Drucker on Being the Change Leader, Part 4

In his book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, Peter Drucker analyzed and discussed the new paradigms of management.

Although much of the discussion revolves around the perspective of the organization, these are my takeaways on how we can apply his teaching on our journey of being a knowledge worker.

Drucker asserted that “One cannot manage change. One can only be ahead of it.”

While many of us seek the comfort of stability and status quo, the world rarely cares about what we want. In a period of upheavals with rapid change being the norm, the only ones who survive are the Change Leaders.

A change leader sees change as an opportunity. A change leader looks for change, learns how to find the right changes, and work to make them effective both outside and inside of the organization. Change leaders need to be aware of four elements. The third element is “Policies to balance change and continuity.

Human beings want consistency and continuity. As a result, the traditional institution is designed for continuity. People need to know where they stand. We need to know who we work with and what we can expect. We do not function well if the environment is not predictable or not understandable to us.

At the same time, changes are constantly springing up around us. We also have been experiencing a faster change cycle for everything. The perceived conflicts between continuity and changes explain why institutions and humans face resistance to change.

As change leaders, we need to recognize the forces behind both changes and continuity. Drucker proposed the analogy that change and continuity are poles rather than opposites. The more an institution is organized to be a change leader, the more it will need to establish continuity internally and externally.

When balancing between change continuity, Drucker suggested some approaches for our consideration. One way is to build the changing mindset as the basis of continuing relationships. This is what the Japanese “Keiretsu” has done concerning the relationship between supplier and manufacturer, as well as, between manufacturer and retailer.

Relationships within the enterprise, between employees and the organization, are also increasingly going to be partnerships. For example, people who work for an outsourcing firm are internal members of the enterprise’s own working teams, or with outside, independent contractors. We need to organize these relations as long-term partnerships in the process of change.

To support the facilitating change and maintaining continuity, both inside and outside of the organization, Drucker believed it requires continuous work on information. Nothing disrupts continuity and corrupts relationships more than poor or unreliable information.

At the same time, rich, long-distance information does not replace face-to-face relationships. Moreover, long-distance information makes face-to-face relationships even more critical to foster for building trust. Success in balancing change and continuity means both systematic information and organized face-to-face relationships need to complement each other.

We need to make a habit of asking, at any change, questions even the fundamental one such as “Who needs to be informed of this?” This mentality will become more and more important as people no longer necessarily work physically next to one another. The more enterprises come to rely on people working together but dispersing over many geographical locations — the more important it will become to make sure that the people are fully informed.

Information is particularly important because it must be a firm foundation in any enterprise that wants to be successful as a change leader. There can be no surprises so that people can support the organization’s continuity in the fundamental area such as its mission, its values, its performance, and the desired results. Because change is a constant in the change leader’s enterprise, the foundations of information must be extra strong.