“For me the most fun is change” (Tony Hsieh – CEO, Zappos)
Most of us are not like Tony.
We avoid change, because change is uncomfortable and it’s ‘risky’. It requires us to switch off ‘autopilot’, reflect and create new plans…plans that might not work.
To rationalise the decision not to change we create stories espousing the benefits of ‘staying the course’ or remembering ‘what made us famous’….this is classic denial. (Just check out what’s going on with the Swiss watch manufacturing industry since news of the Apple iWatch broke – not a lot)
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By the time we can no longer avoid the change, it’s a little too late.
Deep down we know change is inevitable – it’s one of the conditions of the environment which we live in. So, avoiding change (or even following it) is actually riskier than leading change.
Hsieh’s company, Zappos is a great example of a brand doing just this.
It has a model that works ( that would be an understatment) – it’s one of the world’s largest shoe companies, it’s on Fortune’s ‘Best Companies to Work for’, 75% of buyers are repeat customers, it went from zero to $1B in sales in less than 10 years etc.
However, Hsieh is aware that their success isn’t sustainable by continuing to do what they’ve always done – ‘Look at companies that existed 50 years ago in the Fortune 500 – most don’t exist today…Companies tend to die’. So, they’re undergoing a company wide experiment at the moment to totally re-organise the organisation more like a city – called ‘Halocracy’. The idea is that when cities double innovation/productivity per resident increases by 15% but when companies get bigger the opposite happens. So the company is “switching from a normal hierarchical structure to a system which enables employees to act…like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work” Says Hsieh.
Sounds risky, right – changing the formula that made them and currently makes them famous (and yes, some employees hate it and are leaving). In the scheme of things, this move is less risky for Zappos because it’s change they have initiated themselves – not in reaction to something like a new competitor they underestimated or changing customer behaviour they saw as a ‘fad’ etc. They are on the offense.
When it gets down to it, waiting for change (or following change) puts you in a defensive position, creating change in an attacking position. As an sportsman or fan knows, it’s always easier to play offense, because you get to dictate the game and potentially win. In defence you’re just trying to not lose…