How to stay relevant in a constantly changing world

In a fluttering, moving, changing business world, the ability to stay relevant is key to survival and sustainable well-being. This applies in three angles: How can companies stay relevant to the market? How can companies stay relevant to the employees? And how can the employees stay relevant to their employer? Here is a guide to get you started.


Staying relevant is about deliberate development

The speed of change in technology and society is constantly increasing, and is called the ‘change of change’. In fact we have never seen anything like it: We are looking into a future with constant change. MORE changes, RAPID changes, and PIVOTAL changes, in technology, information, and structures (Gary Hamel, Reinventing the Technology of Human Accomplishment 2011).

This means that the key to staying relevant is to know where to develop yourself and your organization, and how. This also mean, that you need to know what to hold on to; what NOT changes in your organization, and around you. This applies both to you as an individual (either employee or employer) or you as an organization in the market:

  1. Understand what changes – and what does not.
  2. Decide what you want to change – and what to keep



As an organization towards the market

The business world is characterized by two strong trends: Disruptive technologies, and convenience based user behavior.

The technology scene is constantly developing, either creating new possibilities or outfacing existing solutions. For example, take a look at the fast paced development in social media for internal collaboration. 15 years back we only had email. Then came internal blogging, intranets with fora, internal wikis, Yammer, Slack, MS Teams, instant messaging etc. Or look at the possibilities for using cloud infrastructure or O365. Or being in dialogue with your customers and crowd via Twitter or Instagram. Never before has is been so easy and transparent to have a dialogue with a CEO or with a President.

Also, users are more likely to change supplier of their service based on convenience and peer-influence, than on authoritative facts and statements. Take for example the roll-out of MobilePay, out-competing Swipp. My kids do not chose a supplier of games or clothing based on my advise, or on what some authority says. They make decisions on convenience on purchase and on delivery; and they seek advice on YouTube or from their peers.

As an organization, you need to understand this.

You need to either compete on these new premises, or create new opportunities. Either you swim in Red Ocean, or you create new Blue Ocean for your services. You can do this by discovering new opportunities, or solving existing problems with new products; or by creating a whole new form for business model and organizational structure. Take a look at the blog post on this: Staying relevant in the Future of Work by re-framing your Blue Ocean.

Once you grasp this thinking, you need to map your development activities. What part of your focus is on running, on growing, and on transforming your business? 80-10-10? 100-0-0? Or 60-30-10? Map your innovation activities by taking a look here: Map Your Innovation Spectrum and Transform Your Business.

You need to experiment, inspect, and adapt your business model and delivery system. You need to understand what moves, and what does not. And you need to decide what to move – and what to keep.

And, then take a look at your analysis again. Are you being too conservative? Too risk averse? Playing too safe? Is it time to be bolder, and take some calculated risks? To handle those uncertainties, you need to experiment. Launch a speedboat and establish learning to handle hypothesis about the future or the uncharted market.

As an organization towards the employees

Creating organizations that are relevant for the employees is about creating organizations where people want to show up. This is about belonging, trust, psychological safety, possibilities for development and learning, and engagement. As Daniel Pink puts it, it’s about a situational approach to mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

It’s also about creating a culture of tribal leadership, with clear expectations to behavior and a constant dialogue, daily and weekly. Take care of each other, and treat each other fair.

Sometimes, staying relevant to employees requires that you redesign your organizational layout and structure, and start seeing your organization as a platform for the employees work-life, rather than a place where they should fit into a puzzle with fixed thinking towards functional skills and deliveries. Yes, at times that approach works, and creates productivity and efficiency, but in a world that changes in unprecedented ways, this is counterproductive in the long run. You need to create a platform for the employees to stand on, where they can chip in with their own approach, experience, skills, and attitude. Clearly, this requires that you as a leader has a totally new understanding of your roles, focusing more on mentoring, entrepreneurship, white space management, and establishing relationships.

Staying relevant to employees is also about creating an environment of learning and experimentation. Take WD-40 for example, encouraging learning moments. Set time aside for deep-diving into technology, for listening to podcasts together, joint reflection, and conferences. Create a safe environment, where everyone has the courage and encouragement to change habits. Use internal social media to share articles and ideas.

If you want to stay relevant to your employees, you need to create a place where they want to show up; an place where they are safe and seen, and can grow.

You need to tell your employees honestly what changes – and what does not, e.g your purpose and values.

As an employee to the organization and to the market in general

To stay relevant to your organization, you need to do just two things:

  1. Keep the dialogue
  2. Keep learning

Stay in touch with your colleagues and leaders, and lean forward in the debates. Chip in with input and ideas, and create relationships all over the organization. Build your network internally. Make a list of people you want to have lunch with, and have an “internal business lunch” with someone new 2-3 times a month. Master communication and presentation skills. Avoid emails, and call people instead. Use FaceTime or similar video call technologies.

And keep learning. Even if you’re +50 years old, you must stay learning if you want to stay relevant. As an experienced employee, a part or your market value is how good you are at combining your existing empirical knowledge with new technology and applications. Get an understanding of how YouTube works, why Discord is popular, how Steam works, and how the business model behind free services is designed. Spend time on reading books and on articles, and spend time on teaching your learning to others, e.g. via in internal blog, a vlog, on Instagram, or in internal social media.

Get an understanding of yourself as a human. What values do you have? What emotions do you have? What do you strive for? What is your dream? And what do you care about in people? What do you expect from your peers and from your leaders?

Understand what changes in your context – and what does not.
Understand what you want to change personally – and what you want to hold on to.

Changing without paranoia

There is an inherent danger here.

I’ve seen situation where people and organizations get a hint of paranoia and change too much and too fast, leading to tremendous loss in people, in social capital, and in market shares.

Also, I’ve seen people and organizations freeze like a deer in the headlights, holding firmly to the current, well-known setup.

Both reactions are wrong. We need to develop deliberately, and in manageable doses. Map out what changes, and what not. Make a plan for what to change, and what to keep. And make a decision to keep learning and developing, but in small, incremental, experimental, agile steps.

Stay relevant by deliberate development. But hold on to the things that you do not want to change.


Photo by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash Pankaj Patel


About the author: Erik

Erik is trusted advisor, an experienced leader, department manager, project/program manager. Master of Science from Technical University of Copenhagen. EBA in cross-cultural project management.

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