Insights | By Howard Tiersky

The Challenge of Change

What’s the secret to getting big companies to successfully transform?

It’s not crazy to think that today’s large, pre-internet enterprises might be doomed. A digital tidal wave of change is sweeping the world, and startups and tech companies keep out-innovating previous industry leaders. It can sometimes feel like today’s global giants are like Gulliver the Giant, being strapped to the ground by the tiny people around him. 

Like this Article?

Sign up for our mailing list.

You may well be struggling right now to drive some sort of change, innovation, or digital transformation within your organization. Why is it so hard? And what’s the secret to getting big companies to successfully transform?

Did you know, it takes an aircraft carrier nine miles to turn around. That’s a pretty big distance. And for the carrier to turn around that quickly, it causes a lot of disruption, throwing waves and creating a lot of noise. If you’re on that ship, you’re hanging out at a pretty steep angle, probably some people are getting seasick.

If you’ve ever remodeled your kitchen you know that the disruption it creates can be truly awful. 

The bottom line is, change is uncomfortable.

Even if the result of the change sets us up for a great future, most people don’t warm up to it quickly. 

As an innovator, you might have a blind spot in understanding the idea that most people are averse to change, because you probably like to change! You have to remember that you’re in the minority, and to make change happen, you’ll need to influence the majority (who don’t have the natural enthusiasm for change that you do.)

And it’s critical that you do influence the majority, because it isn’t just that people don’t like change, they actively resist it. They create rationalizations that it isn’t needed, warn against its dangers and, if a change is approved, will go so far as to sabotage it. Why? People fear change that will threaten their jobs. For company management, who have built their empires using the status quo, progress doesn’t sound great in comparison.

I learned this the hard way while working with Blockbuster. Ten years ago, when they were in their prime, my team and I were asked to help lead a digital transformation effort to define the future of their business. The vision that we crafted looked a lot like Netflix looks today, including on-demand video and original programming. But the people in charge of the stores, who held most of the power, were very resistant. They believed the key to the future was to invest in and improve the store experience. Without their support, the change couldn’t succeed. The transformation died and, unfortunately, Blockbuster along with it.

The upside? My team and I learned many things during this process that has enabled us to help other companies avoid similar fates.

So, if people don’t like change, but change is essential to survival, how do you get them to change? 

To successfully drive change, you need to:

  1. Create a burning platform for change, so that failing to change is more painful than the change itself.
  2. Create a compelling vision of the future, after the change is complete.Give people the confidence that they will be successful.
  3. Give people the opportunity to help create the change, and not be a victim of it.

IIR has asked me to talk to you about digital transformation at the Front End of Innovation Conference in Boston this May, because of the work from has done in helping large enterprises achieve successful, ambitious digital transformation projects. At the conference we’ll be providing a lot more detail around how to execute on these strategies as well as other challenges to enterprise innovation.

I’d love to hear your biggest challenges in this area – leave them in the comments! And if you connect with me on Twitter (@Tiersky) or send an email, I’ll send you a discount code to use for your Front End of Innovation conference registration.