It has long been true that change happens most, maybe only, under duress. High cholesterol eliminates hamburgers, a speeding ticket leads to slower, safer driving and a plummeting share price becomes a problem to be solved by a new CEO. In this way, the lack of change is to be lauded.
Now, though, companies, institutions and others are coming to see change as a way t0 avoid duress. As the corporate world has come to appreciate the value of cultural values that include innovation, openness and transparency, companies missing them in their DNA are trying to evolve before a crisis.
This land between crisis and stasis was seen as fertile soil for change — significant change — 40 years ago by the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould and his fresh take on evolution. Called “punctuated equilibrium,” he argued that rather than gradually and consistently, “evolution tends to happen in fits and starts, sometimes moving very fast, sometimes moving very slowly or not at all.”
It seems to me he was saying that it is the pressure of little things that trigger the biggest changes.
For companies seeking to manage their evolution — whether from a command-and-control organizational structure to one where decision-making is distributed or re-setting a business model focused on efficiencies and cost control to one based on innovation or opening up to customer dialog in the social media after operating in silence — managing the “little things” gives them the opportunity to manage the “biggest changes,” too.
Companies like Ford, IBM and Apple are examples of those that have survived crisis. Their evolution might have been punctuated by their deaths if not for — in the same order — financing before the storm, a relentless focus on the customer and a return of a savant CEO.
For companies who are managing their own change, a better set of examples might be Starbucks, Kia and the USA Network, a unit of NBCUniversal:
- As one trade magazine put it Starbucks “…struggled to keep customers away from lower-priced competitors…The multi-layered overhaul paid off—while Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s continue to do well, Starbucks has reclaimed its dominant position in the U.S. market and even plans to open more domestic stores in the near future.”
- The Wall Street Journal noted that Kia’s “new models are part of a revamped brand strategy, under which Kia has overhauled its designs, guided by Peter Schreyer, a former top designer at Audi and Volkswagen.”
- And, as told by the New York Times, “executives at the USA Network cable channel decided to have some fun with the first large-scale presentation to advertisers, agencies and reporters of their coming season by sending out the stars of USA series to speak in their place.”
In each case, the companies taught themselves new ways to present themselves and interact with customers. Sure, social media were a part of the plan, but the important stuff was how they managed their evolution. The result was higher revenue and higher marks for their products and services.