From the Editor: Creating and Leading Change

You may not think of yourself as a force for change. But if you’ve ever used a smartphone to check prices or reviews for a product you are considering buying — or to locate a good restaurant in an unfamiliar area — then you’re part of an important shift in consumer behavior. That behavioral shift — consumers using information from mobile devices to inform their purchasing decisions — is in turn driving change for retailers and companies that sell their products through retail channels. As Erik Brynjolfsson, Yu Jeffrey Hu and Mohammad S. Rahman note in their article “Competing in the Age of Omnichannel Retailing”:

Recent technology advances in mobile computing and augmented reality are blurring the boundaries between traditional and Internet retailing, enabling retailers to interact with consumers through multiple touch points and expose them to a rich blend of offline sensory information and online content. … As the multichannel retailing experience breaks down old barriers such as geography and consumer ignorance, it will become critically important for retailers and their supply-chain partners in other industries to rethink their competitive strategies.

Another article in this issue, “The Executive’s Role in Social Business,” also explores business change driven by technological advances. David Kiron, Douglas Palmer, Anh Nguyen Phillips and Robert Berkman report on a survey they conducted about social business — and an interesting tension in how businesses view social collaboration tools and social media. On the one hand, a majority of C-suite executives surveyed see social business as an opportunity to fundamentally change the way work gets done. But, at the same time, many businesses are having a hard time turning that potential into reality. More than half of the survey respondents said their companies were at an early stage of developing social capabilities, and those managers reported that the top barriers to using social business in their organizations were a lack of strategy, no business case and a lack of management understanding. As Kiron, Palmer, Phillips and Berkman conclude:

Using social media to connect with customers in valuable ways tends to be easier said than done. What’s more, finding ways to use social tools to increase employee productivity can look very much like a quest for an elusive holy grail — a quest that would require both significant investments of financial and human capital and the deployment of intellectual capital that may not exist within corporate boundaries.

That observation underscores an important larger point: Even when executives see the potential a change initiative has, it is still hard to execute change successfully within organizations. Ellen R. Auster and Trish Ruebottom tackle that problem in their article “Navigating the Politics and Emotions of Change.” As Auster and Ruebottom write:

Most executives have a portfolio of tools that they use for developing their strategic plans, structure, metrics and other “hard aspects” of change. However, their approach to tackling the “softer side of change” and, more specifically, navigating the politics and emotions associated with change, is often more unstructured.

Auster and Ruebottom address that gap with practical insights about how to identify and overcome the unseen obstacles to change in your organization.

Martha E. Mangelsdorf
Editorial Director
MIT Sloan Management Review