5 Strategies for Tackling Disruption Head-on


The term “disruption” was first introduced in business in the late 1990s by Clayton Christensen. In his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, he used “disruptive innovation” to describe businesses that were successful not only in meeting customer needs but also anticipating their future needs. The theory explained how small, unknown companies could venture into a market and find a way to displace established businesses.  

In the same way, disruption can also refer to an event or series of events that significantly impact a business - a technical problem, natural disaster, or mass exodus of employees - and could also displace any number of businesses. Most recently, COVID-19 is a clear example of an event that disrupted markets, uprooted businesses, and turned agreed upon plans upside down.  Much like how an established business responds to “disruptors” or innovators in the market can determine its future, how a business responds to event-based disruption can also impact the company’s future success, or failure. 

The good news is, businesses and leadership can prepare for unexpected change, no matter what form it comes in.  Observing the market closely and continually, staying close to team members and customers, understanding and promoting change management, adopting flexibility, and building an environment of trust are some of the ways businesses can be prepared for and ready to tackle disruption.  Also see our previous blog on the importance of a business continuity plan for more on preparing for change. 

Take personal responsibility and observe the market continually  

While black swan events, like the COVID pandemic, might be unpredictable, economic shifts are inevitable and competitors will excel regardless. As a leader, own that fact and get in front of the unexpected. Staying on top of market research, new technologies, and current events can help keep you in the know. And although a lot of disruption cannot be predicted, if you’re in the loop on the market and economy in general, it will be easier to adapt and make needed adjustments. 

Big picture is, in the face of challenges, your team is expecting you to be decisive and to lead, so demonstrating a clear vision (even when you’re not 100% sure of the future!) is crucial. If employees don’t believe that leadership is committed to the changes, they’re unlikely to be on board. 

Stay close to people in and around your organization   

Inherently, employees want to be part of something bigger than themselves.  Ensuring open lines of communication helps give them visibility into where the company is going and what you are planning. By keeping them close (and informed), they’ll be more prepared for a revised approach and any requirements for process improvement. 

At the same time, when employees feel like they matter and they are part of the business, they’ll be less likely to leave when times are tough. Retaining talent should always be a top priority but it becomes even more important when faced with disruption. 

Similarly, staying close to customers and really listening to them will encourage them to stick around when things get difficult. In turbulent times, people re-evaluate and it’s easy for customers to want to jump ship - don’t give them that chance. Keeping customers close will only benefit your business overall. They offer unique perspectives and insight that can pave the way for solutions that allow your business to succeed.  When companies connect and build trust with customers, they better understand their needs and will be more likely to make adjustments that will work for everyone.

Understand the impact of change management  

Managing change is hard, that’s a fact. But, change management is a systematic approach to dealing with new goals, processes or technologies that should make dealing with change at least a little easier. When implemented properly, change management can help to control change and ensure that employees can adapt.  Clear communication and alignment around the mission become even more important to success when the plan of action is altered so having plans in place to deal with unexpected change is important. 

While this can be difficult for a lot of people, buy-in and action from the entire leadership team is required. Because change management involves a variety of tasks, resources, internal and external pressures, and unforeseen obstacles, teams must be cohesive and leadership strong. The best strategies for change management are absolutely useless without tactical execution.

Remember that resilience is a requirement that demands flexibility

When businesses show resilience, they adapt to disruption while finding a way to maintain business operations. The reality is that processes, people and products always change - sometimes dramatically and other times minimally.  Embrace the fact that no one has all the answers but resilience can keep businesses afloat.  In order to build resilience, flexibility is a requirement. 

Flexibility in business allows organizations to more quickly adjust to short-term change in a smooth manner.  When flexibility is built into processes and structure, there is room to adjust. Similarly, when employees are given the freedom to work flexibly, they’ll be more amenable to any modifications in process and responsibilities.  

In a flexible work environment, job satisfaction improves, work-life balance is healthier, employee retention increases. All of these factors will make transitions easier in the face of disruption. 

Trust and believe in your team  

It’s far easier to create an environment of micromanagement or even mismanagement than it is to rely on something as simple as trust. Though trust is earned over time, the assumption should always be that employees are smart and capable. People will make mistakes but that’s how they learn and ultimately how they improve. 

People are also observant. Leaders cannot forget that their team is paying attention to behavior at the top. Transparency and honesty (both key in building an atmosphere of trust) lead to less stress, higher productivity, deeper engagement, and greater alignment. This is critical to developing loyalty and commitment. 

On the whole, when your team feels trusted, they will be more likely to work harder and support your initiatives, even if those initiatives are in flux.  A trusted team is committed to your business and ready  to adapt.

The role of productivity intelligence

Disruption in business is inevitable. We cannot be prepared for everything that the future holds but we can implement strategies that will help pave the way for success. Insights into employee engagement can also play a role. If leadership understands how employees work best (and every employee may be different) they can provide support and guidance, offer flexibility, and ensure accountability. Contextualized productivity data from Prodoscore is a simple way to gain that visibility. 

To find out more about how Prodoscore can help your business face disruption and prepare for unexpected change, get in touch with us.