8 Skills for Companies Tackling Change

Lisa Bodell challenges SHRM 2015 Talent Management Conference attendees to ‘kill’ what doesn’t work

By Leon Rubis Apr 27, 2015
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Lisa Bodell gave the opening keynote speech at the 2015 SHRM Talent Management Conference & Exposition in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO—Lisa Bodell wants you to kill your company, or at least your work group.

Not all of it—just things that don’t work, and that stifle the ability to change and innovate.

“Governing bodies, reports, policies and procedures are all important, but they are often an excuse not to do things,” said the opening keynote speaker at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2015 Talent Management Conference & Exposition.

“You sometimes have to stop doing things,” said the innovation expert and CEO of futurethink in New York, a provider of training and resources on encouraging innovation.

“Killing a stupid rule” might be easier than you think, she said. Asked to brainstorm things to stop doing in order to be more efficient or innovative, most teams can identify a lot of targets that are both easy to implement and will have high impact, she said.

“Look for simplification as a habit,” Bodell urged. “What assumptions hold you back from creating new things? How can you reverse them?”

The future is onrushing quickly across virtually all industries, requiring a strategy of “proactive obsolescence,” said Bodell, author of Kill the Company (Bibliomotion, 2012). Among pattern-shifting changes are oil companies forced to recruit bioscientists to transition from mining for energy to growing it, and automakers seeing their customers as new, crowded megacities that need “mobility services” to replace traditional roads full of cars. “The future is about who you are becoming.”

Eight critical skills of an organization describe how open it is to change, she said. Most teams generally have only three or four of these. While no one person possesses all of them, “your goal is to have a team with these skills”:

  1. Strategic imagination. People actively think about how to push the boundaries of what is seemingly possible and imagine how to apply critical trends to the business to stay ahead.

  2. Provocative inquiry. Employees are comfortable asking and answering provocative questions. “Ask killer questions,” she urged, such as, “If we had to give away our products or services for free, how would we make money?”

  3. Agility. People can think on their feet and nimbly change direction.

  4. Resilience. Employees don’t easily give up on their beliefs and ideas when encountering adversity.

  5. Focus on the future. The organization is constantly looking forward five to 10 years.

  6. Challenge of the status quo. The organization pushes for continual improvement, even in what’s successful.

  7. Active collaboration. People with diverse backgrounds are hired and placed on teams.

  8. Creative problem-solving. The organization looks at what other industries and institutions in adjacent, or even unrelated areas, are doing to learn from them.

“Change is not a straight line; it’s a winding road,” Bodell said. It “should make you feel uncomfortable. Change does not happen when you are comfortable.”

Leon Rubis is vice president of editorial at SHRM.

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