3 ways to signal and support pivots

by | Jun 24, 2013 | Blog | 0 comments

blue booksFinals are the purview of school exams, court dispositions and sport tournaments.

The concept and the word “final” have become obsolete for organizations.

No more final plans, final documents and final inspections—unless the organization is making final arrangements to shut its doors forever.

Instead, to stay viable, relevant and competitive, we need to be constantly adadpting, just as we experience with nature.

To take a page from the lean start-up methodology, we also need to pivot. This involves changing directions but staying grounded in what we’ve learned. You “keep one foot in the past and place one foot in a new possible future,” explains Eric Ries, author of the best-seller The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.

The mainstream Harvard Business Review, which has been tackling more contemporary issues in recent years, echoes this concept.

In back-to-back issues this May and June, HBR has featured articles on continual change.

In “Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything” in the May issue, the article’s author, Steve Blank, emphasized that “lean start-up practices aren’t just for young tech ventures. Large companies, such as GE and Intuit, have begun to implement them.”

HBR’s June issue features “strategy for turbulent times.” The author Rita Gunther McGrath advocated for embracing the notion of “transient advantage.” This involves launching new strategic initiatives in a rapid cycle that organizations can build quickly and then abandon just as rapidly when these initiatives no longer produce results.

Not surprisingly, these approaches require a different mindset, skills and organization capabilities.

In the realm I work in—messaging, alignment and stakeholder involvement to accelerate strategy adoption—these approaches also require leaders to adjust their language and their actions.

Moreover, leaders need to be very explicit about what they’re doing.

Besides dropping the word “final” from their vocabulary, leaders need to make these three actions a priority:  

  1. Be clear about the direction you’re headed in—that is, your vision. 
  2. Explain that how and when you’ll get there is flexible; everything is in beta.
  3. Showcase—and reward—individuals in the organization who experiment.

Leaders also need to make sure their organizations introduce features found in laboratories, not just factories. In in his recent blog post, “The lab or the factory,” Seth Godin described it as an “either or” decision.

Yet, to compete and succeed in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, it’s important to balance producing predictable, reliable products, which are associated with factories, with the experimentation that labs embrace.

Note these won’t be my final words on this topic, especially as our work worlds continue to evolve. I do know I won’t be writing anything in the blue exam books pictured above that I recently came across while cleaning out some of my school papers from the late 90s.

Meanwhile, how are you pivoting?


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