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Gut Check: Are You On the Right Side of Change?

I laughed a little, and shuddered a lot, as I watched a powerful new television ad campaign created by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA).

Entitled “Record Label,” the ad recreates a fictional meeting in the office of the president of a record label back in the 1990s. He is lamenting the fact that his company is being “killed by this Internet fad.” The CEO asks the room to give him ideas on how to revive their flagging business.

One suggests a mail-order CD club where members get 10 CDs for $1. Another suggests they invest heavily in laser disc technology. Finally, a seemingly sensible woman in the room pipes up with radical idea: abandon CD sales and instead create an online platform to stream music to customers for a monthly subscription fee.

“How is that going to help us sell CDs?” the annoyed CEO asks.

The ad finishes with a devastating tag line: “Are you on the right side of change?”

It’s funny, but it’s also really sad. The graveyard of once-great companies is full of examples of organizations who are now long dead.

Blockbuster. Motorola. Sears. At one time these companies were among the most successful and profitable in the world. We admired them. They were an example to the rest. Then, change came and undermined their business models. Instead of changing along with macro economic and business forces, they clung to outdated ideas and products. And now, they are no more.

In the end, they were all on the wrong side of change.

You would think that with all these tragic examples to learn from, organizations would always be thinking about change and transformation, and preparing their people for the inevitable disruption that comes along for the ride. But it’s not so.

Last December, I was asked to work with some high-potential employees at a large financial institution. They had familiarized themselves with my book, The Leadership Contract, and wanted to know what I had learned about leaders and leadership since the first edition was published in 2013.

I didn’t hesitate: “Leaders must always be on the forefront of change and transformation.” This has probably been the most important challenge my team and I see with our clients.

My colleagues Georg Hirschi and Dr. Rod Gutierrez have been doing some interesting work in this area. In their experience they find that not enough leaders understand that they are the driving force behind change and transformation. And, furthermore, that very few leaders understand that change and transformation are, in reality, two different things. “Change is to make something different, while transformation is to completely change the appearance or character of something, so that it is improved,” explains Gutierrez.

This is why you find many organizations stuck in a constant state of change. They introduce new structures, processes and systems in a bid to create the appearance that a transformation is taking place. But just introducing new elements isn’t transformation. That requires a commitment to use the new tools in meaningful ways so that people are doing different things, differently. “But the most important insights is that new mindsets must come before everything else when it comes to transformation,” said Hirschi.

Change is as important to a business organization as oxygen is to a human being; leaders must lead the charge in identifying and implementing change in meaningful ways, creating a true transformation.

Just think of that fictional meeting in the CPA television ad. Are you one of the people in the room trying to find “new” ideas that are really only slightly different ways of doing the same things in the same ways? Are you rejecting ideas because they don’t fit your outdated mindset? Or, are you the visionary in the room with a path forward for real transformation?

This week’s gut check for leaders asks: Are you on the right side of change?

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its third edition.

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