Friday, September 16, 2011

Mastering Change: Lessons on the Pivot

I spoke today at a Churchill Club Event: Igniting Innovation and Mastering Change

My fellow panelists were:

  • Randy Komisar, partner at Kleiner and author of Getting to Plan B
  • Ujjal Kohli, CEO, Rhythm NewMedia
  • Sudhakar Ramakrishna, EVP & GM of Unified Communications Solutions, and Chief Development Officer, Polycom
The panelists and the subject matter were wonderful. A few insights follow:
  • Intellectual honesty
    • All the panelists agreed that mastering change and pivoting requires intellectual honesty. The courage to confront hard truths, face challenging topics head on, and to share the truth up the chain is fundamental.
    • Given that businesses are funded on Plan A, Randy noted that too many teams and boards hide the truth in fear of admitting the fallacy of plan A. The expectation, he noted, should be that Plan A is simply an hypothesis and that is is to be expected that a Plan B will be required.
    • Ujjal noted that team members are too oft afraid to share bad news across departments and that too many CEOs fear telling the board the truth
    • Ujjal made the excellent point that Series A investors need to build a culture of absolute trust with the CEO and to stress to him/her that the truth is paramount and no one will ever shoot the messenger.
  • Agile, data driven, rapid cadences
    • All the panelists stressed the need for speed and agility. The movement from water-fall to agile development is driven by a need to quickly incorporate real-world feedback and signals into the product, strategy, and company.
    • Randy noted the need to ask the right questions and to validate or disprove hypothesis as quickly as possible.
    • Processes, cultures, etc that thrive on agility, metrics, and clearly stated assumptions win.
  • When to Pivot
    • Randy stressed the need to avoid waiting for a near-death experience to change. Change should be assumed and too often it takes a disaster to shake a start-up from complacency and intellectual dishonesty.
    • Pivot early and avoid running the cash balance, team morale, and credibility with the board down to zero.
I really enjoyed participating and it reinforced my conviction that the entrepreneurial process demands comfort with ambiguity, agile execution, absolute intellectual honesty, and a process of vigorous debate, insight, and, vitally, realignment across the team.

1 comment:

  1. One suggestion: pivot without devaluing the effort put into Plan A. This is especially true if the transition to Plan B involves an entirely new executive team. It would be interesting to see numbers on startups that have successfully pivoted: do they exit the turn with the same talent.