The Power of Positive Disruption
At the beginning of the year we looked at ‘leading intentionally’ – adopting a leadership mindset in which one’s ‘purpose’ and ‘role’ are fundamentally connected and understood. Leading intentionally enables us to lead authentically and with a sense of mandate and purpose, equipping us to tackle challenges head-on because we remain grounded by the ‘intention’ of what we’re doing.
When leading intentionally, the power of positive disruption is an important concept to understand and to adopt. At its simplest – the concept is about making hard changes in the environment around us. As a leader and depending on the amount of clout you may have – this can mean anything from changing your leadership team through to changing the prevailing culture within the organization. It is vital to understand that real change only comes about when the current status quo is disrupted and a ‘new course’ is set.
Change is good
People are frightened of change. Well, most people. In an organizational context, we are all familiar with the stereotype of the co-worker who just abhors change, stating instead that “this is how we’ve always done things around here”. The trouble is, and especially in the context of the business world, if you are not an agent for change, you risk falling behind your competitors who are more innovative, adaptable and forward thinking than you are. Being a change agent (aka a positive disrupter) doesn’t mean ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ or simply instigating ‘change for change’s sake’ – but it does mean pro-actively, assertively and with 100% commitment – creating an environment in which things that don’t work very well, can and will be done differently. This will ruffle feathers and scare some – but it must be done. The more confident you are in your own actions – the easier it is to take people with you. People gravitate towards leaders who have a strong sense of purpose and direction and a deep belief in their own convictions.
Remember that change for change’s sake is not the goal. However, the reality is that in all organizations, some parts operate much more successfully than others. Oftentimes, some parts are simply not fit for purpose. This may be your customer feedback mechanism; the way your accounts department runs; your hiring process; your reward criteria, etc. There is most definitely something within your organization that can and should be overhauled to better meet the needs of your customers and stakeholders.
Baby steps or root and branch change?
This is a key question. Do you make small changes that create positive disruption – or huge, sweeping changes that are experienced as drastic by those around you? The answer, ultimately, depends on what needs changing. If we stick with our leadership mindset which is to lead intentionally – we know that by linking our purpose with our remit, we have given ourselves permission to do what is needed. Our stakeholders are relying on us to do the ‘right thing’ for the organization and if doing so means radical change, then this is what must be done.
At the core of positive disruption is the understanding that you have to actually make change happen. We frequently use phrases like ‘talking the talk, walking the walk’ and in the context of positive disruption, this phrase is never more relevant. We all have good ideas, can talk about what we might do differently and perhaps even get buy-in from above. But until and unless these ideas take physical form – their chance of success is low.
Physical form means positively disrupting the status quo – invariably telling people to stop doing what they’ve always been doing, and to adopt a new approach. To be really effective and to increase the chance of success – this does not mean simply applying a Band-Aid – it means going into the operating theatre.
Positive disruption in practice
Identify an area that really needs overhauling. If you are new in post, consider starting with something small before taking on the bigger challenges. Look and listen to catch the waves of change that others are sponsoring.
Do a gap analysis on a piece of paper. On the left hand side, jot down the attributes of where you are now. What does the issue look and feel like? On the far right hand side, write down what great looks and feels like.
The center-section of the paper is the ‘gap’. It is the ‘no man’s land’ made up of quicksand in which ideas often sink or get shot down all too easily. Think radically of how this gap can be ‘bridged’, not by gingerly walking from left to right, but either through ‘heavy engineering’ or better still, an innovative ‘aerial assault’ that will traverse the gap – something that cannot be easily sabotaged at ground level.
Challenge yourself, and those you trust, to come up with radical ideas that will facilitate the change… then put these into practice.
Once you’ve plotted the new course – get your hands on the tiller and turn the wheel – hard. There will be choppy water ahead, but once you’ve navigated through this – you’re into new territory.
Today, not tomorrow
It all comes down to the status quo. Do not put off today what you believe can wait. Just do it. Be clear about what needs changing and stick to your guns. Don’t feel the weight of ‘what’s been done before and hasn’t worked’. If you’re a leader and you understand your business and what needs changing – forging ahead with brave new initiatives is what you’re paid to do. Don’t be afraid to make radical decisions. If they’re grounded in business rationale (i.e. you’re overhauling a department, product line or business issue that is failing) then things must change and positive disruption is the start point.