The great American songwriter Bob Dylan is no business analyst, but his iconic song The Times They Are A-Changin’ has something very pertinent to say about the economy we live in.
As businesses our goal is to make our organisations resilient to change, the idea being to weather the ups and downs of the market to achieve long-term profitability and growth. In this view of the world, changes are seen as exterior events, things that happen to a business outside of the normal run of affairs.
This risks taking a negative view of change: Change is something to be mitigated against, avoided or at best, managed. Many large organisations employ full-time change management personnel, and it is these professionals to whom this ebook is primarily aimed.
Is there a different way to view change, and is there a different way for a business to approach how it reacts to change?
Yes, there is, and it begins with the recognition that change is the norm, not the exception.
The truth is that the times are always a-changin’. There are continual economic fluctuations to deal with, constant small crises, opportunities and challenges. The technological landscape in which we live is always evolving, bringing hurdles for some businesses and ladders for others.
The difference between a business that benefits from change and thrives in this landscape and one that fails to succeed is that successful businesses are adaptive businesses with pace. What is needed are new forms of adaptiveness.
At Lloyd Parry Adaptive Business Consulting we specialise in the processes and structures a business needs to implement a truly adaptive culture.
It is worth casting our minds back to how our parent’s and grandparent’s generation did business to get an idea of how much things have changed and how quickly technology moves on. Communication technology, automation and increasingly powerful computing, have all had a massive impact on the way businesses operate across all sectors. Changing career expectations and work patterns have also had an effect.
While the business landscape or climate has changed almost beyond recognition since the 1950s, or even the 1980s, the way we organise our companies and train our workforce has been far slower to adapt. Many large businesses still follow management principles that were first laid down in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
These ways of thinking are simply not suited to meet the challenges of the modern digital economy, with the result that many companies find themselves having to continually reorganise their structures to adapt to change. This merry-go-round is frustrating and expensive. It need not be like this.
So, the primary reason for making your organisation more adaptive is to save the need to restructure your team every few years to adapt to a new technology or a new business model or a merger or a new set of regulations and so on.
Can this be done and is it even desirable to do so?
The idea of a corporate reorganisation is often enough to make even the most experienced manager’s blood run cold. Such major changes inspire dread in employees at every level of a business, and wide-ranging change management is fraught with risk.
- What happens if new processes or systems fail to align with legacy systems?
- What if implementation is unsuccessful due to inadequate training or insufficient communication?
- What if productivity is disrupted during the change, bringing lost orders, increased backlogs, staff overburden, increased costs and reduced profits?
The fear of change is often enough to impact the ability of businesses to make fluid and meaningful change decisions and is more reason to alter the way we look at change, response and reorganisation.
It is easy to point out that changing technologies, revised business models and increased competition demand an adaptive response from businesses in order to survive. It is quite another thing to recognise what an adaptive organisation looks like in practice.
Many organisational structures appear to be adaptive on the surface when they are no such thing. So, let’s start by looking at what an adaptive organisation is and what characteristics about it make it able to respond proactively, positively and at pace.
What is an organisation anyway?
The View From The Ship
The classic view is to see a business as something like a self-contained ship, keeping afloat on stormy seas while sailing on inexorably to its destination. For us this view is part of the problem, as it misunderstands the organisational climate in which staff and managers work, resulting in businesses that consistently fail to deliver on their long-term goals – in other words, ships that never reach port.
Traditional business models further subdivide the ship into a top-down hierarchy of teams and departments. Change is driven in a controlled, top-down fashion, in which business processes are segmented across individual departments – each having its own area of expertise. In effect, a business is parcelled up into specialist silos within which employees are allocated tasks from above. The average employee has little awareness of the big picture or the activities of other teams. They carry out their task and pass the service or product along to the next department.
Such an organisation is slow to respond and slow to make decisions. Change, which is as constant as the weather, hits like a storm and the ship either floats or sinks.
The Organisation’s Work-Climate
In our experience, it is more accurate to view an organisation as a diffuse network of people and groups – more like an ecosystem or climate. There is no ship, no impermeable barriers between departments and a rigid hierarchy whereby decisions filter down from a remote management. Change is not an event; it is the sea we all swim in.
This work-climate incorporates your whole workforce of staff, managers and leaders, which is a diverse group of individuals with different perceptions, motivations and feelings. In a complex web, it also extends to your suppliers, partners, competitors and, of course, your customers.
In today’s decentralised digital economy, there is frequently no hard and fast barrier between where your organisation ends and where that of a supplier or partner begins.
As in nature, it is the most adaptive individuals, whether we are referring to teams within a business, people or sectors, which survive and develop. The difference is that while nature – that great watchmaker – is blind, organisations have the potential to purposefully guide their direction of change, with new forms of adaptability in specific ways to meet carefully defined goals, which themselves are continually tested against ‘fit for purpose’ criteria.
On the ground, as it were, extremely adaptive, completely flexible business models are hard to find, as are their polar opposite – the stereotypically rigid, traditional, non-adaptive organisations. In the real world there is a sliding scale of adaptability, with some businesses being more adaptive than others. Furthermore, some markets require greater levels of adaptability.
For your organisation, the key is to be as adaptable as you need to be:
- Firstly to stay in business
- Secondly to exploit change (rather than be continually reacting to it) and
- Thirdly to achieve your goals for growth, regardless of your market climate.
Becoming more adaptive involves changing traditional approaches to key areas of business organisation:
- Organisational design/business processes
- Management practices and systems
- People development and
- Monitoring and measurement.
There are three elements to this, which all combine to paint a picture of an adaptive organisation.
How adaptive is your organisation or any organisation for that matter? This is a difficult question to answer without thorough diagnosis or analysis of your current adaptability in several key areas of the business.
Most organisations find they perform better in some areas than others, and this is to be expected, so long as these are the right areas for the organisation to take advantage of change as an asset. No business will achieve a perfect score because, of course, change forces an organisation to continually change its parameters. However, the willingness to regularly diagnose adaptability performance in all these areas is a hallmark of an adaptive business.
These are the main areas in which an adaptive culture will positively affect your ability to react to change:
- Operating strategy
- Operating structures
- Management practices
- Work-climate, that is the combined perceptions, feelings and behaviours of staff, managers and leaders
- Your general service performance, considering all aspects of production and/or service delivery
- Your ability to innovate and change your practices
- Customer engagement
- ‘Listen and Adapt’ distributed leadership style.
Carrying out regular and thorough diagnoses in all these areas provides insight into the factors that affect your operational performance. You could think of it as an overview of your work climate.
Diagnosis reveals a snapshot of your organisation from which an adaptability score may be assigned if using a system such as our Climetrics®. This is where the real work begins, because from the current state of the business, clear predictions can be made about where it is likely to end up.
You may or may not be pleased with this prognosis, but it empowers you to make informed decisions and set out a long-term plan to profitability and greater performance.
The prognosis may reveal room for improvement and potential outcomes in any of the following areas:
- Service delivery outcomes
- Employee performance
- Workforce job satisfaction
- The ability to implement changes and quality improvements.
Once a general prognosis is known, concrete actions can be put in place. However, for an adaptive business, these changes are not knee-jerk corporate reorganisations. Sinking back into this way of thinking will only perpetuate a vicious cycle. Instead, an adaptive business uses the insights from its prognosis to rapidly adapt their organisational work-climate.
These actions are by their nature bespoke to individual organisations, and here we blur the line between what an adaptive organisation looks like and how to implement these changes. For now, let’s see what an adaptive culture might look like from an outsider’s perspective visiting an organisation:
- Engaging and Understanding: An adaptive business can understand, define and lock on to customer needs, adopting new technologies and processes as appropriate to improve service or product delivery.
- Learning and Sharing: As an organisation becomes more adaptive, it becomes more open to change being an opportunity for learning. This allows such organisations to make better sense of their customers’ requirements and identify what they need to rapidly change internally in response. Adaptability also creates new ways of sharing information throughout the organisation and with its partners and wider market.
- Leading and Choosing: An adaptive organisation is strongly positioned for change leadership at all levels and for making reasoned cases for improvement. All participants in an organisation are empowered to lead and innovate in a creative way, not just senior management.
- Improving and Adapting: An adaptive organisation can quickly act and implement improvements and innovations to better serve their customers and to take advantage of opportunities.
At Lloyd Parry we have developed a unique adaptive strategy model that helps businesses grow from their current position to where they need to be. It is a roadmap for change rather than a prescribed model, drawing on our 30 years plus experience in change management and adaptive practices.
In an adaptive business, all employees can play a part as creative problem solvers and critical thinkers. Rather than decisions being the sole domain of a few managers and directors, ‘smarting up’ your teams enables you to delegate the creative decision-making process to a broader net of individuals.
By being adaptive, you can release the full, creative potential of your organisation.
Our experience shows that most traditional improvement tools and strategies are frequently ineffective and in many cases are applied for the wrong reasons. This isn’t to say, however, that you have to reinvent the wheel in order to be adaptive. Many tools, when used in an adaptive business strategy – such as Lean, Agile and Kanban, can help you reveal entirely new capabilities and equip your workforce with the abilities it needs to face new demands head-on.
Adaptive organisations are all about people.
No two are alike, but they share an optimistic and proactive attitude to change that permeates the businesses’ approach to people management, training, and service delivery.
Working with our Climetrics® system begins with a diagnosis of the genuine needs of your business in terms of adaptability, makes an achievable and practical prognosis, and goes on to develop an adaptive business culture that will enable your organisation to thrive and prosper, regardless of what changes the future may bring.
To find out more about our education, consultancy and business development services, please get in touch through our website www.adaptivebusinessenterprise.com or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.