frames. In response to the fast-paced and fluid industry and marketplace environments, many leadership gurus developed theories of strategic change, inter alia:
- Peter Drucker – he coined the term “Age of Discontinuity” to describe the way in which disruptive change affects life, in business or social experiences. In his model, the four sources of discontinuity, globalisation, cultural pluralism, knowledge capital and new technologies, make extrapolating into the future by using the existing models ineffective – the rapidity of the acceleration of change affecting business made all models redundant within a short period of time. What Drucker proposed as an alternative was that business should first explore the drivers of change and then strategise according to the factors that will most likely affect the company in the future.
- Alvin Toffler – he developed the idea of the intersection of different paradigms (mental models) and the accelerating rates of change and their respective impacts on business. He used the term “future shock” to describe how changes in technology, the move towards globalism, resource constraints and the “shortening” of time itself would fast-track the future arriving even before one could prepare for it – hence, ‘future shock’.
- Malcolm Gladwell – he used the term “tipping points” to describe the occurrence of trends acquiring a critical mass and then launching to influence society and subsequently business in the process.
- Gary Hamel – he suggested the concept of “strategic decay” to explain how the value of each strategy decays over time irrespective of how clever the strategy was in the first place.
The fast-paced nature of change compels business leadership to think differently about business models and subsequent strategies to realise company goals. The opportunity of collaboration (with employees, customers and suppliers) could be the first part of the solution – BMW, for example, created a forum to allow customers to suggest how connected a new model should be (the highly interactive new 3 Series being the result of this collaboration). Business needs to be aware, secondly, of the dangers of “strategic drift” (occurring without anyone noticing and, by the time it is noticed, it is too late) – some of the leaders of manufacturing mobile handsets now find themselves without customers (for example, Nokia and Blackberry). Thirdly, there is a need for companies to be agile – bureaucracy and authoritative structures inhibit swift decision-making and appropriate responses to marketplace changes.
The 24/7 culture of constant change necessitates a proactive approach by business – always listening (to employees, customers and suppliers), always analysing (market trends and social changes) and always testing (new approaches and technologies). Being stuck on any one approach is the precursor to non-existence.