Disruptive change


Change is an inevitable part of being in any organization. You get on well with your human resources leader and then he decides to leave and take another job elsewhere. The head of marketing and sales speaks exactly your language and then she decides life as an expat isn’t for her and she misses home too much.

Stories like this are all too common when you get to the executive committee level.

You might now be thinking your organization’s leadership doesn’t change that much. You might be right and I’ve seen stability for a number of years, but all of a sudden things have started to evolve. I’ve seen loads of movement in the vice president and director ranks but less so at my level.

Having a new leader in the ranks comes with both its good and bad sides.

Let’s start with some of the bad this time:

  1. They aren’t up to speed with your business
  2. They can be disruptive in meetings always asking too many simple questions
  3. They come with a different corporate culture
  4. They have different ways to work
  5. They have different reporting needs

The list can probably go on and on, but those are already some disruptive elements when you’re running a multi-billion euro business and can’t afford to get sidetracked.

Now let’s stack up some of the good things:

  1. They force you to re-examine your business by wanting the numbers sliced a different way
  2. They get you out of your comfort zone and show you different ways to approach the same problem
  3. They can come with fresh ways of doing things and reacting to things
  4. They aren’t afraid to ask the simple questions
  5. They aren’t up to speed with your business.

Yes not being up to speed with your business can be a good thing as much as it is disruptive.

You see when someone new comes in and when they are working from a clean slate you have to walk them through the business step by step. Yes, this does take time and I mentioned, when you’ve got a big business to run, time is rarely something you have to spare, however how often do we stop to take a step back and re-examine our business?

There is the long term plan process and annual budgeting but let’s face it we are usually up to our eye balls reading reports, making decisions, deciding on tactics that we don’t always take the time to ask ourselves if this way of doing something is the best.

Getting someone new in forces us to take that step back.

Early on in my career I noticed that the question most people had trouble answering was “Why are you doing this [certain task]?

The answer I invariably got was because so-and-so needed the report that was being generated or it was always done this way or something to like that.

Taking a step back is a rare luxury and one that can open your eyes to inefficiencies and counterproductive ways of doing things. Tasks that may seem obviously counter intuitive to the outside observer are often not evident to those inside an organization.

New comers force that on us.

Often in the corporate world we look to replace senior leaders with those in our own organization. They know our business, they know our clients, they know our suppliers. It will be a good continuity to have them step up.

But what if the problem in the taxi business wasn’t keeping the fleet maintained, keeping competition out and making sure you had a steady supply of drivers, but the level of service and problems to hail a cab?

What if the problem with hotels weren’t F&B, service and focus on what the client wants, but rather small rooms, high perceived prices and too much control of the client experience?

The examples are all around us of industries that have been shaken to their core, not just by the rise of the digital world, that is an enabler, but by the individuals forcing  others out of their comfort zones.

The examples above have been external disruption. The music business is another great example of an industry shaken through external disruption. I worked in that business for a long time and I never saw people coming in at the executive level from the outside. Sure they might have gone from Warner to Universal or visa-versa, but I never saw anyone from Airbus or General Electric. Maybe that is one of the reasons the music industry is in tatters?

Almost certainly when you rely too much on what’s inside your company, you don’t see things differently enough to be disruptive.

So do I mean you should jump ship or change jobs?

Not at all.

But the next time the head of sales role becomes open, it might just be worth your while to have the recruiter look outside at the same time you are looking inside. And remember, disruption may be painful but the rewards can be staggering.




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