Hands up if you feel that things in your business are changing faster than they used to? Are priorities constantly changing? Do you find yourself reacting to customer issues which seem to blow up from nowhere? Do you feel you are working for more than one ‘boss’ and juggling competing needs while the organisation is shifting around you? Customers have a louder voice, and there are multiple competing demands from inside of the business.
Life in a modern business is tough and it’s getting tougher. It’s something that came up again and again during the sessions at Social Media Week London.
I suspect that if I asked you to grab a piece of paper and sketch a graph of the amount of change in your organisation over time it would look something like this.
The amount of change is going up. To make things even more interesting, the rate at which the change is going up is increasing too. Double whammy – your graph has an upward curve. Of course you know this already – the amount of change you saw last year was significantly more than the year before, and next year you expect to see even more.
If your graph doesn’t look like this then you’re lucky. Maybe you work in an industry where things are calmer? If so, you can stop reading now, this post isn’t for you.
Now think about how your business learns. How quickly can it change direction? How quickly can it reshuffle people and teams? How rapidly can it find and build new skillsets? What is your organisation’s capacity for learning from and reacting to change?
Once again let’s sketch a graph. Does yours look like this?
As time goes by it gets harder to improve. As you reach economies of scale it gets much more difficult to incrementally improve your processes, you’ve grabbed all the ‘low hanging fruit’ and you’re now into what a former boss of mine used to call the ‘hard yards’.
Anyone think there’s a problem with the shape of these two different graphs? Of course there is – the change curve is getting steeper at the same time as the capacity to learn is flattening out.
In fact what happens if you superimpose the two? You get something like this.
So – and here’s the big question… Which side of the “interesting” line do you think you are on right now? If you’re not already on the scary right-hand side of it, you will be soon – social technology is pushing us there by increasing the speed of communication and driving the rate of change.
So what are the implications? How do our organisations adapt to an environment where the world changes so fast it outstrips our capacity to learn how to deal with it?
One of my favourite thinkers on the subject is Eddie Obeng (a Professor at the School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Henley Business School). His book All Change – The Project Leaders Secret Handbook is one of the best practical guides to managing change I’ve ever read. I first heard Eddie talk about this dilemma over 15 years ago – yes, he was drawing the same curves back then – so he’s obviously a man ahead of his time. He calls the right hand side of the line the “New World” and writes and teaches about how businesses can organise themselves to cope with it – you should check him out.
When we started building Milestone Planner, we knew that we wanted to build a tool that would help people and organisations operate in the “New World“. Plans are made, but then change quickly to keep in step with the rapidly changing landscape. People work in ‘virtual teams’ in a fluid organisation. More and more of the companies we work with are looking to find some clarity in this rapidly changing world, where old notions of command and control are being made obsolete, and a new, networked organisation is emerging.
At the heart of Milestone Planner is the idea that organisations in the New World are no longer rigid hierarchies, but networks. There are many great tools out there for planning and project management which worked really well in the old world, but we’re aiming for something different. We believe we have something very special in Milestone Planner and as we continue to develop it for our New World customers, I’m pleased to say we’re finding more ways of helping them manage the change and find some sanity on the right hand side of the graph. Social technology may have caused some of the problem, but it also has some of the answers.