Understanding the change, and being able to meaningfully observe the change, will increase our ability to adapt suitably to the change. Which is one of the keys to survival.
Sudden changes are dramatic. Slow change occurs insidiously. How do we observe the different types of change?
As managers and leaders, we are often trained in, and talk about change. We learn the methods for change, and are often encouraged to think we can actually manage change. Yet, as humans we observe and experience change constantly, it is part of our language.
Much of our ‘small talk’ is about how we are observing changes. Visit your local coffee shop and they may say, “it’s quieter now than it was earlier, and yesterday was very busy”. Observations (perhaps only perceptions) of change. “It was warmer on the weekend that it is today” or perhaps, “I don’t think it was this cold last winter…!” We experience things and observe changes.
From the perspective of our organisations, change is often the difference between where we are now to where we want to be at some future point.
But change can be slow, or sudden.
Slow change we hardly notice. Sudden change is far more obvious.
I often describe customers have changed their behaviour in the last 10-15 years. How they buy, how they research potential products, services and providers, provide advocacy.
Customers have changed their behaviours, but this change was slow. It took time.
However, this change was triggered by some events that changed the world instantly. Such as the release of the iPhone in 2007. We had Blackberry’s and computers previously, but the iPhone gave us personal computing capability in our pockets. And Wi-Fi/Bluetooth enabled this capability anywhere. And it worked effortlessly.
This sudden change facilitated unprecedented access to information. Unprecedented ability to provide word of mouth, on the products, services and experiences we have. That event in 2007 changed the world. But the following customer behaviour changed slowly.
And yet, as the proof of a slow – and now profound – change in customer behaviour abounds, most businesses stubbornly use outdated business models that were designed for a different era. Product centric business models rather than business models that respect how the customer has changed.
Most organisations are looking at their customer’s world from inside their boundaries out towards the customer. Rather than taking the customer’s perspective, looking in.
Recent McKinsey research is trying to track the changes in B2B sales during the COVID 19 pandemic. Not surprisingly there have been changes in spend, going digital and remote. The pandemic forced a sudden change.
In a slow change people still resist changing, but often more quietly, passive resistance to the change. We have a cognitive bias towards familiarity.
In a sudden change organisations and people are forced to change (often kicking and screaming).
The pandemic provides a case study of how we can change when we have to.
Digital transformations that were previously hamstrung in bureaucracy suddenly got done. Employers reluctant to let people work from home (often due to a perceived lack of oversight) have been thrilled to continue the work happening with people at home.
We have now experienced the value of online meetings, conferencing and workshops – yet previously we felt it had to be done face to face. Suddenly, work-life-balance was significantly improved for a large portion of the workforce.
It required a sudden impact to bring about this much change realised, and the fear of the change overcome.
Our observations of change can often be only driven by perceptions. Such as the changes in the busy-ness of the local coffee shop, or changes in the weather earlier in this article.
Finding meaningful measures will always help us find more evidence-based ways of observing when a change has occurred.
XmR charts (like the one above) have been the tool of choice for serious performance improvement practitioners for the best part of a hundred years. They are also the tool of choice for PuMP® practitioners, because this style of statistical process control chart helps us achieve three very important things. (You can read more about XmR charts in these articles one, and two)
Firstly, it allows us to understand the natural variation in performance measure, which in turn helps us to not react to what we think is a change, but is really just part of normal variation.
Secondly, they allow us to observe genuinely when a change has taken place.
And thirdly, they facilitate a process of deliberate target setting. By measuring first what performance is doing, and then when we have determined we want to change a level of performance, we can set targets either on the central line, or on the reduction of the upper and lower natural process limits. In other words, setting a target on the reduction of natural variation.
Observing the change objectively allows us to be better informed about it, and hopefully make better decisions from that informed perspective.
Looking back to see change
Having the benefit of some history, or being able to look back more objectively on what has occurred allows us to learn, gives us insights. As Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
There are events in history that changed the world.
In 1967 Jimi Hendrix changed how everyone from that point on, heard, or played the electric guitar. The perception of the electric guitar was changed again by Jeff Beck in 1975, and again in 1978 by
Eddie Van Halen. And again, by Joe Satriani in 1987. Each event changed what was previously thought to be possible. They divided time, pre-and-post the event.
In 1944 economists and world leaders got together to design a new financial order post-WWII. This was the known as the Bretton Woods system, which remained in place until the early 1970’s when Richard Nixon made a change to that system. Much of the international financial system and economy we have today, is a result of these sudden change events, and then the slowly changing behaviours that followed the sudden change.
There are many events like these that cut through history like a knife. They bring about sudden change. There becomes a pre-and-post event world. Like September 11 2001 (9/11) changed how everyone travelled on planes. Or the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, completely changed our perspective on the devastation that could occur from natural events. Likewise, the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that overwhelmed the Fukushima power plant, suddenly changed the course of nuclear power development.
In contrast, climate change is a slow change. We do not notice it as much; some even deny it is occurring. But when we look back across time at the evidential measures, the change is obvious. Climate change is likely to bring about some sudden change events, but by then it may be too late to do anything about it.
I feel that when we look back on our time now, we will see this current pandemic as a sudden, forced change. The world has changed. It is now different to what it was at the end of 2019.
This sudden forced change has provided a ‘pressure cooker’ environment for the previous world order. There are very serious cracks and fissures in key global economies and relationships that are now under more pressure than previously. Slow change will follow, how will we observe it?
The world has changed. It is now different. And this will slowly change the behaviours of everyone on this planet. Us, employees, teams, business partners and collaborators, and our customers are changing.
Identifying these subtle behavioural changes and adapting the delivery of our services and products will be critical to remaining relevant for our customers.
Understanding the change, and being able to meaningfully observe the change, increases our ability to adapt suitably, which is key to survival.
Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash