Change is the rule, the only question is pace and degree

The world, and particularly the world of CRE, is one of change. If you think this isn’t a world that changes quickly, you don’t really understand what CRE is. Sure, some of the basics still look the same as it used to be – brokers work with clients and landlords to connect them up. That’s like saying, transportation hasn’t changed much since the horse and buggy. People still travel on roads in a vehicle that travels in the direction you point it. 

The great Duke Long responded to a comment on his blog recently about how nothing has changed and nothing will change. It can be easy to miss it if you have your eyes closed and blinders on but CRE has changed dramatically in the last decade:

  • How space is used is very different with agile working, mobile tech, work from home policies, etc.
  • How space is designed is very different with fewer offices, more wellness features, greater emphasis on sustainability.
  • Basic lease terms and conditions have shifted.
  • Business requirements about why and where they need space have shifted.

Brokers that think a trip to the golf course gets a deal done haven’t been paying attention. You need to bring more than a financial model to the table now. Often times, the client is doing a lot of this heavy lifting on their own because the brokerage community doesn’t do full-service well yet. 

But just because you don’t see the change yourself doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

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Short-term thinking can lead to long-term disasters

Recently, I read a post on LinkedIn that recommended added free features for job seekers. Give them greater visibility, increased profiles, more InMail messages. Basically, make it easier for people to use the system to find a job which is one of the key uses of the site. 830 comments with most seeming to agree (or simply complain about LinkedIn generally).

This is classic short-term thinking. Many quick ideas have the same flaw: they discount the incentives they create for bad behavior. If you give a free service to a certain class of people (job seekers in this case), you will suddenly find a surge in those classifying as that class in search of free features. If you are a headhunter or HR person, why not classify this way? You could leverage exactly the same features. Think about the new deluge of messages hiring managers would start to get, they’d stop using LinkedIn entirely. 

One of my approaches when I see new technology is to challenge it even if my initial reaction is strongly positive. A great salesperson can make even an awful tool look amazing in a short demo. Challenging an idea is always worthwhile. Fragile ideas that can’t stand up to scrutiny aren’t worth pursuing. This fragility is what leads to the long-term disasters.

It’s one thing to throw out an idea that hasn’t been thought through and tested. That’s a principle of brainstorming and innovation. It’s another thing completely to present an untested idea as a project to begin working on. 

Barbarians at the Gate and the culture of change

I just finished reading the phenomenal book Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco. It’s a great book and a story everyone who wants to succeed in business should know at least the bones of it. At its core, this is a story about leadership that creates and implements plans that may or may not actually be in the best interest of anyone but themselves and/or stockholders.

One of the elements of the book that gets a bit of a bad rap (perhaps undeservedly) is the culture of change. The same leaders that are making financial moves with the company believe that change is necessary to keep a company moving forward – sometimes even change purely for the sake of change. Push out new tech, reorg management, move the headquarters, change tactics, spin-off businesses. Change.

Change is one of those things in life that people don’t like so when they see it as a precursor to something bad, it can be easy to attach blame to it. Reorganized a year before missing earnings? That must be the reason, not the trajectory that was set two years prior. Often, we are just playing out trends that were established years in advance. Several of my projects this year were only successful because of work from three years ago.

Case studies are a great way to learn but most people read case studies wrong. The case study is only a collection of historical facts. A good case study doesn’t assign good or bad qualities to those facts. Sometimes things worked when they shouldn’t have. Sometimes things failed when they didn’t need to. Sometimes a case study is purely an intellectual exercise and other times it can have practical use. Be careful though, sometimes the conclusions they lead you to are the wrong ones.

Understanding someone else’s response to change is complex.

We all have to deal with change as part of what we do. But as with so many things we all deal with, change comes in waves. There are periods of greater change which increases our sensitivity to it, and periods where it’s lower where we almost longingly look forward to something a little different. A person’s response to change depends as much on how much change they’ve experienced lately as their typical tolerance for change.

Take someone who is highly open to change. Now subject that person to two years of uncertainty, worry, and constant change. No matter how open they are to change, at the end of the two years, this person is going to be either looking for a way out of this environment or seeking anything to keep more change from happening.

The human fight or flight condition is a highly evolved trait. We are conditioned to avoid situations which impact our safety. Stress and change can rise to that level when we subject people to it long enough.

Now, let’s take this same person and put them in a group where some are more or less open to change. Subject this group to two years of change conditions, you will find that they are closer in tolerance to the most change sensitive members. Even people open to change will adopt change-averse traits to protect the rest of the group.

To continue moving forward with any change, you need to understand this environment that the business is working through. It’s part cultural, it’s part temporary sensitivity. Individuals make up a component but the group makes up just as much.

Cherish your rebels and anarchists – they get the job done.

Much like every family has a black sheep, every corporate group has a rebel that goes against the grain. This rebel is your biggest weapon. They break the rules that need to be broken and start the conversations that need to be had. The average employee avoids rule-breaking and conversation starting because it’s uncomfortable and against the written and unwritten rules.

Companies that die usually do so through their own doing. When you force everyone to stay in their lane and do as they are told, you set yourself down a path to mediocrity. Mediocrity only wins when an industry is non-competitive (I’m looking at you, real estate and broadband/cable).

Rebels and anarchists are agents for change. They push you to understand which rules are broken and force you to think outside the box. Naturally, most of their change and suggestions will not happen but the constant pushing and drive to be different is the nature of evolution. Most new features will usually be rejected but every so often something rises up that changes the world.

The Past is a poor indicator of the Future.

Our experience is built from things that have happened in the past. It is built up from things we learned, things we experienced, and the things we imagine could happen. All of this is built on the past and our best bet at extrapolating it to the future.

Experience is important. It helps us to understand how situations tend to go. We learn how to deal with different types of people. We learn what can go right or wrong across the various things we work on. These things we learn are largely the building blocks of interactions, not actual outcomes.

Outcomes change with every new event because, like experience, they are built on the past of the participants. Those collective pasts add up to something new and different because everyone tries to avoid the errors and issues that they have previously experienced. Trying to avoid bad things from the past require new results.

Therefore, the past requires the future to be different than the past. Using the past to exactly indicate the future is a bad call. The past is an input into predictions but it says that things must change.

Turning theory into practice takes a special way of thinking.

There are a lot of theories that could save companies a ton of money, increase their productivity, and make their employees happier. Plenty of consultants can kill a forest and tell you the many, many things you could do to achieve this nirvana. Very few consultants will give you the roadmap for going from where you are today to this state of nirvana.

It’s even more difficult with resources inside of an organization. When you have a full-time job already, finding time to think differently about an issue in the short-term that will drive long-term change is nearly impossible. Very few people are comfortable running projects that will dramatically change their world – and potentially eliminate their current role.

Change Management has been a hot topic for a long time. It’s a fuzzy world that can be hard to describe. Every Change Management project is unique because it involves helping people in different situations and cultures adopt something new. Selling this concept is hard because either the person on the other side of the table understands the difficulties (and the time it takes) involved in change or they don’t.

If you can’t turn theory into reality, it doesn’t matter how good the theory is.