Change Management – Adapt or Die

Charles Darwin is famous for saying that animals had to ‘Adapt or Die’. What happens when the environment changes? Some animals adapt to the new circumstance and carve out a niche… others fail to adapt and we all know what their fate was don’t we?

So what happens when the business environment changes? This can be caused by any number of factors, such as:-

  • Regulatory change (for example., businesses with a turnover of less than £5.6million no longer require a statutory audit)
  • New technology (such as e-mail)
  • New fashions (DVDs rather than video)

Of course there are many other external causes, but let us remember that some companies internally generate these pressures. Sony is a good example of a design lead corporation that constantly innovates. They invented the market for portable cassette players and then set about eroding it with the introduction of their diskman (which plays cd’s)

So the big question is “What do you do when these changes happen?”

Most people will start by hoping that the problem either goes away or is smaller than they fear. The key is what do you do next? If you see the situation as a threat, then you are likely to fight it and feel negatively about it. Every change is an opportunity for someone, it might as well be you.

The thing to do is to ‘reframe’ the problem; in other words look at it from a different perspective. What do your customers really need now? How can you use your skills, experience and resources to meet these needs? Honda used to just make cheap little motorbikes, now they build Formula 1 engines as well.

How can you re-engineer your offering to better meet your customer needs? What is it that they wish they could have and can’t get? What should they be asking you for? Think what you are really selling. Black & Decker famously realised that their customers wanted holes rather than drills. In other words, what are they using your product to produce?

Another example is Kodak, who were always in the film business. They were forced to lay off 20% of their staff as demand for their traditional products dried up. Now they realise they are in the picture business, and are marketing booths & on-line services for printing digital photos.

If you look at the FT 250, or the Fortune 500 of say 10 years ago you will see that many of the big names are no longer with us. I’m afraid that the law of the jungle applies in the City too. Adapt or die; only the fittest can survive.

So what can you do about it?

  • You can encourage Change in your business. So that it isn’t quite as scary.
  • You can reward different ideas, and listen to the little guy who always has something different to say
  • Talk to your customers, and those of your rivals
  • Ask “How can I make this work better?”
  • Retain a focus on the ‘the big picture’. How does your company fit into the larger system? What is going on in the world that could affect you and your customers?
  • Root out waste, both in your system, and that caused by your products / services
  • Don’t allow people to say “We’ve always done it that way”
  • Drive Change, rather than waiting for someone else to

darwinRemember, evolution is Nature’s way of weeding out those who shouldn’t breed. An example of this might be the true (but sad) story of Sylvester Briddell, Jr, who was killed in February in Selbyville, Delaware, when he won a bet with friends who said he would not put a revolver loaded with four bullets into his mouth and pull the trigger.

Good luck

For those of you who are interested, the image on the right was a contemporary cartoon mocking Darwin and his silly ideas!


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