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Change: Are You Ready For The Future

Sheila Murray Bethel

If you have been reading the recent headlines, you may believe the year 2000 is the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it, or the doorway to an exciting new world. One or both may be true. Either way we all face challenges unknown to past generations. 

With all this ambiguity and uncertainty how do we prepare for the future? What should we understand? What can we do?

Sheila Murray Bethel
Sheila Murray Bethel

Ideas to consider:

There are three major societal drivers that will give us some answers, some direction. They are already having a profound affect on us as we enter the next millennium. They are simultaneously pushing and pulling us into the 21st century. We can resist them and fall behind, or we can seek to understand, act, and forge ahead.

Driver No. 1: The Speed of Change

One of my favorite expressions is, "Every time I figure out where it's at, they move it". Do you ever feel that way? If you do, relax , so do most of us. Change itself isn't the biggest problem. It's the accelerated rate of change that has us wishing we could back up to catch our breath. 

We've had more change in the past year than most of our grandparents had in ten years, and there's no relief in sight. Futurists tell us that there we'll experience more change between 1970 and 2020 than in the previous 500 years. How well we do in the remainder of this 50-year window of time will shape much of the next millennium.

The majority of the changes we're facing are permanent, pervasive and profound.

Permanent, because fortunately, few of us would want to uninvent the microchip, rebuild the Berlin Wall, or abandon the medical advances that have extended and enhanced our lives

Pervasive, because everything from the information highway to the calorie content of potato chips has changed our lives. Few parts of the way we live and work have escaped the affects of change.

Profound, because as a global village, we must reassess the sharing of our planet's resources. As individuals, we must reassess our values, ideals, and prejudices that are being challenged daily. Social, political, and medical issues are constantly confronting us with new complex moral and ethical decisions. .

Driver No. 2: The Need for Partnerships and Alliances 

In the 1980s, we started our current mode of decreasing levels of management. Everyone thought we'd flatten the power pyramid and decrease the layers. To many people's surprise, the highly successful organizations have become circular instead of flat. Each function is a link in a chain whose strength depends on the whole. Each is an alliance or partner with all the others.

The old theory was that a commander-type leader could respond to changes more quickly, like a general on the battlefield. Now, however, we've found that we need strong supportive alliances because everything is changing so fast. More than ever before, we need quick access to resources - human, informational, financial, and material. Without reliable partnerships and alliances to call on for what we need, when we need it, we'll quickly fall behind the competition.

Today successful leaders realize that no one department can be more important than another. Each affects the whole and must function at the same speed. Everyone must become an equal player in an interdependent chain. Their partnerships represent equals coming together to fulfill customer needs. 

We still talk about 'team work' but we're quickly progressing to a partnership mode. Partnerships are different, more potent than traditional teams. For example, members of a sales team used to be rugged individualists who went out alone and made sales. In our technological age, these same sales people are now often a member of a partnership of people that determines customers needs and provides a broad range of solutions and supports. Such things as alternate proposals, financing, or technical expertise and a quick response cycle.

The organizations that will flourish beyond 2000 are these whose members are empowered to form these valuable partnerships. Being a partner is more powerful than being a team member because each participant can potentially make a contribution equal to that of the highest level executive in the  organization. The value to both the company and the individual is incalculable.

Everyone who helps us get the job done, everyone who supplies us with goods, services, information, and even encouragement, becomes an important partner, essential for the added value so critical to a competitive advantage. Even the smallest organization will benefit from partnerships and alliances. 

Driver No. 3: Customer Service to Customer Focus

Two decades ago, everyone began talking about 'customer service' because, frankly, things had gotten pretty bad. Either we didn't think excellence in service was important, or we were so wrapped up in the service process that we'd forgotten what the end game was all about--- that of satisfied, happy, loyal customers. 

Enter the Y2K shift of focus from simply giving good customer service to understanding the more powerful and profitable position of customer focus. Picture the interdependent circles of your organization as links in a circular chain with a single purpose: satisfied, happy, loyal, referral bearing customers. In our global village, our customer's success is our success. Customer focus and partnerships and alliances are now inexorably bound together. 

There are three interdependent parts of true customer focus:

First:  Customer Servicing. This is the operations part, doing the task well.

Second:  Customer Relations . This is the human part, the one-on-one actions.

Third:  Customer Development. This is the sales and retention part that brings true satisfaction to every transaction.

Your internal customers come first:  

Don't forget that an organization's first customer is its own people, your internal customers. Until they know you care about their needs and recognize them for their individual contribution, they'll never effectively serve others well. Which of course means that your message of service excellence will never get to your external customers.

The speed of change, the development of partnerships and alliances and concentration on customer focus. These are the three major drivers that confront us as we rush toward the next millennium. We can be driven, pushed, pulled, and hustled along against our will. Or we can understand and embrace them, plan strategically for their affects on our organizations and literally jump out in front of our marketplace as pace setters.. The choice is ours.


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