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Updated: Apr 21, 2020

March 28, 2020 by Kathy Scott, PhD, and Bridget Sarikas

Are you prepared for a major Shift Storm? Are you open to giving up “solutions” that perpetuate old problems and won’t solve the new ones? Are you able to live in uncertainty and chaos while adapting to the reality around you?

A Shift Storm is when disruptors such as technology innovations, new products, new services and environmental phenomena enter the marketplace and begin to alter the fundamental assumptions and beliefs that a business or industry is built on. These may come about through the forces of systemization and globalization, new technology capabilities, demographic shifts, regulatory restructuring and environmental disasters. The disruptors eventually challenge and shift the assumptions dramatically enough to require a fundamental change in how the industry succeeds and fails.

Some examples of disruptors at different stages of industry agitation and reorganization include:

  • Hotel Industry – Home-based overnight guest stays rather than hotel stays (Airbnb);

  • Travel Industry – Technology-enhanced car-travel service (Uber);

  • Fashion Industry – Sustainable fashion due to glut of clothing on the market and in landfills started a movement to second-hand on-line marketplaces (ThredUp, TheRealReal);

  • Retail Industry – Technology-enhanced on-line purchases with same-day delivery (Amazon);

  • Healthcare Industry – Payment for improving health and quality (value) rather than for sick care and procedures (telehealth, population health management);

  • Restaurant Industry – Technology-driven ordering and food delivery services (Uber Eats);

  • Publishing Industry – E-books and print-on-demand distribution channels (Amazon);

  • Most Industries – Consumer empowerment through transparent, real-time, technology- supported feedback; and

  • All Industries – The grand disruptor of all disruptors, a global pandemic that is altering every aspect of our living and leading, forcing us to rethink everything we do on a minute-by-minute basis.

These disruptors mostly start small and are on the horizon for quite a while before storming the industry. As with inclement weather in life, there are generally many signs along the way of the coming storm and preparation is key. This reminds me of a time that I ignored the many signals around me -- to include weather reports, darkened sky and gusting wind -- to go sailing by myself on a large inland lake. As the wind picked up and changed directions, it became increasingly difficult to tack my way back to the marina. It seemed that no matter where I set my sail at that point, I could not get to where I wanted to go. Then the lightening started flashing across the sky, getting my full attention! As I anxiously contemplated the only two scenarios that seemed to be available at this late-stage of the game – jumping in and swimming a couple miles to shore in the white-capped waves or drifting in the boat with the metal mast (both high risk and very bad idea) – my father came to my rescue in our old motorboat to tow me in. He was not happy, however, and his first question was: “Didn’t you see the storm signs this morning?” I knew I was guilty as charged. I had made up my mind that I was going sailing that day and ignored the many signals around me until I was in real danger. My 12-year-old brain thought denial was better than letting reality dampen my fun and change my plans. Sound familiar?

Seeing a Shift Storm coming begins with looking up, paying attention, noticing that the underlying assumptions and beliefs we hold so dear are deficient. We notice that more friction, barriers and obstacles are getting in the way of achieving our desired goals. Workarounds abound. We see that incentives are not rewarding the desired behaviors, and may even be strengthening the wrong ones. We often feel a general lack of energy and a growing sense of dread, distrust and unrest. People on the front lines are talking about it. The customers are talking to the front line about it. The executive suite, too often, seems oblivious. The pressure mounts.

One of our human tendencies is to look for evidence that supports or confirms our own view and ignore or discredit the rest. We act out of this tendency when we surround ourselves with people who think like us or tell us only what we want to hear; as well as when we keep looking for more data until we find the information that supports our view. After all, we’ve invested a great deal of blood, sweat and tears into our current model of business and leadership through the years. And the higher up we are in the organization, the more filtered our information, and the more insular we become.

So, how do we recognize the signals around us so that we can make better decisions today? How do we notice the discrepancies and disruptors in our midst -- the old assumptions, values, thinking, behaviors, performance measures, decision-making structures, etc., that do not seem to be moving us toward a viable future? It starts with intention – setting up a warning system, creating space to hear what is going on around us, designing feedback mechanisms, listening, unlearning and relearning. Here are a few suggestions to help us notice, connect the emerging dynamics and deepen our insights as we experience an industry disruptor:

  • Create ways to hear diverse points of view. Recruit team members that have diversity of experiences, roles, strengths and talents and who will take the risk of sharing their diverse thoughts.

  • Create structures that bring people together. Bring people at the point-of-service (those who interface with customers) into the conversations. Conduct “deep dive” exercises, schedule routine purposeful rounding, invite people to lunch and simply give people space and time to talk to each other.

  • Listen with curiosity. This involves the desire to understand and a willingness to change your mind, rather than listening to reply or support a particular political view.

  • Empower small teams to solve problems and conduct small tests of change. Help orchestrate their inputs, whatever their formal position, so that fast action can be taken as new information arrives.

  • Get out of your office and connect to your customers – or given today’s environment, schedule a Zoom meeting. There are new ways to stay-connected even when social distancing. In fact, right now extraordinary relationships are being built every day throughout this disruption. Prepare well-thought out questions for them that will give you new insights into their experiences.

  • Evaluate your incentives. Determine the behaviors they are promoting and ask yourself if these behaviors are creating a healthy environment that gets the right results.

Titter Time: Listening

Yeah, I called her up. She gave me a bunch of crap about not listening to her or something...

I don’t know, I really wasn’t paying attention.

–Dumb and Dumber

Now it’s your turn. What are some of the major shifts that are rocking your world and the underlying assumptions they are disrupting? How do you magnify the voice of the front-line employees and the customers? We want to hear from you.

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