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What is a Turn?

by Mark P. McDonald  |  December 2, 2019  |  Comments Off on What is a Turn?

A turn represents the context behind proactive and productive change. Turns hold a particular spot on the change spectrum covering the middle ground which is often missing from most corporate strategies.  Without this middle ground executives too often let disruptive forces fester until they create an existential threat that warrants major high risk transformation efforts.

The idea of big risk big reward is enticing to executives.  Organizations, they rationalize, need a crisis to create meaningful change.  Business media, strategy firms and consultants feed the desire to ‘bet the company’ as the few who win make it onto the top pages of websites, MBA case studies and included as references in proposals.  All of this gives a false sense of confidence, when a better answer is readily available.

Why don’t more people change with the curve rather than being forced into a crisis?  That ability to change requires something called – winning in the turns.

Leading before the crisis

Leading ahead of a crisis is tough.  Executives are constantly bombarded with potential threats with no clear way to sort out the noise and respond to the real forces.  Waiting until a force builds into a crisis is the default ‘funnel’ for managing into the future.

The idea behind the turn is to see these forces as they are building rather than when they are cresting. This means increasing leadership sensitivity toward “What needs to continue to be true for our success?” and away from “How are we doing in meeting the current plan and targets?”  A shift or that additional question in leadership helps organizations find and get a feel for a turn.

A turn is an extra ordinary change.  Extra in the sense that it is a level of change that goes beyond business as usual responses to customers, competitors, the economy, etc.   Turns are generated from multiple forces that appear in your numbers, they threaten, but are not yet so powerful that they overturn your plans, strategies and investments.

The table below highlights some of the differences between ‘normal’ change or business as usual. These changes concentrate around actions related to making the plan.  This is in contrast to ‘turns’  that shape a requirement for transformation to keep the company focused on success now and into the future.

Organizations face the need to make a turn when normal practices are starting to lose their effectiveness.  That is a sign of disruption.  The need for a new perspective and the opportunity to take different actions.  That combination is the essence of a turn.

Its never one thing in a turn

Economic recession has been the primary concern of a turn.  Turns are the result of forces and changes that alter the context for executing the current plans and the potential for future changes.  While the potential of a recession gets most of the media attention, economic changes are not the only force that drives the need for extra ordinary change.

The graphic below illustrates a number of different sources related to a turn.  On their own each creates a need for companies to reevaluate plans, investments and actions.  Economic stress, technology innovations, competitive actions, customer expectations and the like all represent external challenges to company success.

Executives are accustomed to leading change based on responding to one of these forces.  A recession is an example of a uni-dimensional type of turn.  The real challenge is when these forces occur simultaneously.  That combination requires a more comprehensive response.  For example, the combination of a turn in customer expectations and competition, for example, drove significant investments in digital transformation.    That is the environment executives face now as the following turns are shaping the context for change and success.

  • Customer expectations – that are always rising in the face of comparisons against experience leaders.  Things always need to be easier, clearer and deliver more value.
  • Competition – the disruption created as companies cross industry boundaries and enter the market redefining the terms of success.
  • Technological change – as the basic computing model is moving toward cloud based services and away from ownership models.
  • Economic concerns – the threat of an economic slowdown and potential weaker customer demand.
  • Geopolitical – trade tensions and international regulation, etc.

These forces are all at play to one degree or another depending on your firm, industry, geography, etc.  High tech firms are in the midst of changes across the board including the ones above along with changes in their revenue, margin and go to market models.

Recognizing a turn, its forces and nature represent a start

A turn is a force creating the need for significant change.  It creates new forces behind future success.  Winning in a turn means moving in ways that take advantage of those forces – being more successful in terms of growth, customer relationships, etc.  Winning requires more than normal management practices.  It requires applying these practices before they become an existential threat to the organization and its future.

Knowing the nature of a turn sets the stage.  How you see the turn and what you do with it set you a part form others.  The next post discusses the three aspects that define those who live through and those who win in a turn.

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Category: change-on-the-cheap  leadership  management  strategy  winning-in-the-turns  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.






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