Getting onto the Path of Strategic Change

Jul 25, 2018

By AMA Staff

Many companies are out of kilter as the pace of change increases, making it difficult to remain current in the marketplace, according to Allen Adamson and Joel Steckel, co-authors of Shift Ahead: How the Best Companies Stay Relevant in a Fast-Changing World (AMACOM, 2017).

“Figuring out how to stay current is a problem that is not only for tech companies. Almost any business is in danger of being left behind,” said Adamson, co-founder of Metaforce, in an interview with AMA’s Edgewise podcast program.

In writing their book, the authors found that most businesses fail to “shift ahead.” One problem is that the planning process companies relied on in the past on is no longer enough. “The world is changing so fast, that it’s kind of like one year of planning is seven dog years of evolution,” said Steckel, professor of marketing and vice dean of doctoral education at NYU Stern School of Business.

Facing the challenges of change to stay relevant

Steckel and Adamson offer these suggestions in the AMA podcast on beginning the process of change:

Recognize that you’re in a comfort zone. Organizations can fall behind because they’re comfortable with the familiar—the authors compare it to sitting in Marty Crane’s old chair in Frasier. “Part of it is just realizing how daunting a challenge it is to get out of Marty Crane’s chair,” said Adamson. Steckel added, “The magic happens outside the comfort zone.… If the world is changing and you’re staying still, then you’re the loser.”

Look beyond a myopic framework. Adamson points to National Geographic as a company that was locked into tradition, thinking of itself as a magazine business. When it determined that its business was exploration, the company formed a joint venture that allows people to take trips with National Geographic naturalists.

Be prepared to cope with uncertainty. Companies may hope the numbers will reveal the direction they need to take. But by the time they see the numbers, their competitors do as well. Leaders must have the ability “to make a gut call, and to do it with gusto,” said Adamson. To shift in a timely fashion, a leader also must be able to deal with uncertainty. “You have to be comfortable with the notion that you might be wrong,” said Steckel.

Make freedom to fail part of your culture. A company must have the right culture to shift ahead successfully, said Adamson. One component of that culture is that people cannot be afraid to try new things