Managing Change in Business and Life
Acceptance speech for Doctor Honoris Causa (Hon. Doctorate) from IEDC Bled – Slovenija
December 7, 2007
By Professor Ichak Adizes, Ph.D.
President, Adizes Institute, Santa Barbara, California, and Dean, Adizes Graduate School for the Study of Leadership and Change
Change has been here forever and will continue to be with us in the future. What is new, however, is that change is accelerating. Humanity has made more technological innovations in the last hundred years than in the whole history of humanity. There are more scientists living today than accumulatively since the dawn of man.
Faced with more frequent change, we have to make strategic decisions more frequently than our forefathers. If our grandfathers made probably a major strategic decision once in their entire lifetimes, and our parents made only a few of those, we – I mean my generation – is making major, strategic decisions, say, every ten years or so and the new generation – you, the graduating class – will find yourself making major critical decisions, decisions that will have the power to cause major change in your personal life or in the lives of the organizations you will be managing, may be every two or three years. In fact, one strategic decision may not even have been fully implemented yet, or have had the time to bring the results, before you are pressured into making new strategic decisions anyway.
And there is something else that is new: Change is becoming increasingly systemic. A change in a market must be addressed promptly by supply chain management, which can have an impact on finance as well as on the human resources needed to address those market changes. It’s simply not possible to successfully solve a problem caused by systemic change by addressing only one organizational subsystem.
We must also keep in mind that the world is becoming increasingly inter-reliant. A problem that emerges in one country can vibrate and migrate throughout the world.
This means that while the whole system is spinning faster and faster and the world’s interdependencies are growing “tighter” and tighter, the time span within which we must deal with these interdependencies is getting shorter and shorter. Thus, it is becoming increasingly important to learn how to manage change efficiently and effectively – and that brings us to the next concept in this presentation:
What does it mean to manage? It means to make the right decisions and implement them efficiently.
But as I said before, making the right decisions is becoming more difficult now than in the past – and it is going to become even more complex in the future. And the difficulties do not stop there. Implementing those decisions, regardless of how good they are, is also going to become more difficult because the increased education levels of the labor force, and the complexity of the technologies employed, no longer require ordinary blue-color workers – people who simply take orders, carry them out, and are just happy to have a salary to take home. We are not employing “hands” anymore. We are looking for brains. But the trouble with brains is that they think and do so independently; they do not simply follow orders. Members of this new labor force want to participate in decision-making: to have some control over their working lives, to make an impact, to have a choice. This means that the managerial process will become increasingly democratized. And the repercussions of this democratization are also predictable: it will become more difficult to implement change. Democracy, after all, is based on the legitimacy of dissension, and dissension rarely makes the implementation of changes efficient.
So, my dear graduating class, I am glad I am not in your shoes. What you are going to face is much more complex and difficult than what I had to face when I graduated. . You will have to make the right decisions; make them quickly and correctly; and implement them impeccably in this new environment where many have the right and inclination to resist your decisions- while at the same time, new, critical problems, will be non stop being thrown at you at an accelerated pace.This spells S-T-R-E-S-S, increasing stress, which brings us to the next item in the title of this presentation:
Change will present to you, at an accelerated rate, more opportunities than you will be able to handle successfully in the limited time any human has, and if you do not focus and dedicate fully your attention to those opportunities, they promptly and unceremoniously convert themselves into problems, problems you can not walk away from. The result is that you will find that you have less and less time available for your family, and even worse, less and less time for yourself. You are going to find that time is flying by, faster and faster, and the day will come, and that usually happens when you get sick because until you get sick you have no time to stop and look, and you will look at those young men and women around your bed and wonder who they are? And you will realize these are your sons and daughters you missed seeing them grow. And you will look at that old person next to your bed and realize that it is your spouse and you will wonder where did the beautiful person you married to disappear? And you will find that not only you do not know your children and your spouse, you will not know who you are, either. You will not recognize yourself or what you have become: Where did that person, full with enthusiasm, optimism, hope and laughter go. ? How did you become so hardened, cynical, and easily irritated? When did this change happen? It happened “inside here” as you were busy and preoccupied handling change “outside there…”
Change causes disintegration, and disintegration is the cause of all diseases. Change will drive you. Change will present opportunities that will make you successful as measured by one set of criteria and be the source of your failure measured by another set of criteria. As your standard of living goes up your quality of life will go down.
Building a company, or a career, is like mining for gold. If you just keep digging without taking the time to build an infrastructure so the mine does not collapse on you, you might someday find yourself trapped. No company should grow like this: (Move hand from low to high, following the shape of an S curve). It will collapse. And neither should you. You will collapse. You have to periodically stop “digging” and pay attention to the infrastructure.
If you look at religious people, you will find that they are generally less stressed. They have a manual: their holy book, whether it is the Torah or the New Testament or the Koran, whichever one it is. Their religion tells them to periodically stop dealing with the day to day and devote the time to integrate themselves with something bigger. Look for instance at the Jewish religion. On Sabbath, from sundown to sundown, on the seventh day a religious Jew who observes the Sabbath is not allowed to pick up the telephone, to turn on electricity, to drive, to do any business. The seventh day is dedicated to God and family. And to oneself.
But what about those who are not religious? What are they supposed to do?
The non-religious have, perhaps, the more difficult job. They have to develop their own “manual” their own religion, their own boundaries of what to do and what not to do, their own “religion” that will direct their behavior. They have to consciously develop the discipline by themselves rather than just follow the “manual” given to them. They have to consciously take time off. And it has to be like a religion. It can not be:” I will stop as soon as I finish … whatever…” It is difficult, if not impossible, to find time for your family and for yourself because you will not find it. . Even before you finish one project, the next one is already waiting for you, because the first one creates the conditions in which the second one will emerge.
So, time for family and yourself cannot be found. You have to take the time. Regard this time just as you would a religious holiday. God did not say: “When you find the time, celebrate Christmas or Hanukah,” or whatever your religious holiday happens to be. The religious manuals – regardless of whether we are speaking of the Old Testament, the New Testament, or the Koran – simply state that on such and such a date you must stop working and celebrate your religious holiday. Period. And the same goes for the Sabbath, whether it is on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays. You do not take the seventh day off only when you happen to find the time and are free – because that never happens. Work always creates more work. It never, ever ends. You must take rest when the seventh day arrives. Period.
Years ago I was with a client, scheduling our next meetings. I suggested a certain date in March. He replied, “Oh, no, sorry, I cannot do it on that day. I will be on my honeymoon.”
I was shocked. I had had dinner with him and his wife only the night before. How had he managed to get divorced and remarried overnight? I knew this was California, but even for California, this was a bit much.
Seeing my bewilderment, he explained, “My wife and I have a honeymoon every year on the anniversary of our wedding day. And we have done so for the last twenty-five years, because one honeymoon is not enough for a lifetime of marriage.”
To deal successfully with change, we need to consciously, intentionally, in a scheduled, planned way, provide time for integration as a counter force to disintegration caused by change.
And what should you do during the time you are taking off from your busy schedule?
I once had a client who told me he’d lost all his net worth in the real estate crash of the Eighties. But he looked healthy and in good spirits. So I asked him what his secret was, and he told me something I would like to share with you.
He said that the biggest assets a person can have are his health, his family, and his good friends. As long as you hold onto those three blessings, money can come and go. If you lose your health, nothing else seems very important anymore. If you lose your family, it is almost like death. And good friends will always help you find a way out of your crisis, whatever it is.
But these three assets do not accumulate by themselves. You have to invest in them to make them grow. Many of us take them for granted – until we lose them. And please note that the most valuable things in life we only know but their absence. You do not appreciate the value of health until you are sick. You do not value democracy until you’ve lived in a dictatorship. You do not appreciate a supportive, loving family until, God forbid, you lose it. And you never realize the importance of having friends, until you have none and especially when you need them.
So, the higher the rate of change, the more problems you will have, which means you’ll have less and less time to take care of your health, your family and your friends. You might be busy building one asset, the material one, while meanwhile losing the most important assets there are: your health, your family, and your friends.
To build those important assets you must consciously take the time, schedule it and treat it as if it were a part of your religious tradition because if you wait to find the time, the ever-accelerating rate of change will ensure that you will never find it.
I want to add something to what I just said – something that goes beyond personal health, family, and friends.
The institution of business has been developing for hundreds if not thousands of years, and by now it is a well-oiled machine.
It has capital markets. It has human resources – you, for example – who are trained to manage and to lead. It has well-developed procedures, theories, and practices. It has measurable goals and systems to reward performance. It is so effective and efficient that it is actually working too well – it is destroying our environment, the world we live in, the world we are going to leave to our children and grandchildren.
Individually, people are worried, but there is no worldwide organization that can stop these self-destructive worldwide “developments;” for a global problem a global solution is needed.
The responsibility cannot be left to governments; they are too slow to act, and when they do act, they tend to bureaucratize everything. The NGOs can not do it either. In comparison to the business community, NGOs are still in the Stone Age of their development: They do not have capital markets; they fight among themselves for the limited philanthropic resources; they rely to a large degree on volunteers, who are not as abundant nor as reliable as paid employees. All in all, it is as if we live on a motorboat that has one enormous and roaring engine, while its second engine is weak and continually stalling.
It is not difficult to predict what is going to happen – where this boat called Earth is heading. I believe we are advancing to a disaster of fatal dimensions. We are literally destroying our planet. I have on my desk a sign that says: “If you do not take care of your body, where are you going to live?” By the same token: If we do not take care of our planet, where are we going to live?
Since there is, so far at least, no global institution that can stop this universal disaster, the only answer is that each individual must take personal responsibility for what he or she does.That brings me to the fourth and last topic of this presentation:
What is the role of business in society? Some Business Schools are teaching social responsibility, that business should take on a social role beyond the economic role they are designed to follow. And Hayek and Milton Friedman make an opposite argument: The role of business is business. Businessmen have to be responsible to their owners who invested in the business and the other issues of society should be dealt by other social institutions. But as I said already, there are no other institutions who can stop the impeding disaster, who are as effective as the business institution is, in locomoting this “run away train”.
What to do?
Doctors when they graduate from their medical training, recite the Hippocrates oath: DO NO HARM. And that is what you, the leaders of business of the future, should do on your graduation too: pledge with all your heart: Do no harm. Represent the owners and give them the return on their investment. Do that, with all your passion, but at the same time – do not incur a cost that the future generations will have to pay . Do no harm. Do not destroy the environment, the society, the world we live in. We have no other world to leave to our children. Your children.
Do not destroy the world on one hand and than donate to charity to show you are socially responsible. Just do no harm. Be conscious of your deeds and take responsibility for what you do to yourself, to your family and to the world we live in and we owe so much to.
Thank you.Respectfully yours,
Ichak Kalderon Adizes