The Role of Change Leadership in an Organization’s Survival and Sustainability

Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, once said: “Change before you have to.” Easier said than done. Difficult, frustrating, disruptive, risky – change leadership can be all of these things and more, which undoubtedly explains why there is still such great resistance in many business circles.

Nevertheless, change, we must. Customer needs are integral to success; as they evolve, we need to evolve. Economies rise and fall; businesses need to respond. Opportunities that are there for the taking should be taken. And if none of these rationales are enough to inspire change leadership within your organization, here’s one that might:

Do or die: sometimes change is a matter of survival.

Take Blockbuster, for example. (Remember them?) In 2004, they had more than 9,000 stores and employed more than 84,300 people around the world. By 2010, they had zilch. Turns out they shouldn’t have sniggered at the proposal presented to them by Netflix founder Reed Hastings in 2000. (Read more of the demise of Blockbuster here.)

And what about Kodak? Failing to recognize the digital revolution as the tsunami it was, they never fully embraced the new alternative to film. Their active foray into digital was late and half-hearted.  In actuality, they created the first digital camera in 1975 but the organization decided to shun it and not lead the change in how photography was captured.  In fact, quite the contrary; they held on to film as if their life depended on it.

Most recently, of course, was the demise of Toys R’ Us, whose failure to adapt its business model in the wake of shifting parent needs, child play activities and growing online competition – not to mention a mountain of debt – became its downfall.

That said, leadership teams shouldn’t only look to change in dire times.

If change isn’t driven by the need to survive and it’s not simply change for change-sake, what does it mean, then? What role does change play if you’re:

  • An insulated agency of the government operating in a quasi-monopoly?
  • A successful retailer, wealth management firm, entertainment provider or other private sector success story?
  • A business-as-usual not-for-profit organization that’s doing relatively well?

It means evolving so that you can maintain relevancy and sustainability for the longer-term, both of which can only be accomplished when leadership teams agree on the importance of staying ahead of the curve.

At the very least, organizations need a handful of change leaders within their most senior ranks who understand the dynamic nature of our world.

At Level5, we have the privilege of working with such leaders. They understand that competitors, consumer expectations, engagement, digital and delivery are all shifting quickly, and they’ve built mandates for change leadership to ensure they keep up with the pace.

Is your organization struggling to mobilize a change agenda?

And if so, why? A couple of quotes come to mind: “Good is the enemy of great” (James C. Collins), and “Success breeds complacency” (Andy Grove). Just as every organization has naysayers, every organization has forward thinkers. It is up to the latter to be a catalyst for organizational leadership by rallying behind a change agenda.

In an upcoming post, I’ll share fours steps you can take to align senior leaders to change. Until then, if you need a hand formulating a change mandate or engaging your team in an existing mandate, feel free to reach out for support. You’ll find us here.


By: Efram Lebovits, Principal

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