Not the Time to Bring in a Change Specialist

Last Updated Apr 28, 2009 11:12 AM EDT

A common theme in recession management advice is that companies should use the upheaval to their advantage by investing in areas such as R&D where competitors are not, hiring talent now available at less expensive terms, and recrafting marketing messages to emphasize value over sizzle.

Sounds like a lot of change for an organization to take on. Time to bring in a change management artist? Someone who can realign the organization around new strategies, tactics and initiatives?

No, definitely not, argues Harvard Business School professor Lynda Applegate, interviewed on HBS Working Knowledge in Building Businesses in Turbulent Times.

"When approaching change in these turbulent times, don't go searching for a change specialist," Applegate says. "What you need are leaders with a strong plan for how the company is going to survive today and succeed in the future -- leaders who can communicate the first few steps on the path forward and rally employees, customers, and partners to work together in making the tough decisions and taking the steps needed. Success will depend on leaders who are able to stabilize the company as they identify and exploit opportunities, find new market niches, create innovative new offerings, and restructure and reposition."
Other Applegate tips for innovating in an economic maelstrom:
  • Emphasize Risk Management Since it's uncertain how long this downturn will last, risk management is an important process while chasing opportunities. "Staging commitments to reduce uncertainty and risk, while paving the way for new business growth in the future, is critical."
  • We're All New Ventures Now "In a sense," Applegate says, "every business, large or small, needs to think of itself as a 'new venture' right now. This is a time of unprecedented opportunity to rethink offerings, markets, business processes, and organizational structure -- and to improve them to achieve growth."
  • Budget Cuts Don't Mean Retrenchment Former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner needed to take $7 billion out of the company's cost structure, but in so doing created a successful "One IBM strategy" that overturned the previous CEO's break-up plan.
As a manager in your company, do you think you are equipped to lead your troops through the necessary changes? Who do you look to for management inspiration?
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.