10 Characteristics of Companies that Succeed

What differentiates companies that succeed over a long run from those that don’t? As the rate of change and disruption continues to accelerate, companies need a strong foundation of fundamentals that enable long term success and growth.

In this respect, I recently read Leandro Herrero’s post on characteristics of companies that succeed in long run. 10 characteristics are outlined in the sketch note below.

Also Read:

Symptoms of Organizations on the Cusp of Change

The purpose of an organization is to enable people in doing meaningful work that delivers value to the customers and hence to the business.

Organizations start purely with this promise but when they scale, they end up stifling people’s ability to deliver value.

In his insightful post titled 8 Symptoms Of Organizations On The Cusp Of Change, Mark Raheja says,

“In theory, organizations are meant to enable us — to make us faster, stronger and more effective than we’d be on our own. And yet today, in listening to my clients, it feels as if the exact opposite is true — as if the organization is actually getting in their way. The symptoms of this are many and may sound familiar: Siloed teams with misaligned incentives; bureaucratic processes governed by inflexible policies; paralyzed decision-making strewn across way too many meetings. The list goes on.”

The post further offers 8 symptoms of organizations on the cup of change. I recommend reading the full post to get a view on how organizations today can become more responsive and less bureaucratic.

And here is a sketch note I created while reading the post.

46_cusp

What Business Transformation Really Means

Change does not always mean transformation, but transformation by itself changes everything fundamentally. At a time when a lot of people use terms “change” and “transformation” interchangeably, it helps to know the difference  between the two (and my sketch note on the same topic may be helpful).

I have seen people in process improvement use the word transformation quite often (in fact, I have been guilty of using the word “transformation” when I was only tweaking or improving the ways of working).

What do real business transformations look like? Scott Anthony’s post “What Do You Really Mean by Business Transformation” at Harvard Business Review may help you understand different kinds of transformation efforts. After I read the post, I was able to put different transformation initiatives going around me into the right frame.

I attempted to make sense of three kinds of transformation effort described in Scott’s post through a sketch note. Do read the original article at HBR.

Not Invented Here

Organizations, teams and individuals are obsessed with doing things themselves when a similar or better solution is already available elsewhere. Thinking that if you have to get it done right then you have to do it yourself is no less than some kind of obsession.

I have seen people rejecting better ideas just because they did not contribute in the ideation. Organizations spending enormous amount of effort in developing internal systems when a majority of what they want is available off-the-shelf. Teams trying to solve technical problems themselves when a solution is available already in other teams sitting under the same roof!

One of the possible reasons for ‘not invented here’ syndrome is that people find it hard to accept (or trust) something that they have not created or contributed to. Fear (and insecurity) of using someone else’s solution may also be a reason. Sometimes, people just don’t know that better solutions are readily available.

In any case, valuable time is lost, money is spent and opportunities are missed just because you choose to invest your effort instead of reusing what is already available.

In lean terms, this is a huge waste.

Because “not invented here” is almost the same as “lets reinvent the wheel”, unless there are strong and legitimate reasons to invent a newer kind of wheel.

Change: The Power of Gradual

In a fast paced environment, we notice things that are urgent, immediate and abrupt in nature. We forget to notice the gradual.

One small serving of unhealthy food doesn’t seem to harm but many such servings over a long duration increase the odds of having a health problem manifold. One conversation that went wrong now doesn’t seem to have any direct impact on a relationship but with every such conversation, trust is eroded till it reaches a point where relationship ends.

In an organization, this becomes even more complex where larger system is a collection of many independent sub-systems. Decisions and conversations in each of these sub-system affects the whole. The impact of one strategic failure may not be visible in a short term but can prove fatal in a long run.

The good news is: the converse is also true. Any great success is, almost always, a result of many small things done right. Careers are built one opportunity at time. Trust is earned one deed at a time, lessons are learned one experience at a time and great teams are built one conversation at a time. It is gradual and very powerful.

Why do we fail to notice the gradual then? Because we are too obsessed in responding to the immediate. Because doing takes a precedence over thinking. Because we fail to see living systems as “systems”. We work on components without considering the impact on the system as a whole.

This reminds me of a metaphor of a boiling frog

A frog, when placed in boiling water will jump out immediately because of heat. However, if placed in cold water that is heated very slowly, the frog does not perceive the danger and enjoys the warmth. Incrementally, as warmth turns into heat, it becomes groggy unable to climb up. Eventually, it is boiled to death.

As leaders and professionals, our ability to notice the slow and subtle changes in the system is as important as our ability to respond to urgent and immediate changes. 

In the novel “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway, one of the lead characters Mike Campbell is asked, “How did you go bankrupt?”. Mike responded, “Gradually… and then suddenly.”

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Photograph Courtesy: Chaula Vora – Red Eyed Frog, Costa Rica

6 Lessons On Creating a Lasting Influence

Influence

Mahatma Gandhi, as we know, was a simple man who had no position, no wealth, no power and no authority. Yet, he altered the course of history by leading India to Independence through power of people. How could a man with no formal authority take on an empire and influence the hearts and minds of so many people across the country?

Gandhi’s impact is a testimony to the fact that you don’t need positional power to influence others. No matter who you are or where you are in the order, you can make a difference.

Every time I think of influence, I think of Gandhi. He worked with others and through others to achieve his objectives. In the process, he never compromised on his own principles.

In an organizational context, ability to influence is at the heart of a leader’s success in driving changes, building great teams, delivering results and implementing the strategic vision. At an individual level, your ability to influence others is at the core of building relationships, creating a network and achieving your goals.

How does one generate influence? What are the building blocks to be considered? Here is what I have learned about generating influence:

  1. Having substance is a pre-requisite for generating influence. An empty vessel only makes more noise. Having real accomplishments, experience, subject matter expertise, passion for the subject and credibility are the foundations on which influence can happen.
  2. Trust, as in leadership, is the currency of influence. People get influenced and change only when they trust you. People trust you when you deliver what you promise, speak from your heart and be integral and ethical.
  3. Thought leadership accelerates trust and hence influence. When you challenge conventional beliefs, advance the ideas and provide new points of view, people get engaged and start trusting. Gandhi’s idea of non-violence serves as a great example of thought leadership.
  4. Influence spreads on pollens of generous actions. The process of influencing others start with a genuine intention to share and contribute first. It is not about what you want to say, but what helps others.
  5. Only intention is not enough, commitment is the key. Influence is rarely generated overnight. It requires commitment, patience and being persistent over a long time.
  6. Real influence provokes change. Influence is only valuable when it provokes change in how people operate and think; when it inspires them to take required action. It is a myth that just having an audience and followers means influence.

Join in the conversation: Who are you influenced by? What are specific qualities that you are influenced by? Share your lessons!

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In case you have missed:

Great Quotes: Luc de Brabandere on Change, Innovation and Perceptions

When we encounter a change, we first perceive ourselves in a changed situation. So, our perception of the changed situation actually precedes the actual change and shapes our response.

In the same context, I read two quotes by Luc de Brabandere. The first quote comes from Forbes India article by NS Ramnath about N. R. Narayana Murthy being re-instated as Infosys Executive Chairman, where he quotes Luc:

“We believe that to really make change happen, changing the reality is of course necessary – this involves developing novel ideas for change, and the implementation of those ideas via project management and measurement, templates and the like. But changing reality is not sufficient – we must also change peoples’ perceptions .

This happens on much more of an individual basis; each stakeholder’s needs and biases must be taken into account. This can only be done through careful preparation and communication. So to really make change happen, we must change twice – reality and perception.”

Second quote comes from Luc’s 2011 interview with Boston Consulting Group, where he shares story of how Philips, a traditional electronics company,  executed “new box” thinking to realize a new world of possibilities. He concludes the interview with this thought:

That’s why I have completely changed my mind about brainstorming. I don’t think a successful brainstorm is a meeting at which a new concept suddenly arises. Rather, a successful brainstorm is a meeting at which an existing concept suddenly makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.

This really boils down to what Peter Senge defines as a mental model – our thought process about how something works in real world. When we change our perceptions, we may end up realizing that most of the constraints that we see may not be existent in the real world, except in our minds.

Leading Others: How NOT to be in Control

Excessive use of positional power: I was interacting with a leadership expert recently when he said, “If you have to use your position to exert your power, you are not powerful.” Being at a certain position within organization means that you have a higher visibility which needs to be extended to others. Your position is an opportunity; an obligation to make a difference in how your team performs. When you blatantly use positional power, you quickly isolate others. Disengaged team will, at the best, comply to your directives but will never be able to bring their complete creative potential on board.

Simply staying on top of information: Yes, you definitely need to know what is happening in your team. Getting status reports on various initiatives is important. However, when you excessively consume information given to you without acting on it, you fall in a trap. When team members provide you information on issues, risks and concerns, they need to be acted upon. Your are NOT in control when you know a lot of things, but when you act on it to make a positive difference. Sitting on top of information (and simply passing that information higher up in the hierarchy) is not a useful way to stay in control.

Keeping People Uninformed: The more people in your team know what your goals are, the more buy-in you will get – and hence better results. You cannot expect your team to perform if they are not informed about the vision, context, goals and progress. Team also needs your guidance on how something can be accomplished. They need you to validate their ideas. They need to know the purpose. Good leaders remain in control by clarifying the purpose relentlessly, then allowing people to execute, and provide support where needed.

Bottom line: Dr. John Maxwell puts in brilliantly, “The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you.” If you are a leader at any level who aspires to be in control, focus not on yourself but on them – your people. Connect with them, help them understand, guide them in their performance, eliminate their roadblocks, give them the control and keep them informed; the results may surprise you!

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If you liked this post, you will also like bite-sized ideas on quality, leadership and people in my book #QUALITYtweet. Click here to check it out.

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Agility in Process Improvement Initiatives

The pace of change is accelerating and business leaders who are responsible for improvements need keep up with the pace. While plan-do-check-act methodology has been around for long, the time it took was way longer.

For organizational improvements (and the personal ones), what do we need today? What would business expect from improvement initiatives? A few things I think:

  1. We need shorter iterations. We still need plan-do-check-act but the iterations are expected to be shorter. Pick an improvement area, create a plan, execute improvement, check the results and re-align the actions. The idea is to have a good enough plan, short execution cycle that enables you to learn and adapt faster. This is equally true for improvement we seek in our personal and professional lives.
  2. We need more retrospectives. Forums where we can take a stock of how your initiative is progressing and what can be tuned. Retrospectives are also a great way to collaborate.
  3. We need right areas to improve. Almost anything can be improved but the critical question is: Does it have a real impact? The famous 80:20 rule applies to process improvement initiative as well. 80% of improvement happens by focusing on continuous identification of 20% improvement areas. In my book #QUALITYtweet, I wrote:
  4. #QUALITYtweet The first step of your process improvement journey is to know what really needs improvement

  5. We need results to be visible. We need visible improvements in critical business functions. Bottom line impact of improvement initiative needs as much focus as its impact on organizational culture.
  6. We need collaboration. Improvements never happen in an isolated corner office. It happens when you collaborate with your team members, customers, business development folks and middle managers.

Bottom line: In an agile business environment where change is not only constant but rapid, we need agility in how we improve. We need to fail fast, learn fast and adapt quickly.

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Related Posts at QAspire:

Improvement: Show Them The Results
7 Steps For Customer Centric Process Improvement
The Secret Sauce of Process Improvement
Great Story: Improvement and Tending the Garden

In 100 Words: Epitome of Change

Each time I pass through that huge building, I think of its past glory. It was one of the first multiplexes of the country, a trend setter of the sorts. Today, it stands empty with a warning on its walls, “Under Demolition”.

I see that building as an epitome of change. How can a pioneer go down in less than 10 years? How can they fail at responding to change when their aggressive competitors were innovating in delivering superior consumer experience?

Tom Peters says, “DISTINCT or EXTINCT.” What are you doing to distinguish yourself, raise the bar and relentlessly improve?

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What We Need The Most in 2012?

Business ecosystem is rapidly changing – and as a student of personal and organizational change, I recently re-read Dr. John Kotter’s book (published in 2008) titled “A Sense of Urgency”. I have read it before and somehow felt the need to read it again. In the book, Dr. Kotter argues that single biggest reason most change efforts fail is because we fail to create high enough sense of urgency to set the stage for making challenging leap into a new direction.

Sense of urgency does not mean frantic activity, an endless list of exhausting activities or running anxiously from meeting to meeting. Activity without purpose or meaning is a waste, a false sense of urgency. As Dr. Kotter explains,

“When people have a true sense of urgency, they think that the action on critical issues is needed now, not eventually, not when when it fits easily into a schedule. Now means making real progress every single day. Critically important means challenges that are central to success or survival, winning or losing. A sense of urgency is not an attitude that I must have a project team meeting today, but that meeting must accomplish something important today.”

I would add that “critically important” in today’s world also means challenges that give us joy, happiness and make a difference to the world in whatever way.

Dr. Kotter also goes on to explain that our major issue is not complacency – but a lot of false sense of urgency. This is a point where we mistake activity with productivity. Sense of urgency, according to Dr. Kotter, is a positive and focused force because it naturally directs you to be truly alert to what’s really happening; it rarely leads to a race to deal with the trivial.

A new year is a time when most of us reflect on personal/organizational changes we seek in the coming year. My submission: when you think of a change, also think about making it happen. If you have ideas, give it a life. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Develop a discipline to execute your art regularly.That is the only way I know to achieve excellence.

Last year, I wrote about “excellence” as a worthy goal to chase. It still is. But to achieve that, we need a compelling vision of future for ourselves and our organizations accompanied with real sense of urgency – pro-activity and desire to make a difference. We need a commitment to execute.

On that note, wish you an “excellent” 2012.

Change: From Vision to Execution

Leaders establish a lofty vision for a large scale change initiative and then strategize to align the team. Sometimes, the team gets over-excited by this grand vision and get stuck. They cannot define a strategy or a plan of action that takes them closer to that grand vision.

Planning for a change is a tricky thing. Vision is broad,  actions have to be specific, team needs to remain motivated throughout and uncertainties have to be managed.

Based on personal experience, here are some of the broad strategies that helps when planning and executing a change:

  1. Shorter “plan-do” cycles: Linear planning with long list of activities is almost dead. Long linear plan can bog the team down and doesn’t help in keeping all aligned. Shorter plan-do-feedback cycles help in executing work in smaller chunks and collect data/feedback that can help in further planning.
  2. Keep the plan simple: Every change initiative will face a lot of uncertainties and will get messy at some point. When smallest of details are planned, these uncertainties will throw you out of track. Planning for change has to be simple, with key milestones and broad activities. It gives a lot of space to the team in managing uncertain situations.
  3. Involve team in planning: Simple yet very effective strategy, that ensures buy-in from team and gives them a broader roadmap to execute.
  4. Plan early and often: In long-term change initiatives, constantly planning/re-planning is important. Milestones have to be moved and activities have to be re-prioritized. Review the plan at the end of every sprint and realign team’s focus.
  5. Keep communication clear: When plans change, it is important to keep communication lines clear. Teams and stakeholders need to know the impacts and risks.

I have felt that implementing large scale/strategic changes is like walking through a forest. You know where you want to go, but the road/map to reach there is not clear. This is also true for significant personal change (like switching to a new career, starting a business etc).

The critical part: You need to be constantly on top of your plan, learn and re-align.

The fun part: The quest to find the best route and eventually, if done right, the joy of reaching there!

Late Dr. C. K. Prahalad’s Business Wisdom

Gift of thoughts is the best gift we can receive. After my talk at Ahmedabad Management Association recently, I was gifted with a book titled “Purely Prahalad – Business Wisdom from Late Dr. C. K. Prahalad’s thoughts”. This book is compiled and edited by AMA’s team.

It is a brilliant collection of useful gems. Here are 5 thoughts from the global thinker that I learned the most from:

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Continuous Change

I am not interested in “charismatic leader” approach to innovation. Companies need continuous changes – not just episodic breakthroughs.

Don’t Wait Too Long

Finding the motivation to affect change is very difficult when the existing business model seem to be working well. But the question to ask is, “Will their zone of comfort force them to wait too long before they make a transition?”

Next v/s Best

Best practices lead to agreement on mediocrity. I do not have much interest in best practices. Because all of us benchmark each other, we gravitate towards mediocrity in a hurry. What we really need is to ask what is the next practice, so that we can become the benchmark companies, benchmark institutions around the world.

Creating an ‘Unlearning’ Organization

Creating a ‘learning organization’ is only half the solution. Just as important is creating an ‘unlearning organization’. To create the future, a company must unlearn at least some of its past. We’re all familiar with ‘learning curve’, but what about the ‘forgetting curve’ – the rate at which a company can unlearn those habits that hinder future success?

Helping Others

If you are honest about helping others rather than showing how smart you are, things are very easy.

Managing Process Changes and Disruption

Two things we know about change:

  • Resistance is our natural reaction to any change that disrupts our current way of working.
  • Things only change when the pain of change is less than the pain of remaining in current state.

Ability to foresee, plan and implement change for better alignment to the market and generate better outcomes is a huge competitive advantage.

Over at Harvard Business Review Blogs, I read the post (and the comments) “Overcoming The Disruption of Process Change” by Brad Power with great interest. Any one who is trying to improve the processes by implementing meaningful changes must read the post. Here’s what I learned.

Involving people in process innovation is critical to ensure that improvements are driven by practitioners and it generates better buy-in as well. However, leaders have to allow people to experiment, fail and learn. In his post, Brad says:

To overcome objections to the expense and riskiness of process innovation, it should be advanced through fast, inexpensive, and flexible experiments. The focus shouldn’t be on permission for resources but rather permission to behave differently. Failure and iterative learning should be built into the improvement process.

I wrote earlier about treating resistance and criticism as an opportunity to learn. Every change is an opportunity to learn as well. Consider the following:

Toyota selects its people for their openness to learning, and then develops their work habits through practice after they are hired. All managers are expected to be involved in process improvement and adaptation. Problems are welcomed as ways to help understand why things go wrong.

Finally, every change must have a significant positive impact on the organization – be it higher customer satisfaction or improved productivity. The post reinforces:

Leaders need to demonstrate that they value high customer satisfaction. The gap between current performance and what is needed to win must be always visible to everyone.

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Join in the conversation: What other ideas have worked for you when implementing significant changes?

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Related Posts at QAspire Blog:

Ambiguity: Embrace It, But Don’t Be a Source

When we run a business or execute a project, we set clear goals of what we want to achieve, create detailed plans, devise strategies and set up milestones. But leadership, just like life, is ambiguous and paradoxical.

People default, conflicts happen, clients change their requirements, demand/supply suddenly flips, things just don’t work as expected, delays happen, difficult questions arise and contrasting view points come up. Amidst all these uncertainties, do leaders give up? Certainly no. Leonardo da Vinci said,

“That painter who has no doubts will achieve little.”

The rate of change is so rapid these days, that ambiguity is ubiquitous, and certainty, an illusion. Hence, ability to thrive on uncertainty is crucial for our growth as leaders and professionals.

It is amidst uncertainty and ambiguity that we tend to be at our creative best, doing a lot of intuitive thinking and coming up with solutions as we go. Fresh perspectives emerge and new insights unfold as we work our way through the foggy road ahead.

When you reach the destination you set out for, working through all the ambiguities, the satisfaction level is also much higher. Not only because you achieved the goal, but in the process, you learned a great deal about people, situations, paradoxes and about managing uncertainty. Your work shines through.

Having said that, you should never be a source of ambiguity as a leader. Your job as a leader is to provide clarity to your team, while managing the external uncertainties.

So, a few questions for all of us as we start a new week:

  • Assess your inclination towards certainty. Do you get frustrated when faced with an uncertainty or paradox? Does a lot of certainty give you a sense of comfort?
  • If yes, what behaviors could you change to be more comfortable with external uncertainties, work through it and get more creative?

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The Quest of Better Outcomes: Hierarchy And Process

In quest of better outcomes (efficiency, results, productivity, improvements etc.), a lot of companies focus on restructuring their organization structure (hierarchy). Periodically, they overhaul their structure, add new positions and assign new/diverse responsibilities to people.  Tuning hierarchy and structure of the organization for better outcomes is just one part. These structural changes won’t produce the desired outcomes if the flow (process) aspect is not addressed.

Why? Because, work flows horizontally. Between teams. Between members of the teams. Between different departments. Work flows from one team member to the other. The intent, intensity and diligence with which they execute that piece of work, and how well they are equipped to execute largely determines quality of the outcomes. In my view, a lot of quality related problems can be traced to gaps in this lateral movement of work.

You need best people for sure. But to enable them for better performance, to make them effective, a system needs to be created. A system comprising of interconnected processes that act as a tool people use to execute their work. I have said this before – any organization that aims to deliver high performance consistently cannot ignore the power of process.

So, even when you frequently overhaul the structure of your organization, do not forget to think about the process aspect. How would work flow? Who will do what? How will activities be performed?

Hierarchical overhauls are no silver bullets. Long term improvements (and their benefits) can be realized if you are ready to invest time in creating systems that helps you sustain, scale, deliver and create a better future for your organization, yourself and your people.

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Also download 25 Things Managers and Leaders Should Never Do [PDF]

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Check out the latest edition of “Carnival of HR” at John Hunter’s Curious Cat Management Improvement blog. The edition features my post “Setting Expectations on Behaviors You Value: 5 Pointers” along with other excellent thoughts on HR, OD and Leadership.

15 Key Lessons On Managing Change

Change, they say, is the only constant. With rapid globalization and advent of technology, the rate of change in society and in organizations has just multiplied.

We may not be ‘change management experts’, but having a set of thumb rules always helps when dealing with change (because at some point, we have to face/manage/lead a change). Based on my experience in implementing organizational change through processes and people, here are a few key lessons I have derived:

  1. Change is difficult because it pulls us out of our comfort. Change challenges us to do things differently. Any meaningful change always comes with a set of associated pains. 
  2. Every change has its settling time and that depends on you/your organization/your context.
  3. Change eliminates (on a long run) those who don’t adapt. Remember what Charles Darwin said?
  4. Changes are driven by external factors (e.g. market forces) and internal ones (e.g. internal re-organizations, initiative to change etc.)
  5. We have to be conscious enough to identify, assess and trigger internally driven changes. (because a lot of progress depends on that)
  6. It is always more fun to change ourselves (internally driven) than to be forced to change by external triggers.
  7. That means, even when everything is seemingly going great, you need to watch out for signs of change.
  8. Change can be a great learning experience if we know when and how to align ourselves (and our mindsets).
  9. Ability to change, readiness to realignment and agility in mindset are the new competitive advantages.
  10. To implement change, you can either preach tactics to change, or you can drive change through a compelling purpose and value. (so that people ‘want’ to change)
  11. Because the fact is, people only change when "they want to change’.
  12. In organizational context, constant training and support on change is essential to remove barriers for people who are impacted by the change.
  13. Trying to change everything at once is a sure recipe for failure. Let change be gradual. Change a few most critical things. Changes need to be prioritized.
  14. You can be a ‘victim’ of change, ‘manage’ a change, or lead it through. You create maximum impact when you ‘lead’ the change. (Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”)

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Great Quotes : Change

Economic turbulence brings about a change – and growth lies in our response to these changes. Organizations and individuals always have a choice in framing their response to these changes. Choices that influence our future.

Organizations can choose to crib about recession or align actions to consolidate the expertise, streamline operations and take meaningful decisions that have long lasting impact on future.

In this context, here is a great quote coming from “Leadership Turn” blog:

“When the wind of change blows, some build walls, others build windmills.” –Anonymous

I was recently talking to one of my seniors and he mentioned that recession is like a pit stop in car racing. Racing cars use pit stop opportunity (or a yellow caution flag) to change tyres, fasten bolts and get refuelled. This “pit-stop strategy” is very important for organizations and individuals when they racing towards growth and development. On the same lines, I read an interesting article over at BNET titled “Think of the economic turndown as a pit stop; The race will still run “.

When faced with change, what do you prefer to build? Wall or Windmill?

P.S. – I have written three posts earlier that touch upon this all important topic of change management. 1) Thoughts on Change Management 2) Why Change? 3) Leadership and Adaptability. Your comments are priceless.