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Adaption or Extinction?

4/11/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

From the silver-lining department:
These days, as the C-suite focuses on massive technological
and financial upheaval, there’s a
refreshing absence of management fads.
Who has the time or inclination to tinker?
But while change for the sake of change
gets you nowhere, changing to survive is
essential. Cable veterans know that today’s
T-Rex can quickly become tomorrow’s
fossil. Fads come and go; evolution
is constant.

As in biological evolution, business
survival depends on adaptat ion to environmental
conditions. In our current
environment, margins are affected by relentless
technological development and
globalization. Financial pressure has increased
and, more than ever, results are the only things that
count. But those results are limited by other numerical
realities. Most companies are now overstaffed in
functions that have become less critical to the bottom
line, and understaffed in strategic and revenuegenerating


At the same time, while unprecedented numbers of
baby boomers are retiring from corporate positions,
fewer young, well-educated workers are entering the
workforce to fill the gap. Employment experts estimate
that incoming younger workers represent just a
quarter of departing older ones.

As a result, a massive labor vacuum is forming just
over the horizon. Supply simply will not be adequate to
meet future demand. Barring human cloning advances
that would allow the rapid creation of educated 20-yearolds,
there is no easy solution to this structural problem.
This is a time for intense experimentation among all industries
as corporate leaders attempt to discern what
the “new normal” will look like. The only certainty is
that the comfortable old organization model is on the
way out, never to return.

Looking ahead, successful businesses will focus on
their key core competencies and contract for the support
needed for other functions. Expect MSOs and
content providers to outsource more of their sales, marketing,
legal, and accounting work. Economies of scale
will become less important than speed to market. We’re
facing an ever more information-driven, software-intensive
economy in which constant, effective communications
will be fundamental.

The corporate organization chart has been shrinking,
with fewer levels and fewer people doing more. Networks
of specialists in specific critical areas will call the
shots; eventually, they’ll replace middle management.
In response to the increasing rate of change, companies
will staff up and train people for missions, not for the
long haul.

In short, the org chart is going horizontal: hierarchical
structures will be replaced by peer-level teams of experts.
Position on the corporate ladder will matter much
less than specialized knowledge and expertise. The old
cliché, “it’s not what you know; it’s who you
know” is being turned on its head.

Compensation will be tied to the market
values of individual skills, not to position or
tenure. The nature of organizational loyalty
is changing, too — it’s no longer about
the superior-subordinate relationship, more
about commitment among peers.


The fossil fields of business hold the remains
of many strong companies that ignored
or resisted environmental change.
If it’s a choice between adaptation and
extinction, how should organizations adapt to ensure
their survival?

Change lenses, cultivate instincts: Step back and
take a fresh, unbiased look at the market. Watch for
new opportunities, new threats, and changing relationships
in industry ecology.

Develop faster reflexes: Have resources been overlooked?
Can you co-exist with competitors? Get
away from predators or stand and fight? Don’t panic,
but don’t dawdle, either. Speed counts; work to
be first off the mark.

Attract and keep talent now: Demand for executive
talent is about to go up. Getting ahead of the curve
will serve you well.

No more me-too: Figure out what differentiates
your company from its peers and run with it. In an
increasingly commoditized economy, an organization’s
uniqueness can be its salvation.

Cross-pollinate: In-breeding is a dead end in biology
and business. Successful adaptors blend new
DNA with original lines. Be open to hiring from
other industries. Help employees broaden their
experience through cross-training, temporary assignments
and job rotations. Help them learn new
skills on special projects and task forces.

Re-frame the career model: For generations, we’ve
learned that up is the only acceptable direction for
a career path. But when skills are more important
than position, lateral moves can be every bit as beneficial to career growth. Help reverse the “up or out”

In the game of evolutionary musical chairs, species
that resist change are out when the music stops. The
economy will come back; start adapting now to make
sure your company has a seat when it does.

Ann Carlsen is founder and CEO of media and telecom
executive-search firm Carlsen Resources.