In my more than 20 years serving as a CEO and/or Founder, one thing I have learned is that change is the only constant.
But then why is it so difficult to bring about, even in the most forward-thinking organizations? The simple truth is that it's human nature to resist change.
Change is threatening because it's associated with uncertainty, self-examination, and a loss of control. But it can also mean possibility, progress, and improvement. In shifting our perceptions of change, we can better use it to our advantage.
Here are some practical strategies that have helped my team embrace change, and become stronger as a result:
1. Start with "The Why"
Positive change requires vision. If you share a new vision, or include your team in a new story, change will follow.
Great stories begin with the cause or, as Simon Sinek points out in his TED talk about the Golden Circle, the "why". As Sinek explains, all of our greatest leaders and innovators - from Martin Luther King Jr, to Apple, to the Wright Brothers - had one thing in common...they started with the why.
One of the reasons Martin Luther King Jr. was such an effective orator was that his speeches always started with the "why", i.e., "I have a dream....". Steve Jobs didn't choose "we build the best devices" for Apple; he chose "think different".
There were other teams that were better qualified and funded in the world of aviation, but it was The Wright Brothers who created the first flying machine. Why? They wanted to reinvent human travel.
The why - not the what - has the ability to change the course of human history. Ultimately, people will not be motivated by what you want to change, but they will be motivated by why you want to make a change.
Your company will be inspired by a cause and a great story. They are hungry for a company mission, not a company manual.
2. Put Vinegar in the Kool-Aid
It's easy to get carried away with everything that is going well. Often times, organizations are too focused on drinking the Kool-Aid - it's natural, you need to be when building, selling, and recruiting for something that no one has ever done before.
Every once in a while, put some vinegar in that Kool-Aid and take a hard look at your organization from the outside, focus on what could go wrong. Think about what you really could be doing better.
Play devil's advocate with your own winning assumptions and mentalities. From that, you will also learn about your strengths and opportunities.
3. Where Is the World Going?
Successful change doesn't just stem from self-awareness, it also comes from an awareness of others around you and of the wider world. Before instigating change, it's very important to do the research and make sure those changes reflect where the market and the wider world are headed.
In the past couple years, Rubicon Project saw that mobile was growing more than any other market, so we made a strategic mindset push in this area, and the results went well beyond our expectations. Today, Rubicon Project is the third largest mobile exchange in the world.
And if you are unsure where the world is going - always follow the consumer.
4. Empower Influencers
If you truly want to move the needle, you're not going to be able to do it alone. The best way to execute changes is to identify your intellectual capital.
In other words - who are your leaders? Who will people follow? These aren't always your executives or senior team, but they are the team members that people listen to, that have influence.
Quickly figure out who these catalysts are, and empower them to lead. When you assemble your team of influencers, make each responsible for a specific facet of the company's reinvention.
Creating change is about shifting a collective mindset, and you will need to appoint influencers to change individual and team mindsets.
5. Embrace (and Replace) the Fear
Ultimately, what's behind people's discomfort with change is fear of the unknown; a fear that will no doubt run through you and your entire team. But the magic comes when you face that fear, rather than run from it.
One of the greatest changemakers of the past century, Nelson Mandela, said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the judgement that something else is more important than fear." That "something else" is the WHY we talked about above.
I encourage you all to choose the WHY, over fear. After all, fear, like happiness, is a choice we make every day.
Most organizations merely cope with change. The most successful organizations make change their mindset.
To create that mindset shift, start with the why. Figure out where the world is going, take a hard look at your company, and see if you have what you need to get there before the world does.
Last but not least, identify the right influencers to make that change... and empower them to embrace, then replace, fear.