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This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Transform or fade away.

For business leaders who want to succeed in a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive global marketplace, the key to survival doesn't come any simpler or starker than that.

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As cost pressures mount and competition grows more fierce, companies that don't move quickly enough to rethink what they do and how they do it will be left behind.

No industry or organization is immune. Everything we do must be put on the examination table – how we serve our customers, the talent we seek and how they are deployed, our marketing strategies and our core processes – to see what can be reinvented, reshaped and optimized.

The cost of failing to act can be catastrophic. There are many recent examples of businesses that didn't take the steps necessary to transform and no longer exist or have been reduced to weak shadows of their former selves.

But for every company that didn't evolve and lost the battle to disruption, there are others who have been able to adapt and re-invent themselves.

Look at cellphone giant Nokia Corporation, whose roots stretch back 150 years. Long before it became the communications leader we know today, the Finnish company launched as a pulp and paper mill in 1865, and then branched into rubber products, cable manufacturing and generating electricity at power plants.

Or how about National Geographic, which first hit the shelves in 1888 and established itself as one of the world's premier magazines, only to find itself in a radically changing digital publishing market more than 100 years later. While other iconic magazines and newspapers have been forced to close up shop, National Geographic is thriving with a reinvented brand and new offerings, such as its popular TV channel.

It's crucial for companies to embrace transformation – where you start does not have to be where you stay.

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Marketplaces change and grow, and companies must be prepared to change and grow along with them, whether it is evolving from pulp and paper to telecommunications or from the inventor of the photocopier to specialists in optimizing organizational workflows.

So how can CEOs and business leaders tackle transformation in the midst of mounting cost pressures and competition?

It requires an internal culture shift in which operational excellence – a management philosophy that applies to a variety of principles, systems and tools towards sustainable business growth – is not just a short-term initiative or campaign but a part of the organization's DNA.

Operational excellence promotes enhanced collaboration and customer-centric processes, while also driving improvements in deploying capital and human resources.

A recent global study of 1,300 CEOs by PriceWaterhouseCoopers identified the top three disruptors on the minds of business leaders: regulation, competition and evolving customer behaviours. Operational excellence and the innovation that stems from it can be leveraged to address each of these challenges.

In the face of increased regulatory requirements, operational excellence helps mitigate risk and navigate compliance, while providing opportunities to streamline and optimize business processes. It helps organizations increase competitiveness by systematically tracking and assessing business opportunities and creating competitive advantages by exploiting data. And, in the case of evolving customer behaviours, operational excellence provides visibility and mechanisms to cultivate client relationships, increase engagement and loyalty.

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Business leaders will continue to face accelerated disruption in the years to come. But in the face of great adversity comes great opportunity to rethink your business, set your sights on the future and use the transformative power of operational excellence to lay the groundwork for your path forward.

Al Varney is President and CEO of Xerox Canada.

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