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Leader's Edge Slippin' into the Future

Managing change is predictable and imperative for long-term success, but it’s often overlooked.

By  Julia Kramer

In the blink of an eye, it’s already March. A disconcerting thought, considering I’m still writing the date as 2011 and still working on my New Year’s resolutions. And I’m not alone. Most people I talk to agree that life seems to be on fast forward, with little time to plan for what’s around the corner. “Time keeps on slipping into the future,” Steve Miller sang, and he wasn’t kidding.

This inability to pause and think strategically can be troubling in our personal lives, but it’s monumental in our business lives. Leaders who go with the flow, who let things slip by without observation or analysis, are in danger of missing future opportunities that must be identified and planned for now. Similarly, not scanning the horizon for potential threats almost guarantees that your firm will be unprepared to overcome them when they arrive. Don’t wake up one day and realize that the future is now. Start by putting the following management and leadership issues on your to-do list for immediate consideration.

The generational shift is not just a buzzword or the organizational developer’s issue du jour. It’s happening already, and any challenges associated with it will only become more problematic if you don’t understand how to manage it. You don’t need to become an expert on generational theory (although I do recommend being familiar with the research of William Strauss and Neil Howe), but you should at least be familiar with the terms baby boomer, Gen X, Gen Y (or Millennials), and Gen Z, and recognize the significance of generational differences in terms of your workforce, its productivity and its competitive position.

Hot-button issues to be identified, planned for and managed in the immediate future include:

  • Transferring knowledge from retiring employees to the generations that will carry on
  • Being flexible about how and when work gets done to maximize productivity
  • Recruiting and retaining new, younger workers
  • Updating technology to keep pace with your employees’ resource needs and the ever-increasing information and processing needs of your clients
  • Getting smart about communication, management and leadership in a generationally diverse environment.

Leadership skills have changed drastically in recent years, and leaders that are not in the know may be left in the dust. The traditional command-and-control style is becoming extinct as firms compete to distinguish themselves in the marketplace. They’re doing so with innovative services as they strive to keep pace with economic, regulatory and societal change. Moving from top-down leadership to a more collaborative and team-oriented organization has been identified as a best practice for the future. But this best practice requires a new leadership style that starts at the top and includes new competency development. This trend represents a shift from a hierarchically based power structure to one rooted in authentic and inspirational leadership. It’s no longer about the forced march but instead about creating an environment where people fall in line because they understand, respect and believe in the organization’s mission.

Leaders looking to affect personal growth in leadership style can consult many excellent resources. The Council’s Leadership in a Sales Organization conference is but one. Those who avail themselves of these resources will develop new competencies more quickly and more effectively than those who try to go it on their own.

Change management should already be at the top of every firm’s list of best practices, though many times it doesn’t make the list. This is alarming, since a lack of change management frequently becomes the fatal flaw in many a seemingly flawless business plan. One reputable source estimates that close to 70% of new business initiatives fail because the change is mismanaged or not managed at all.

Be aware that the biggest obstacle you face when implementing any type of change—be it a change in your business model, your organizational structure, or your process or procedure—is employee resistance. This resistance can occur at any level of an organization. Leaders keeping pace understand that resistance to change is a normal and predictable human response based on fear or comfort with the way things have been. They also understand that there are effective ways to overcome the resistance. Don’t let opportunities slip away or get mired midstream. Assign someone to learn about, educate others about, take ownership for and implement effective change management strategies.

No one can stop the hands of time. Indeed, as each moment passes, we are slipping into the future. Effective leaders don’t just go with the flow—they fly like an eagle, rising above the day-to-day to scan the near and far horizons for opportunities and threats. Make sure your eagle eye is on target by identifying management and leadership trends that will support your business plan and your business’s future success.

KRAMER IS THE COUNCIL’S SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, LEADERSHIP & MANAGEMENT RESOURCES.

Julia answers your management questions online. Visit “Ask Julia” at LeadersEdgeMagazine.com.


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