The shift to a global economy, along with the ever-growing competition it brings and the rapid technological and social changes we are witnessing, impose difficult questions on our local business leaders, such as “How can we design for the future?” and, more importantly, “Can my organization react quickly enough to compete?”

When an economic landscape is changing quickly and the majority of businesses are having a hard time adapting to these transitions, it becomes increasingly difficult to seize windows of opportunity. Many companies are simply not agile enough to absorb change well or adaptive enough to respond to opportunities or avoid threats.


So, what is a business designed for the 20th century to do? Here are six steps that can help you shift from a defender to a challenger of the status quo.

  1. Increase Awareness. When a business is not functioning optimally, it’s often an indicator that leadership has not yet realized the need to change or is trying to evolve based on an existing, out-of-date business blueprint. Self-awareness for a business requires engagement in a process that leads to an honest assessment of its current state and limitations in order to accurately plan a way forward.
  1. Get Prepared. Infrastructure, systems, processes, and culture are powerful forces that have profound implications on an organization’s ability to function well and keep pace with an accelerating world. Companies rarely prioritize internal capacity building unless they are facing a threat. However, it’s better to invest in the fundamental underpinnings of an organization up front, especially if the company is struggling with lack of strategic direction, poor strategy execution, and slowness in making decisions or taking action, or if it is outpaced by competition, rigid and siloed, or inefficient. While it’s not likely that you’ll change everything at once, being ready to evolve over time affects everything, from strategies and structure to the way you think and lead.
  1. Take a Long-Term View. Prioritizing short-term gains over long-term investments may be the single most critical challenge facing many businesses. A long-term approach balances short-term investments (drivers) and long-term investments (builders). While the pressures of today’s fast-paced world make this challenging at times, a more far-sighted approach can be the most impactful tactic an organization can adopt.
  1. Embrace a Dynamic Approach. Leaders in the 21st century must embrace a nonlinear, dynamic approach — one that is multileveled and includes a suite of approaches that all align with an organization’s broad objectives to modernize and improve the health and effectiveness of operations. Along with replacing old-school approaches and attacking problems like inefficient systems and processes, the organization must introduce new practices, tools, and reward systems.
  1. Have a Bias Toward Action. This may seem obvious, but any community, including our own, can become too friendly with the status quo. This is a dangerous place for a business. If an organization is slow and stagnant, leaders can enable action by removing barriers, aligning people with the greater vision, and funneling energy toward a common focus. The path forward is a long journey that is more like a series of sprints than a marathon. People have to be motivated in order to sustain action, and this is most powerful when willpower is harnessed and directed.
  1. Increase the Sense of Urgency. High-functioning, fast-moving, adaptive companies know how to maintain a sense of urgency. This is not a constant state of chaos and panic but a way to consciously generate energy and inspire a can-do attitude. A raised sense of urgency keeps complacency levels low and people actively engaged, cooperative, and contributing. It is so effective that it’s the first of eight steps in the change method outlined by John Kotter, author of the international bestseller “Leading Change.” Beyond the ability to drive change efforts, maintaining a sense of urgency at the right level is the way an organization sustains momentum.

There is no such thing as a magic bullet, but if you embrace and evolve these steps as you drive new behaviors and initiatives, you will see small changes that start to drive big shifts. These are the building blocks for sustained and significant change, leading to a healthy, high-impact organization.


From an economic development standpoint, the strength of our local economy is the sum of the strength of its individual businesses. High-impact, sustainable businesses create not only economic value for the organization but shared value for our communities; this growth is economic, as well as intellectual, political, social, and more. On the flip side, the value creation from businesses that function less than optimally is inherently lower.

“Thriving businesses are optimized, high-functioning environments designed to create high impact, and we need to enable more of our local companies to make the big shift from survive to thrive.” -Brandi Martin

The most successful ones are also purposeful and value-focused. It’s time to rethink the notion that the sole purpose of a business is to maximize profits at all costs and to see profitability as a by-product of an organization that is working purposefully to create positive impact and value for customers, stakeholders, and the community.

If we can do this, we can recapture the essence of a thriving business. We will also experience significant improvements to profitability. Studies of those who prioritized building purpose-driven, high-performing businesses show that profitability has exceeded 245 percent within one year, 410 percent within five years, and 1681 percent within 15 years. (Sources: and Sisodia, Shethe, and Wolfe, “Firms of Endearment.”)


The future of your organization depends on bold, decisive action. Business as usual is only going to create more of what you already have. A business that will be successful well into the future will need to have the elasticity to thrive in the face of change.

If you’re unsure of where to start or spinning your wheels with your investments in change, we want to help you!