As a coach I work with lean transformation thinking, particularly in large legacy corporations. And so, as an engaged parent, I am continuously intrigued by how our two boys experience their learning at school. In some ways, or at times, I seem to work professionally on some kind of extreme opposite system of learning and development, compared to the schooling system, which we purposefully chose for the little souls in our care. But the two are intricately linked, as I will explore in this 5-part series of articles.

In this, the first part, I introduce my simplified understanding and experience of how business needs to and is learning to operate in the digital age. In the second part I explore what makes this hard to do, particularly for well-established legacy corporations. In part 3 I look at the human biology, and its role in dealing with complexity, as a significant hurdle to transformation. Part 4 brings it all together, describing how Real Wisdom engages coaching and leadership development to increase the success rate of corporate lean transformation programs, and in the final part I link this back to how we might focus the education of our children, to give them the jump-start into (their) digital age, which they deserve.

As always, I hope to start a conversation and look forward to all your comments, whether on our social media page or website, or personally.

I work mostly as an executive coach in very large corporations. These bastions of international economic power are largely accepted by modern society as good and necessary, and quite often feature highly in the career aspirations of young adults. And, many of these very same multi-national corporations, some of which I work with, are feeling severely threatened by the warp-speed change in the world around them, around us. The calls sound desperate at times: for innovation, agile and lean methodologies, intrapreneurship, creativity, employee engagement and adaptability, and the many other terms rapidly promoted through media as ‘buzz words’, before being popularized through books and eventually business schools. So there seems to be a clear recognition for the need for change in the way business has been and is being done. And there is no shortage of entrepreneurial, digital age ‘garage upstarts’ who show the threat to be very real. The fact that many of these are both conceptualized and run by young people tends to add to the feeling of threat….

When all the jargon and man-made complexity is removed, what are these large corporations actually after? There are many ways of coming up with a list. Here, based on my work, is mine:

Clear purpose (often translated as ‘culture’ in organizations),

communicated and led with inspiration and integrity (leadership)

by confident and clear, humble and connected, authentic and, dare I say it, respectful leaders, with the

ability to lead change and adapt – quickly and repeatedly, which in turn

requires healthy human and organizational resilience practices, and

self confident, self-motivated and engaged colleagues,

‘built on the shoulder of lots of little giants’, through unrestricted networking

Quite the mouthful, I do realize, and perhaps not as eloquent as some of the books and articles out there, but very real. This is where my role comes in. For decades now many of the more forward thinking corporations have engaged in operational improvement thinking, which has resulted in efficiencies, lower costs, better resource management, lower prices and higher profits. All good, right? (yes, this could be a whole additional debate…) It certainly has been working, but will it continue? I will not make predictions, but too many of these organizations are scared. Beyond the well-orchestrated public releases, cracks are showing – too wide to ignore any longer. Something has been and is missing. Why are start-ups, driven by college drop-outs, eating into their previously dominant market positions and taking away their talent, and at times, spectacularly replacing them altogether (do you remember Kodak)? What are modern entrepreneurs doing, which corporations are not?

Turns out one of the answers, if not the key, lies in the fact that in almost all businesses, processes are inhabited by people. Without people, most processes don’t work well. Now add rapidly increasing change, which naturally and biologically stirs up the emotion of fear in people, and we have an interesting dynamic. Think about it – most business processes cannot change at all, not by themselves. Of course you can re-write computing code quite quickly, even replace it, but in a complex product and large organization, that takes a team of people.

Now lets consider: how quickly will a mature (knowledgeable, experienced) specialist or organizational leader, or a responsible father or mother in a job, be willing to risk or throw away all their work and knowledge, all their experience, and their well developed habits, never mind their stake- and share-holder’s (short-term) expectations, in order to drive the purposeful dismantling and destruction of their job or function, or organizational area of responsibility, or organization, in order to change and try out a new one, which they know nothing about? What does your intuition say? As a professional coach, I see the answers to this question in my client’s fears and failures – which my client and I then work with to create the desired change, evolution and growth.

You see, this is one of the oldest of human paradoxes: this level of creative and purposeful change is usually born through real fears and real discomfort, because we need this motivation, this deeply and physically felt, unpleasant experience, to overcome our excuses, our inertia (‘it’s not so bad’, ‘it will work out’…), and to give us the needed determination, resilience and stamina. For example, this is why we may need to experience a serious loss (health, relationship, job etc…) before we take our lifestyle choices more seriously.

What is your experience in your business? How are you embracing and working with change and innovation? Is the change big and audacious, or are we just ‘tinkering’ with what we know best…?

In our next article we explore why audacious change and repeated innovation are hard to do in practice.

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