2012 Trends and Truths in The New Reality
One of the most challenging questions I receive is “When did the old reality stop and when does the New Reality start?”
The answer is: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. There is no doubt or disagreement that today is different than yesterday and tomorrow will be different from today. There is also no doubt that 2011 was different than 2007, 2008 or even 2010. Just as certain is the fact that 2012 will be very different than 2011. Though the intent of this communication is to look forward and outline some new and continuing trends in Organizations for 2012, it may be beneficial to provide some recent reality context about “change” for perspective.
The “Arab Spring” has brought chaos and change to millions in Egypt, Lybia, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Unfortunately the winds of change don’t always blow favorably on those “early adaptors.” The true effect of the so called “Arab Spring” will take decades to determine.
Speaking of winds, Mother Nature reminded us once again that she remains supreme and we are merely guests on this earth, subject to her changing patterns and jet streams. The earthquake, subsequent tsunami, and nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan had us in awe and fear of her might. Floods in Pakistan, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines, famine in Somalia, an erupting volcano in Chile, and the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded in the US, challenges our belief that we alone control our destiny.
On October 31st the UN declared that the world population reached seven billion while simultaneously the European economy and social infrastructure crumble, the Occupy Wall Street protestors protest, the US credit rating gets downgraded, and the US government dithers.
NASA concludes the space shuttle program with the successful landing of the space shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center. In the meantime, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captures photographic evidence of possible liquid water on Mars, Juno (the first solar powered spacecraft) is launched from Cape Canaveral air station on a mission to Jupiter, and the Mars Space Laboratory Rover Curiosity launches from Kennedy Space Center and is slated to land on Mars on August 5, 2012.
On September 11, we marked the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we have marked a decade of war in Afghanistan, we withdrew completely from Iraq, Seal Team Six killed Osama Bin Laden, and a lone terrorist in Norway carried out a bombing in Oslo and a shooting spree at a political youth camp.
An estimated two billion people watched the wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine Middleton via television, the Internet, and their hand held devices. Hundreds of thousands more tuned in to see a basketball player marry a “reality” caricature. And amidst it all, the genius, who led the home computer revolution and inspired some of the world’s most popular and loved devices, died.
Quite a year of change! Some good, some not so good. What can we learn? How do world events effect our day to day lives? And what does all this portend for 2012? Although I don’t pretend to have the answers to these or any other profound questions, I do have some observations about trends and truths that may shape our day to day New Reality in 2012 and beyond.
First and foremost, the events of the last year should be all the proof people need to understand that we live in an era of constant, complex, tumultuous change. It won’t “go away.” Those in this state of denial need to wake up and engage rather than “hunker down” and ignore. The time for managing change is over! The time to seize change and make it part of your competitive advantage is now. Every person who still needs to be convinced that we need new, different, creative, and innovative approaches, processes, products, services, and behaviors needs a cold hard slap from the New Reality of change that we live in today.
I believe the top ten trends that I saw in organizations in 2011 could become the top ten truths of 2012. Here then, in reverse order, are those Trends and Truths:
10. Change Adaptive versus Change
This one isn’t new. However, in the last year I have seen even the most confident and successful clients embrace the idea that what they do next is more important that what they did last. I see the vestiges of “we will always be successful because we have always been successful” disappearing from corporate belief systems. I also see the idea of Change Adaptive Cultures becoming more prevalent. It is rare now that I receive calls about “managing changing.” Usually the caller is more interested in help with a large change initiative that requires fundamental Cultural and behavioral change. Although I have seen great progress in this area in the last year or two, there is still a ways to go. There is still work to be done to help clients and individuals connect the “here and now” to a systemic change adaptive mindset that will serve them in 2012 and beyond.
9. Enterprise Wide versus Local Focus
Even when individuals, teams or divisions understand and embrace the idea of being Change Adaptive, there is still a tendency to focus on us, our area, or our customers. Of course some organizations have emphasized “Enterprise Wide” for years. However, it’s just in the last year or so that I have seen this concept permeate the vocabulary of a majority of my clients. In the New Reality we talk about “Design” behavior defined as aligned with the “customer.” A myopic interpretation of this could mean “my” customers, the customers “I see,” or the customers “we” serve. This doesn’t take into account that we are part of a larger organization, with limited resources making strategic decisions every day about “what” customers we can or will best serve. This is an important distinction and understanding that organizations will need to invest more time and communication in in 2012.
8. Personal Differentiation
Although differentiation has been front and center for organizations for the last decade, I now see the concept applying itself to individuals. Just as mass customization has impacted and influenced manufacturing and retail, so has the need to customize ones’ contribution and skill set dependent upon the current project or need. With unemployment, and the insecurity that comes with it, near an all-time high this has never been more important. “What have you done for me lately” is not just the cry from the marketplace but from the organization to the individual as well. 2012 will bring a huge paradox to those who understand the need to differentiate themselves. Fear and insecurity will drive more people to Default Behaviors which will create the need and opportunity for greater personal differentiation. Although I see this as simply a trend today, each new year will exponentially increase the value of this approach.
7. Customer Focus
As trite and oft repeated a phrase as there ever has been. However, it’s never more important than now and even more so in 2012. Another paradox: with the millions of choices available to customers today, customer focus and customer service have never been more essential, yet it seems there is less of it than ever before. In fact, these are two intersecting trends going in different directions; as the demand increases (hunger, wish for, etc…) the supply decreases. What better time than 2012 to seize the opportunity. In fifteen years I have seen only three clients make the effort to create Customer Centered (patient centered) Organizations and cultures. I see that number dramatically increasing in 2012. It has to.
6. Peer to Peer Accountability
This might be more of a hope than a trend or a truth. Every year I hear clients say they need greater levels of accountability in the organization. Usually that means “everybody else needs to be more accountable… I’m doing just fine!” The trend I do see here is that most organizations are sorely lacking in the area of peer to peer accountability. They have not created the conditions, culture, or expectations that every individual can and should be calling their peers out on behaviors that are detrimental to the team, the organization, and ultimately the customer. Though this isn’t prevalent now, in 2012 organizations that truly want higher performance, more innovation, and greater customer alignment will need to foster greater peer to peer accountability. (Note: Addressing trends #1, 2, and 3 can help accomplish this.)
5. More Dialog
Even though I have been preaching this for a number of years I have seen it gain traction in 2011 and project this progress to continue in 2012. The trend for me personally is that I believe now more than ever that effective and abundant dialog is at the core of successful organizational culture. As I have peeled back the layers of organizational culture over the years, I keep ending up in the same place: there is not enough effective and abundant dialog in most organizations to sustain success, drive innovation or create the long term customer focus and change adaptability needed to compete in the New Reality. There is some dialog… in some organizations. More in 2011 than in 2010. Nowhere near enough for 2012, 2013, 2014…
4. Opportunity versus Entitlement
This is really a social and political trend that is quickly permeating organizational culture. Ironically it was the organizational abandonment of the paternalistic, family oriented approach to company culture in the late eighties and early nineties that started this trend and brought us to this point. It seems that there is an element of human nature that expects the current homeostasis to continue forever. That is – “whatever I got last year, I expect this year… and then some.” Add the environmental, political, and special interest factors and you can produce an entire generation who believe the world owes them, the company owes them, and the 1% owe them.
Just as global competition destroyed an organization’s ability to perpetuate this illusion in the eighties and nineties, so too, the crumbling social infrastructure in Europe and the shrinking tax rolls in the US have shaken the entitled populations. There are really two trends at work here. The true end of entitlement is moving fast and will continue to shake the socialist infrastructure here and abroad in 2012. The second trend is more slow moving and less recognized. All this change first creates a vacuum and then opportunity. When you eliminate handouts, there is an opportunity for people to reeducate, reskill, and reinvent themselves in order to become more marketable and employable. When you do away with collective bargaining, there is an opportunity to renegotiate pay for performance. When you break the hold that entitlement has on creativity you get innovation and new products and services.
Entitlement is under full scale assault in organizations today (and should be) and will continue to be in 2012. Opportunity awaits those in 2012 who are the first to “let go” of what’s “owed” to them.
3. The Rise of Default
This is the most troubling trend I have seen in 2011 and one that looks to continue and expand in 2012. Uncertainty creates insecurity and insecurity creates fear. The global economic meltdown of 2008 and the subsequent global struggles of the last three years have a lot of people fearful about their futures. Unfortunately, often the natural reaction to fear is withdrawal. “Hunker down,” “Wait it out,” “Keep my mouth shut,” Don’t call attention to myself.” I have been battling Default behavior in organizations for fifteen years. It is a war I fear I am currently losing. When what we most need today is engagement, I see more Default behavior than I ever have. When it is more important than ever before for people to step up, I see more people than ever before hunkering down. Whatever rays of hope for more Design behaviors I saw in 2007, they have been eclipsed by the fear and darkness of the global economic condition of the last three years. And I see little sign of this trend reversing. That doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t, but to do so will take focused, committed and determined leadership in 2012.
2. Adult to Adult Relationship
The good news is that there is a way to address the previous two trends: Opportunity versus Entitlement and the Rise of Default. And this is an approach I see more employees craving and more leaders providing. An adult to adult relationship between the organization (leaders) and the individual.
Trustworthiness in the New Reality is defined as telling the truth. “Look me in the eye and tell me the truth. I might not like it. I might not like hearing it. I might not like hearing it from you, but tell me the truth.”
The old reality adult/child dynamic is crippling organizations that don’t create adult to adult cultures. Trying to protect people from change, shielding them from the realities of a global marketplace, and tip toeing around difficult issues (outsourcing, reorganizations, plant closures, etc.) doesn’t work any longer. In 2012 the trend of more leaders understanding this and addressing this issue will continue. As it does, this will naturally confront the entitlement mentality and in the long term reduce the fear that drives Default behavior.
Confronting the entitlement mentality is the first and requisite step to eliminate it. Being frank and honest is the only way to address the fear of uncertainty and change. In addition, leaders owe it to people to do so, and not doing it actually does them a disservice. Based on my experience, I would say right now, individuals want this more than leaders are prepared to deliver it. In 2012 that needs to change.
The number one trend in 2011 and soon to be the top truth in 2012 is the critical need to increase employee engagement. The only sustainable competitive advantage in the New Reality will be the ability and willingness of the organization to tap into the intellect, creativity, and innovativeness of every single employee. I have seen leaders become much more conscious of this recently and much more focused on increasing employee engagement going forward. The reality is that most people want to contribute. Most people want to be engaged. Most people want to be part of the team. Culture, peers, leaders, baggage, policies, procedures, and practices all can get in the way. Add days, months, or years of expecting and rewarding Default behavior and the barriers to engagement are many and major. Challenging or not, increasing engagement has to be done.
The old reality of sending out employee opinion polls and then doing nothing with them or the feedback they provide are over. Today, the best source of improvements, innovations, and better outcomes for the customer are the people doing the job every day. Every person, every job, every day.
Increased dialog in the organization improves engagement. Increased honesty decreases default behavior, increases Design and improves engagement. Rewarding performance rather than preserving paternalism increases engagement… of the performers.
In the old reality “engagement” used to be viewed as another “soft” human resources buzzword. In 2012 and beyond, the truth is engagement will be the life blood of the organization.
Change is here to stay. It won’t be trouble free. You are accountable. That was true fifteen years ago and will be true in 2012 and beyond. I don’t pretend to have all the answers and this list is not intended to be comprehensive or prescient. This is my best summary of what I am seeing and what I think I will see in 2012. You can be sure though, that there are events and trends that will occur in 2012 that none of us can anticipate.
Hopefully, this list give you a heads up, or a reminder that can help you improve your business, your focus or your level of success in 2012.
I would be happy to discuss any of these trends and truths further with you, and of course I stand ready to be of service should you want to work on Culture, Behaviors, or Change Adaptiveness in 2012.