Knowing when to change has always been an important business skill but with the ever increasing speed of change this has become a key skill.
I had the pleasure of sharing the same stage as Charles Handy when I have been delivering some previous key note speeches. Handy has written some great management books including the Empty Raincoat, which is still a good read. When we are called into help an organization to improve their Customer Experience I always want to find out the motivation for this change and to establish where they are today. Handy’s ‘sigmoid curve’ is perfect for this and it can also be used to determine other changes that you may wish to make in your life.
Let me explain….
If you think of what happens to a business, or with politicians, people’s careers or sports teams, they all go through a period of doing well and then after a while things start to go wrong and performance declines. For politicians they may be elected with a landslide and the world looks rosy but two years into the job their ratings are dire. In the business context, the organization develops a great new product or service and they grow rapidly. Then the growth stops…
Nothing ever remains the same. I am old enough to recognize that everything goes through cycles. The heroes of today become the ‘has beens’ of tomorrow. So how do you know where you are?
Handy produced this classic Sigmoid curve. At point ‘a’ the company is growing, they are on the acquisition trail for new customers. Everything is good, lots of clients, lots of money, lots of profit. Think of the cellular companies. All they are worried about in the early days is getting new customers…. it doesn’t matter that they are also losing lots of customers because of their poor Customer Experience, as the new ones outweigh the ones they are losing.
At point ‘b’ the company has reached the top of their growth but the reality is that they don’t know that they are just about to go over the edge. Typically, they carry on doing the same things oblivious of their imploding plight.
Point ‘c’ is where the company has gone over the edge, they have started the decline. The first tell-tale signs are starting to show. Maybe their products don’t look as innovative as previous ones? They start making mistakes. Hubris is very common, as I wrote in my blog; ‘Why hubris killed Nokia’. Also read my blog, ‘Ryanair:The Start of the Decline?’
Point ‘d’ is where they are definitely on the way down. It is obvious they are over the peak. People start to leave and profits are down. They lay people off. They put in place strict cost cutting measures. The CEO typically gets sacked and the new CEO puts in place a plan of change, and ideally they start back up the other side.
In 80% of cases we (consultants) are employed when the organization is at point ‘d’. They then realise they need someone to look at their organization in a different way. The challenge becomes doing this when money is tighter but the reality is that they don’t have a choice. People are also ready for the change, as those that are left remember the old days with fond affection and want to get back to those days. The issue is that they are also in denial. They don’t want to recognize the mistakes they have made and blame the market, the economy, the government, competition, the fact that it’s a Thursday afternoon and raining outside, rather than anything to do with them!
Some don’t, some continue the decline as they behave like rabbits in head lights and don’t change, for example Circuit City, Howard Johnson, Kodak and Comet (UK).
Handy says the time to change is when you are at point ‘b’. If you do this then you move onto the next level and accelerate into making more profits. To make this change you need to look at the world in a different way.
The problem with this point is that everyone around you thinks the world is great and they think you are mad to want to change things. Also change is difficult. It takes a visionary leader to spot this point and make the change and when they do it’s tough as the rest of the organization is not motivated to change. The irony is this is also the right time to change as you have the most money to help you through the changes.
The best example of a company that has been at point ‘b’ and made the change is a client of ours called Morgan Sindall. Steve Elliott, their CEO, recognized they had reached point ‘b’ and employed us to work with his senior management team to get them to recognize the need for change.
Whenever we work with a client we are evaluating where they are against this model as the approach we take can be very different.
We have found one of the best ways of getting the senior team to understand this is by discussing it with them at one of our ‘Philosopher’s Days’.
Here we point out what each of these stages look like and we discuss with the senior team where they think they are. It is quite surprising that after the debate most people agree where they are and buy into the inevitable next stage of where they will head if they don’t do something differently. I have seen many faces drop as they have this realization! But as we all know the first stage of change is knowing and accepting where you are.
The next stage is to look at where you want to be and what will get you onto this next level. For me, the subject of the Customer Experience means not just looking at the Customer Experience from the traditional rational perspective but also from an emotional and subconscious perspective.
Whilst I have used business as a prime example of this thinking, you can also apply the same model to your career. A good question to ask yourself is “where are you in your current role”? Are you at point ‘a’ with lots of opportunity and growth left? Or at point ‘b’, where the reality is that you have reached the zenith of your current role, or have you started on the way down when the best days are behind you? It is at point ‘b’ that you need to be changing jobs when your value is at its height, not when you are in decline.
Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin has been recognized by LinkedIn as one of the top 150 Business Influencers in the world. He is an international author of four best-selling books on Customer Experience. Colin’s company, Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialized research & training from our Global Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter: @ColinShaw_CX