Growing a business can be a turbulent exercise, subject to the constantly shifting winds of technology and the market. You’d think that highly adaptable minds attuned to risk-taking would be perfect for such situations, but that isn’t always the case.
I once had a client in the services industry who told me he experienced an adrenaline rush from exploring new concepts and creative solutions. Yet his love of change created confusion -- and frustration -- for his leadership team. Eventually, he discovered that his team wanted to implement his new strategies, but each team member processed and prepared for them differently.
So, my client learned to adapt his style to each person. One manager, for example, needed more information to be ready to change, while another could prepare with minimal time or explanation.
The core reason for this gap wasn't an inability on my client's part to filter ideas, but rather the lack of concurrence between his tolerance for change and that of his team. He had to strike the right balance so all parties involved could adapt.
What’s your change tolerance? How does it match the tolerance levels of your employees, colleagues or clients? Does it fit your business situation? These factors may determine your success as you determine the level of change tolerance an individual situation calls for.
In high-growth scenarios and rapidly changing industries, a high change tolerance is essential. You must be ready for each evolution of the market and the business. At the same time, no growing business can succeed without processes and workflows to hold it together. One study showed that 86 percent of employees surveyed believed that failed collaboration and communication had damaged major projects they were involved with.
Look at Amazon, known for scoring high on both innovation and process. Anyone promising two-hour or even same-day delivery has to be off the charts on efficiency without sacrificing adaptability. How can you do both?
It's a safe bet that Amazon team members have a serious give-and-take with their change-tolerance levels. Rigid workflows are built for today’s work, but those workflows may shift tomorrow as the market or technology changes. Methods must be in place to handle these changes, so everyone -- from the CEO to the intern -- is on the same page.
What’s your natural change tolerance?
Mark Zuckerberg currently holds a 99.3 percent approval rate from his employees, partially due to his openness and adaptability. But what about you? There are many great assessments that can help you pinpoint your own approval level, but deep down, you probably already know the answer.
If you’re unsure, ask yourself some basic questions. When hearing new ideas or game plans, do you focus on the obstacles or the possibilities? How do you react when circumstances change without your influence or control? How much do you value predictability?
If your category of business values problem identification and risk assessment -- as do the legal, research and risk-management fields, for example -- your modus operandi may work against you when the situation calls for substantial change. Likewise, creative minds may have trouble when it comes to confirming the strategy and “running the play.”
How does your team handle change?
According to the same study mentioned earlier, 99 percent of employees surveyed said they preferred workplaces that openly discuss plan details, but less than half believed their leaders actually practiced this. If you know your own style and what a specific situation calls for, how do you align your team? You may need to help increase your employees' comfort with change and ambiguity. Likewise, you may need to adapt so your pace isn’t creating an obstacle.
When you’re involved in new changes from the beginning, it’s easy to forget the period of testing and questioning you went through initially. Anyone late to the party will have those same concerns. Gallup research tells us that employees at the highest-performing companies tend to clearly understand company goals and their own daily contributions to business success.
Here are some ideas for closing the gap with your team:
- Be clear whether you’re throwing out ideas or calling for action.
- Involve the team in creating and designing the future of their areas.
- Discuss and share the implications of upcoming changes.
- Set expectations for essential capabilities, such as comfort with ambiguity, uncertainty and the ability to innovate midstream.
- Give team members time to understand and absorb major changes so they fully comprehend the intent and direction.
Your change tolerance is a key factor in how you adapt. Match that with what the business needs -- and your team’s readiness for change -- to get where you want to go.