It’s January, and I’m a big football fan, so while this is the first month of 2013, it is also that time in which the best two teams in the NFL prepare to play in an event watched by over a billion people. With kick-off scheduled for February 3rd to determine the eventual champion, I would like to provide a commentary on change and ambiguity – or how to balance defense and offense – the key to success in both sport and business.
In a world constantly in flux, we have all become accustomed to the reality of change. Change? No big deal, part of my job, we’re adaptable, we have a good defense. Then comes Change’s new partner – Ambiguity – and now we are confronted with plays we haven’t seen before. Ambiguity in itself is not too bad, after all a little uncertainty motivates a team to focus. But, when you put change and ambiguity together, they represent something that can throw a team into confusion or propel them to victory.
Let me explain: when experienced together, change and ambiguity usually mean facing a do or die situation that has consequences of great magnitude. Your industry is consolidating, your markets are changing, you’re being asked to supply more, or less – less cost, less time, less value add. You have to move, define your course of action and make decisions in a dynamic environment where seconds count and decisions are played out against your fiercest competitors and watched by your adoring fans, otherwise known as customers.
So, the order of the day necessitates that leaders get more comfortable responding to change and ambiguity in ways that result in more options for getting to the best solutions.
“Having a good defense is not enough to protect your market, your offense must define your market.”
Go into a room of seasoned leaders at half-time, in a pressure filled situation and talk about how change and ambiguity can be transformational, that creative tension is good, and that risk is the name of the game. You will get varied responses. Here are a few examples: Don’t boil the ocean! We don’t want to ask those questions! We don’t need those other business units to be OK! We don’t have the resources! We won’t get the support! Our people are defensive experts! We go by the length of a yard, not by the distance of the field!
Ambiguity forces an offensive strategy that leverages new ways of doing business and winning with the customer. This means going for the “long ball” – building truly global cross-functional teams and internal alliances to demonstrate commitment to your customers. It means developing broad platforms that keep business units from operating in silos for they necessitate collaboration. It appears risky, feels risky but what more would you expect from a close game?
What must be anticipated is that managing change and ambiguity requires intense coaching from the sidelines and new thinking and investment on the part of the owners. So how do leaders and their teams balance change and ambiguity to work in their favor?
By understanding that the season of developing and expanding talent is now unending and requires a deep commitment to both the rookie and the veteran. The teams you want to build will ultimately represent a balanced defense and offense that capitalizes on experience, builds the confidence of the new recruits, while developing the skills, synergy and enthusiasm to win big. Is it worth it?
Yes! Just ask any winning business how important their teams are? How admired they are by their opponents. And, most importantly, how enthusiastic their fans are?
“People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.” – Vince Lombardi