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When what’s needed is a mindset change

I was chatting the other day with a good client who are located way too far away (but that’s another story).  We talked generally about how his company was doing (very well) and what he sees as some of the challenges looming on the horizon.  When I asked what the single  most important issue that he wants to address in our coming workshop, he said without hesitation “a change in mindset.”  As he’s observed, there is a big gap between recognizing that the world is changing and that competitive advantages are transient and grasping what it means to behave differently.  And for his company, it’s a big issue as it has been very successful for a very long time.

So where do you start?  I think one good place to begin is to have a leadership team (or other relevant people) complete the diagnostics in the End of Competitive Advantage.  They ask about attitudes toward these topics:

  • Budgeting:  Are resources trapped in existing businesses when they should be funding growth businesses?
  • Are we defending existing advantages versus investing in new ones?
  • Disengagement:  do we have a way of closing down or ending a business in a graceful manner?
  • Failure Timing/pace of change:  Are we moving fast enough?
  • Planning methodologies:  Do we plan as though we could predict the future?  Are we too analytically focused?
  • Optimization vs. Flexibility:  Do we bog ourselves down by trying to optimize our structures?
  • Resource allocation:  Can we move resources around?
  • Talent deployment: Are our best people on opportunities or on problems?
  • Structural considerations:  Does our structure support our strategy?

Once you’ve figured out where you are, I think the next challenge is to bring potential future challenges into focus.  One way I’ve found that works is for the team to imagine an event that might cause a significant change – either positive or negative – for the business.  For instance, at Columbia Executive Education, we’re using a  major transition to digital formats as a “time zero” event for ourselves.  Then what you can do is work backward, asking “do we see any evidence that this event is becoming more or less likely?”  Of course, for us the evidence that on-line and digital offerings have finally arrived is overwhelming.  Once you can get people talking about an issue, you can nudge them into taking appropriate actions.  But it has to feel real for this to occur.

In our case, we’re doing a lot of experimenting with different formats and new delivery modules.  Some have worked really well, and some have proven challenging.  Instead of seeing the digital world as a threat, we’re actually seeing it as complementary to what we do so well in person.  I think one of the big advances is being open to the idea that our business is definitely going to be different event a few years from now – being open to discussing it and having actions that we can take now are very comforting.


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