Organizations and their people always try to avoid uncertainty, unpredictability and ambiguity. To create an environment of safety, sense and rationality in terms of the choices they make and the goals they set, they impose routines, standard operating procedures, decision-making recipes and risk-avoiding agreements.
Scholars’ traditional views about organizational routines explain their existence with the need for “cognitive efficiency” and the reduction of complexity. This view suggests that routines arise because they are functional, they minimize costs, they increase managerial control and they create stability in the organization.
Therefore, routines are an important element of a firm’s social system and its decision-making process.
However, rules and routines can be seen as repetitive and inflexible, fixed and mindless, and as creating inertia in organizations. They mechanize decision-making and choices, they create a “business as usual” mindset, and they put the organization into “automatic mode.”
Thus, there is a consensus that routines are generally detrimental to innovation and change in organizations. Inertia and “business as usual” form strong barriers to change and tend to comfort employees in their views that “It was never done in the past”; “Why change if it works?”; “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,”; and, finally, “This is not the way things get done around here.”
Sound familiar? So how do you break this business-as-usual phenomenon and wake up your organization before it becomes too complacent or before the next crisis arrives?
I conjecture that it is the role of top leaders in organizations to create disruption and create proactive mini “revolutions” in order to bring about incremental change, increase the sense of urgency and encourage people to embrace change.
The great challenge is to do this when times are good and when the organization is successful.
In my career, I have embraced Sun Tzu’s saying in the “Art of War for Managers”: “When you are at peace, prepare for war.” In other words, when times are good, prepare for bad ones, and vice versa.
I often characterize myself as an agent of disruption by trying to break organizational routines, release mental locks and create a climate of change by encouraging breakthrough thinking.
Here are a few disruptive approaches I have used to create organizational change and to accelerate organizational transformation:
Constantly challenge your business model and reject complacency
Think outside the box, release your creative potential to constantly reinvent yourself even when you are successful and achieving your goals. Are you anticipating disruption five years from now? Are you tracking mega trends? Are you scanning other industries and companies for potential failures?
You can do this by breaking the organizational equilibrium and bringing about change when least expected. Take your organization’s pulse and avoid organizational fatigue by designing changes in teams in advance of issues and in tune with organizational needs.
Are you suffering from too many meetings, too many PowerPoint presentations, long decision-making discussions? Experiment with new meeting formats, PowerPoint-free zones, casual Tuesdays, fun Fridays, decision-making blitzes, rapid innovation processes, creative speed-thinking, etc.
Break the level of market predictability
By surprising competitors with breakthrough innovative products and surprise moves, the traditional cycles for price increases, product launches and customer events become a moving target that is hard to predict and that will bring excitement to markets at different times.
Make breakthrough thinking a core competency
Train your leaders on what breakthrough thinking means and how you can bring about soft and mindful disruption. Look to hire people in leadership who have great change-management skills but who can also lead change. Also, hire creative and nonconventional thinkers and embrace humor and fun at work.
Embrace skeptics and eliminate organizational bottlenecks
Make change successful, irreversible and anchored in the organization’s DNA. Remove any bottlenecks in breakthrough thinking and pockets of resistance to change. Listen to skeptics about the relevance of change and about where things need to change.
By creating these proactive changes during good times you prepare your organization for potential difficult times ahead — but most of all, you put yourself in a position to avoid the next crisis by removing complacency and business-as-usual. Give it a try. Become your organization’s “agent of disruption.”
Stephan Liozu (www.stephanliozu.com) is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors. He specializes in disruptive approaches in strategy, innovation and value management. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at email@example.com.