by Daniel Hebda

Business transformation in the words of Bob Dylan

Jul 27, 2017
IT Leadership

The Times They Are-a-Changin'

Many may know the words of Bob Dylan in his 1964 inspirational anthem, The Times They Are-a-Changin’. If ever a song’s lyrics applied to the changes companies need to make through business transformation today, this is the one.

The rapid-fire changes that companies encounter today are like nothing that businesses have ever experienced. And, without a solid plan for understanding and navigating the waters ahead, chances are that even today’s high flyers may not exist in three or five years.

Who would have thought that Dylan in the ’60s would foreshadow the business world 50 years later? He spoke to people then about the importance of getting ahead of the widespread changes that were happening throughout the world:

“Come gather ’round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters around you have grown And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone If your time to you Is worth savin’ Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin'”

This is the same message that businesses should be heeding today. The Dylan lyrics continue with, “and the first one now will later be last.” It’s certainly happened before – remember Polaroid, Blockbuster, Enron, Pan Am Airways, Bethlehem Steel and hundreds of others whose names we can barely recall?

Those companies were too late to their business transformation. With markets evolving at the speed of light and customer demands and preferences shifting swiftly, companies should feel an immediate urgency to:

  • Innovate fresh ideas for customers 
  • Manage continuous change 
  • Develop business capabilities that will carry them into tomorrow
  • Identify and manage new risks that will arise from transformation

I saw a bumper sticker recently: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Attributed at different times to Derek Bok, former president of Harvard, and Ann Landers, this quote could be changed slightly for businesses: “if you think transformation is expensive, try disruption.” Because the times are changing so rapidly, we don’t have the choice to stand still and let our companies be disrupted by others, unless we want to doom our businesses to failure.

Leading companies across the globe have realized that there are certain strategic actions that are necessary for a business to truly transform. These include some basic measures:

  • Understand the customer journey and adapt business operations to keep buyers on the trek
  • Develop, evolve and map capabilities to better plan needed resources; match technology with operations and streamline the business
  • Cultivate an effective, standard way to identify and reduce transformation risks
  • Architect for transformation so you can facilitate necessary business adaptations
  • Focus on data as a critical asset to monetize and turn it into revenue streams
  • Foster agility throughout the organization, so that each division, department, group and employee can turn on a dime to get new products to market

But, what’s most important to transformation success? Leaders who are completely on board with transformation and who can drive their vision for change and lead cultural shifts. I see some of our customers succeed in transformation, but others who fail. The difference is usually leadership, or the lack of it. A leader has to be effective; transformation can’t be driven bottom up only.

If your leaders haven’t emerged to lead, if your company hasn’t begun to change with the times, or maybe had a setback with a transformation initiative, it isn’t too late – yet. Anyone in that situation can hum along with Dylan as he sings, “For the loser now may be later to win. For the times they are a-changin’.”