Adaptability crucial for business survival

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 12:07 14/05/2014

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A visiting expert business strategist and leadership builder has challenged Nelson business leaders to think laterally about change management.

Dr Vikram Murthy, director of the Academy for Collaborative Futures, was guest speaker at the Crowe Horwarth luncheon on Monday, run in conjunction with the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce.

Murthy's talk on leading positive change in uncertain times, and on adaptive organisations, offered a unique perspective, chamber of commerce chief executive Dot Kettle said.

She said the chamber had worked with more than 300 businesses committed to developing the skills and approach needed to succeed in a fast-changing environment.

Murthy works with business leaders, academics and practitioners in Australia, New Zealand and internationally. The Academy for Collaborative Futures works to promote collaboration between academia and industry.

He is also managing director of Sydney-based strategy and leadership consultancy Superior Business Performance.

He spoke in colourful metaphors of the importance of organisations responding to change in today's climate of inequality, instability and unsustainability, which had driven organisations to "engage the tea-leaf readers like never before".

He said the speed of change meant adaptability was crucial in an environment where the world's Fortune 500 companies now survived on average between 30 and 40 years, 30 per cent of family-owned businesses did not survive into the second generation and only 3 per cent made a profit by the third generation. Murthy said it was "particularly sad" that most of the companies his Nelson audience currently worked for would not last as long as the working life of today's employee. He noted Australia had just lifted its retirement age to 70.

Murthy said stability within organisations was a "dynamic non-event", but a lot came down to leadership style.

"When was the last time someone within your organisation told of leadership as gardening?

"Mostly it's about warfare and things like market share. One of the worst things for learning is competition and department managers and companies compete so that looking good becomes more important than being good."

Loss was inherent in change, but managers and employees often chose to ignore that.

Murthy said change brought peril and promise, and that there was nothing more perilous than taking the lead in any new order. The problems lay in human apathy.

"Humans prefer to wait until something gets old before they try anything new."

He said change was about learning and unlearning, but "change management is a tenuous concept based on flaky assumption it can be implemented in an orderly process".

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Murthy added that "change management is an oxymoron", and that agility was essential when companies could not hope to change as fast as the world.

The master of metaphors ended his talk with a reminder that the future "is what it is".

He likened it to a fast-approaching train. Options included asking it to stop [unlikely], getting on and going wherever it was going, paying a consultant to go with you and tell you when to get off, or knowing where the train was going.

"Whatever the choice, remember to enjoy the ride," he said.

The Westpac Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce Business Awards will be launched tonight at the Westpac Bank's Nelson branch from 5.30pm to 7pm. Previous winners will be on hand to talk about what is involved and the benefits of entering.

- The Nelson Mail

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