The paradoxes of change: what it takes to be responsive

ChangeYou cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are continually flowing in. Words from Plato – originally not in English indeed – referring to the views of Heraclitus. Views in which change is the only flux, probably better known as the only constant is change.

Change is not inherently good or bad. We see it as good when things are bad because we know they can become good again. We see it as bad if it disrupts what was or seemed good. When looking at the current evolutions and transformations in business, marketing and information technology – with a focus on information and information management – it’s clear that change drives and challenges us more than ever. The other way around we have numerous opportunities to use technology and information to drive change. To innovate. What a marvellous paradox – so it seems.

Your motivation is not mine is not “theirs”

Change can be scary and risky. We like to manage change. Just as we like to manage risk. And information which enters and leaves the organization continuously like in Plato’s river.

But where do we start all that “change”? In 1999 Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller wrote a great article in the McKinsey Quartertly, titled ‘The irrational side of change management‘. Both authors dispelled some myths of change management, emphasizing the crucial role of emotions and the differences in what motivates us. To business managers who wanted to ‘manage change’ they said What motivates you doesn’t motivate most of your employees’.

To me this is the crux of all changes we witness today if you just replace the word employees by ‘stakeholders’ in the broadest possible sense:
understand and act upon their motivation as key success factor driving transformation using information, flowing in and flowing out, whether it’s the information workers need for collaboration, the information/content we use in content marketing to inform, drive engagement and gain (inter)action or the information customers need when interacting with a contact center – fast, correct and regardless of channel.

Knowing what motivates others inevitably means being connected with others on one hand and gathering/understanding/valuing their feedback and motivations on the other. A very human and emotional given indeed.

It’s here that information – the right information at the right time, you know the drill – is essential: we gather it, make it actionable, unlock it and present it in ways that suit the context. We use it to understand motivation and to motivate.

Alignment and conflict: where innovation and growth find fertile soil

Understanding what workers, customers etc. value requires empathy. An outside-in view. A connected view. And, maybe most of all: keeping an open mind and staying as close to stakeholders – employees, customers, partners, management – as possible.

You need to align. Not just with stakeholder goals but also with business goals. And with the drivers of change that matter to all of them. And you need to have an open mind for change, transformation, the value of information (not just what you think that matters), for what is known and for what is not known yet, again an apparent paradox.

Yet, you can’t do it all at the same time and sometimes goals will conflict. It’s in this conflict, confrontation and alignment out of apparent chaos that solutions to challenges occur, that future growth is built, that transformation for the better happens, that innovation finds fertile soil and that the information that matters gets identified and unlocked.

change and alignment born out of confrontation

Responsiveness and adaption: pro-daptive survival

Let me remind you of another – overused – quote: It is not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change. Charles Darwin never wrote that, even if it’s credited to him. But, still, I like the quote.

Being responsive to change means and requires so many things nowadays:

  • Seeing and understanding the change that occurs in its broadest context and boiling it down to the very essence before acting upon it where and when needed (which requires goal alignment and a holistic view) – information.
  • Getting the mechanisms in place for what can change – if it can be foreseen at all, again with information playing a key role. Yet, it’s clear that the more agile you are, the higher the likeliness you’ll be able to adapt to the yet unknown.
  • Predicting the changes to come as the future is always – one way or the other – rooted in the present and the past – data turned into information and intelligence indeed.
  • Acknowledging that change management and risk management are important but have limits and require a clear understanding of more than what you see in your line of work, division or environment, let alone opinion. No silos. No information silos. Not confusing our motivations with those of stakeholders.
  • Recognizing and overcoming the challenges of fear, standing in the way of change and innovation – as a way to not just adapt but also pro-dapt.

The role of information and information technology

On top of the fact that information and technology can play a key role in all the above as mentioned (from listening and understanding to predicting and innovating), and at the same time can lead to unexpected changes (another apparent paradox), organizations need information as quickly as they possibly can because their stakeholders do.

They need to turn it into insights fast, enabling them to make the best decisions. Information at the speed of digital business.

I often hear people saying at events that CIO now stands for ‘Career Is Over’. You’ve heard it before. I couldn’t disagree more. The best CIOs have embraced their transformative, innovative and even creative roles in alignment with the business and focusing on the ‘I’ of information.

Sign of the times: at an event for information management professionals I heard the ‘Career Is Over’ joke once again. The closing keynote was for a CIO who had realized a huge successful transformation. Half of his keynote was about customer journeys and employee journeys – and within that the power of information.

It said a lot about the journey of the adaptive CIO who understands the language of customers and motivations very well. And certainly the role of information, something many other executives can still learn about a lot.

 

Images purchased under license from Shutterstock : top imagemiddle image.