Paul Michelman is editor in chief of MIT Sloan Management Review. He tweets @pmichelman.
As CEO advisor Dan Ciampa explains in a column in this issue, successful organizational transformation requires a compelling vision — a tangible and engaging view of the future that people can believe in and find energizing. What will success look like in our new world? How will we achieve our organizational goals? Vision gets a change effort started.
But change is not executed by a vision; it is executed by individuals. No matter how smart the strategy and how well articulated the plan, only people can bring about actual change. And given that we live in a world in which the unknowns have no end in sight, our ability to embrace the demands of change — and of personal transformation — are prerequisites for professional survival.
What does it take, then, to keep pace in today’s environment, one in which we are expected to pivot repeatedly toward new ways of working? I think of the challenge along three dimensions, each of which can be captured as a personal trait: will, skill, and velocity.
What do these three terms mean in the context of business right now?
Skill In a changing world, skill is no longer just about the capabilities required to be successful in your present role. (Presumably, you possess those already.) You also need the ability to excel in what your role will become. Are you able to adapt your skill sets and adopt new tools to succeed as the environment transforms?
Will Will is about desire and tenacity. Do you have the appetite to evolve and the nerve to try new things? Are you legitimately interested in helping to chart a new future for your organization?
Velocity Change usually requires a new speed — a higher gear than you are accustomed to. And this pace won’t let up: Digital life moves faster. Can you shift up to keep up? Some might argue that a focus on velocity can be counterproductive — that amid all this digital turmoil, considered decision-making is more important than ever. I believe that is a false argument. You must be able to move quickly and make smart bets at the same time.
Will, skill, and velocity are not entirely distinct concepts; the world is messier than that. But thinking along these dimensions may make the challenges of change — especially ongoing change — more tangible.
We should all ask ourselves hard questions as we consider the inevitable transformations of our industries, our organizations, and most of all, our individual places in the digital world. Ask yourself: Am I up for this? Can I and will I do what it takes to succeed in a continually evolving environment?
The kind of transformation we are experiencing in business today isn’t easy for anyone. We don’t work the way we did last year. Next year, we’ll work differently again. However, once you accept the truth that change is ongoing, change becomes more about opportunity and less about challenge. If you have the skill, the will, and the velocity, change becomes stimulating: You are ready and able to help shape your organization’s future. If you don’t embrace these requirements — or if you find the prospect of ongoing personal transformation more exhausting than exciting — you need to ask yourself if you are still in the right business or the right role.