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Why Leaders Need Help Navigating the High Winds Of Change

The folks at Accenture have spent the last five years crunching data in an attempt to verify or dispel a common belief among business leaders, and here’s what they found: The perceived reality about the speed of change is indeed reality.

The Pulse of Change is an index Accenture created that ranks six factors that impact change in business – technology, talent, economic, geopolitical, climate, and consumer/social. And the 2024 report reveals that “business leaders faced an all-time-high rate of change” in 2023. And based on a survey that complements the data, C-suite leaders expect the acceleration to continue throughout 2024.

Change, it seems, is a pedal-to-the-medal driver. All gas, no brakes.

The rate of change has risen 183% over the past four years, according to the Accenture analysis, and 33% in the last year. In 2022, the main driver of the change was talent, and technology ranked last among the six factors. But with the rise of AI in 2023, technology shot back to the top, and it figures to stay there for the immediate future.

None of this is a surprise to any leader who follows events of the world, but the reality of it offers important context for making leadership decisions.

Transfluence, the book I published in 2020, describes three aspects of what I called the “climate of change” — access, diversity, and acceleration. Climates, as I pointed out in the book, are an unavoidable component of every environment. Some basic characteristics define a climate, but the weather can change (and does) from day to day. So good leaders need to know the climate and prepare appropriately for the changes in the weather.

The climate of acceleration is all about the realities created by the lightning-fast speed of change, and the Accenture report confirms that leaders can’t deny or escape these realities. To lead effectively – with transformative influence – they must navigate the speed of change.

Unfortunately, 52% of the leaders surveyed by Accenture believe they aren’t fully prepared to respond to the coming changes in the business environment. So when it comes to acceleration, here’s three pieces of advice that in my experience serve leaders well regardless of what the weather brings.

Stay anchored to your values.

The temptation when everything around us is moving super fast is to just go wherever it takes us. But we can get swept into dangerous territory if we aren’t anchored to values like integrity, if we lose focus on the value of treating people with dignity and respect, or if we allow pride to drive our decisions. We need to filter our approach to new opportunities and pursue them only in ways that are true to our personal and corporate values.

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Iterate and disrupt.

The accelerating changes around us bring pressure to respond by doing things differently. It can feel like the “what” doesn’t matter – just ready, fire, aim! But that’s just change for the sake of change. It’s important to evaluate your business – process, products, services, etc. – with an eye to the future and then decide where you need to iterate and where you need to disrupt. What will your customers need given the changing times? Maybe you can solve for it by improving what you already do. But remember this: The automobile wasn’t an iteration of the horse and buggy.

Fill your sails with your strategy.

Every business needs a clear vision for where it wants to go and a defined strategy for how to get there. Spend time defining the vision and refining the strategy, and then let the strategy fill your sails and take you where you want to go. Otherwise, the winds of change will blow you wherever they want, and that’s usually into the rocks.

The speed of change will always knock us off course from time to time, and there’s little we can do to slow the pace of change in the world. But we can always respond correctly to the ever-increasing acceleration. We can stay true to our values, be smart about what we change, and be strategic in moving toward our vision. And when we wake up tomorrow and the world looks different, we can take a deep breath and adapt to whatever’s next.

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