Hello CI Friends --
I had the good fortune to attend the Connect NOW conference in Calgary last week that featured F.W. de Klerk, Stephen Covey, the Dalai Lama and Canadian musicians k.d. lang and Bryan Adams.
F.W. de Klerk spoke on charting radical change strategies that I thought might be of interest to the group. Below are my notes from his speech.
Why We Need to Master Radical Change Management
Darwin said the strength of a species rests in its ability to adapt to change.
Normal evolutionary course is for species to adapt by changing themselves to fit their environments over time.
Humans have outperformed other species by doing the converse – adapting our environments to ourselves. For example, during the ice age we learned to use fire, to build more sheltered dwellings / when there was not enough food, we learned to cultivate crops / when there were too many predators we used weapons.
Success belongs to those who are aware of their environments – and then, within those environments can imagine something new and better for themselves.
Change is accelerating – world wide web doubling every 2 years, computer power doubling every 2 years, human knowledge doubling every five years. Corollary is that no single individual can keep track of all the change. And any one development could change our course dramatically (e.g. like the introduction of the hand axe).
Change is unpredictable – so many large changes have not been widely foreseen such as terrorism, AIDS, current economic crisis, internet…
Change is fundamental – it is changing our families, our relationships, the way we live; our value systems and ethics are changing.
“Everywhere the forces of change are in full flood and, like flood victims, they leave us clinging” to the elements of our environment that have not changed, no matter how outdated those elements may be.
Lessons for Leading through Radical Change
When de Klerk became president of South Africa in 1989 that country needed to change – they were facing global isolation as a result of sanctions, internal conflict, and the economy was in trouble. He set about to change the environment in South Africa to create new positive realities. Here are seven lessons he presented to manage profound change.
1) Accept the need for change – resistance to change is deeply ingrained in humans, we have a fear of the unknown.
For example, in S. Africa whites were concerned about change for many reasons including the communist influence in the ANC, and the failure of other newly democratic nations in Africa to establish stable democracy. In the early days of his presidency, de Klerk took his cabinet into retreat many times to discuss the need for change, and how to execute change without losing democracy, without losing their economy, without losing their values.
In the end, the main driver for change wasn’t pressure from the international community or internal pressure within the country. They could have weathered the pressures they were facing as a nation by retreating further inwards – but instead, the pressure to change came from realizing that the policies they had adopted had lead to profound injustice toward a majority of people. They realized that change was needed – only by bringing justice to all would they be able to create a truly prosperous nation.
2) Avoid the trap of pretending to change – to effect profound change, you can’t pretend to change “by doing the wrong thing better.”
For example, when Gorbachev first implemented the Perestroika reforms, he said that there wasn’t anything wrong with communism – that improvements just needed to be made to the system. In South Africa for some time they first thought they could reform apartheid to avoid radical change.
3) Articulate a clear and achievable vision of where you want to go – their vision was “One united South Africa where each person would have one vote.”
The vision is necessary as a tool for charting your course and measuring progress on the journey.
4) Leaders need new communication skills for radical change management.
Leaders need to be able to communicate with all constituents, including the media. For success, leaders need to be able to remove uncertainty in their communications; people are not comfortable with uncertainty.
5) Timing is crucial – don’t get too far ahead as leaders.
History, markets and events all unfold at their own pace. de Klerk realized that he couldn’t ever get too far ahead of the process as a leader – he needed to be ready to move quickly if events unfolded quickly; but otherwise, he had to move along at the speed of his electorate to effect change.
6) It comes down to strong leadership – it’s not just about being right, you have to translate your vision of what’s right into action through implementation.
7) You must be willing to take calculated risks.
For example, in S. Africa they started by allowing free political party activity, even by parties that were threatening to their cause of ending apartheid. He came to a point in his Presidency where the opposition said that he no longer had a mandate to end apartheid – so he called a referendum and reached a 69% majority to go forwards.
He drew an analogy of leading through radical change to paddling a canoe through a prolonged stretch of rapids – there are powerful forces, you paddle, you steer, you avoid the rocks and right the canoe if it capsizes. “It is a time for cool heads and firm, decisive action.”
Change Factors for the Future
Change factors must be managed – one of the scary things about change today is that it is increasingly unpredictable and there are significant change factors at work. He highlighted the following as being significant historically and likely to significantly shape our success as humans in the future:
Climate change – humans were very successful during the last ice age to adapt. How will we adapt our social, economic and political institutions to climate change over the next century?
Technology change – we’re now in the information age, how will we face the moral challenges of new technologies such as genetic engineering and nanotechnology?
Human migrations – the Germanic migrations toppled Rome, European migrations have changed the course of history all over the world as have post-war migrations. How will globalization migrations change us?
Geopolitical change – communism has had such a profound effect on nations such as the former U.S.S.R. and China. How long will the U.S. remain a single superpower and who will power be shared with next?
Ideas and beliefs – Egyptian cosmology led to the creation of the pyramids, the replacement of a Catholic worldview with the Enlightenment in Europe – currently we are in a time where democracy and free will is the dominant ideology – will that continue, what is waiting in the wings, is there a better system?
Our success as a species in the future will depend on “our ability to change, our ability to manage change, our ability to imagine better worlds, and our ability to turn our vision into reality.”