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E86 | Responding To Disruptive Change with Julian Birkinshaw

How should you as a business leader, respond to disruptive change in a decisive way? 

As the current global crisis gathers momentum, ensuring your organisation is able to respond to disruption is vital for survival. 

But it isn’t just coronavirus that is out to disrupt you, there are thousands of things that could potentially derail your business, not least the economy, access to talent, access to capital, access to markets to name but a few. 

Today’s guest is an authority on the subject of change, in fact, Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School not only teaches it, but he’s authored several books on the topic too. 

So if you’re an entrepreneur wondering what frameworks your business should be putting in place to support growth and create a valuable business, or how to look at strategy and how to get your business fit for the future, then this is one conversation you don’t want to miss.

On today’s podcast:

  • How big businesses handle disruption
  • How to do face to face work remotely
  • Why managers need to adapt
  • The ABC method
  • What makes a great coach
  • His prefered models for entrepreneurship


How Businesses Can Handle Disruptive Change with Julian Birkinshaw

The coronavirus isn’t selective about who or what it affects. Which means every organisation and business leader needs to be able to respond to disruptive change in a decisive way. 

Julian Birkinshaw is Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School and also runs their executive education business. 

“I would say that on balance, most of my time is spent helping established firms figure out how to reinvent themselves for the digital age, for an era when they’re having these small startup companies snapping at their heels and trying to challenge them.”

Because it isn’t just Covid-19 that disrupts business – everyday companies are facing multiple issues that could potentially derail operations, such as a declining economy, access to talent, access to capital or access to markets for example. 

So how can your organisation handle disruption?

How Goliaths deal with disruption

If you run a large corporation, perhaps one of your fundamental problems is that you can’t react quickly enough. Small startups are renowned for their agility, but more established larger businesses take time to adjust, and for some, it’s the making of them, for others, it’s their undoing. 

“[For Goliaths] it’s the Amazons and the Googles, those little startups that they’ve never heard of, challenging their customers with new offers. And those big established companies are saying to themselves, ‘we see what they’re doing, we can see that the world is changing, but we’re a little bit slow to react with our existing systems and processes’.”

Some Goliaths don’t react fast enough, unable to make the necessary shifts, the Kodaks, the Nokias and the Blockbusters of the world, for example, but there are market leaders who take the challenge of adapting, and thrive. 

Autotrader for example, were once the leader in the field of used and secondhand car publications, but when the market changed, they changed too, taking the entire operation 100% online, successfully retaining overall market leadership. 

Making remote working work

If you want to make remote working work in order to weather the current virus disruption, online tools such as Zoom or Slack are crucial to maintaining communications and allowing colleagues to remain connected. 

“Zoom allows you to have 50 small images of your students up on the screen in front of you, and you can cold call them, you can say, ‘Fred, what do you think about this’, you can split them into groups, you can actually send them to go off and have a little discussion about something and then come back and share their plan, and you can recreate all of that face to face stuff online.”

Working remotely can ensure minimal disruption, but it takes more time and requires more effort. Not to mention it’s less emotionally rewarding than having face to face meetings. 

Why managers need to adapt

But it’s not just being able to weather this current crisis that will ensure a business’ longevity, managers need to adapt long term too. 

The workforce of today does not react well to being told what to do. Employees want the ability to figure things out for themselves, and managers need to change their managerial approach to enable this. They need to encourage team members, to nudge them and coach them toward success, to get the most out of their brain power. 

And this current shift towards virtual working is exacerbating that trend. 

“What it means is that our skills as leaders have to become just that much more sophisticated. The job of the leader nowadays is nothing more than enabling our people to do their best work and therefore simply creating a framework in which that work can happen. We’ve got to give them [employees] some sense of where they’re going. And then we’ve just got to give them a huge amount of freedom”.

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