Dave's Ponderings on
Resilient Organizations and Transformational Change
If transformation is required to become a flourishing organization, journey boldly and reflectively.
Remember from our past explorations … resilient and flourishing organizations recognize that they are complex adaptive systems functioning within a larger complex adaptive eco-system. These organizations emerge to address a community or market need (an external context driven, missing systemic piece or deficiency). They are built on foundational elements that are often invisible but without which, the visible elements of structure, skills (capabilities) and resources are insufficient for an organization to succeed.
Resilient Organizations Know Who They Are
In my experience, resilient organizations know who they are, are self-aware of their context, are confident in their purpose to strategy, and have a passion and culture to act on that purpose and strategy. They will act in and on the world in a way that allows them to be relevant, effective and have the impact they desire.
They believe in their own ability to affect their circumstances, coupled with an acceptance of responsibility for the social and physical conditions ‘out there’. They constantly strive to improve what they do, how they do it, and the way it is delivered. They always seek to LEARN.
This continuous learning and improvement strengthens organizational resilience. Essentially, we are harnessing change and adapting to a changing context. We continually iterate a plan-do-check-act cycle (also called the Shewart Cycle or Deming Cycle). We search out leading practices that can be applied to how we operate. We consistently and intentionally invest in learning from others … and sharing what we do learn with others. We call this adaptive and contextual benchmarking.
The following figure represents this cycle of learning and acting, narrowly within the organization and across organizations and sectors.
Adaptive and contextual benchmarking is a method for organizational resilience development and performance improvement through systematic search and adaptation of leading practices. The search for leading practices in an area of interest implies that lessons can be learned from others … together. However, as much as this process is about looking around, it is also about looking within and learning how things are done internally. It is only from that inner knowledge and the understanding of how others (the leading) do things, that improvement can be achieved. It is a rapid way to learn and innovate in a continuous manner.
Through a well-constructed and facilitated process, appropriate information and data are identified allowing appropriate and meaningful measures to be created. Research suggests that there is a form of maturity curve in this type of process. Organizations that persevere with it appear to move from simple comparisons of easily measured discrete activities to comparing more complex processes with external partners reflecting a desire for robust organizational learning and adaptation.
There is no substitute for practical, creative, collaborative learning and working through targeted “doing”. When visions are made real and purpose is acted upon, the power of the possible takes hold through incremental changes. Instead of concentrating on problems, the focus is on strengths and what is possible – together. Peter Senge of M.I.T., et. al. (2008, 1010) refers to this process as “making it real: learning through prototypes.” Data, analysis, iteration, continuous feedback and learning are critical. Adaptive and effective management become second nature through creating and adjusting.
Transformational Change Required
Organizations that don’t know who they are, are not self-aware of their context, lack confidence or awareness in their purpose, have strategy disconnected from their purpose, and lack passion and a culture to act on that purpose and strategy, will be unable to react to a significant societal/market disruption or even a gradual erosion of their organizational position due to an unrecognized changing context. Organizations finding themselves in this position will be or become irrelevant, ineffective and lack the impact and resilience they desire in the arena in which they operate.
In these situations, transformational change is required. But at what cost?
I’ve seen organizations that have been blind-sided by a sudden change to their operating environment caused by a change in technology, new competitor, or alternative service offerings. I have also seen organizations that have been lulled to sleep by complacency and then were blind-sided by an external change that had been gradually taking place.
And how do organizations respond once they recognize what is happening? Nine out of ten begin by scrambling, focusing on organizational survival. They look at how to cut costs, primarily labor. They look at making changes to what they are doing and how they are doing it. They look at reorganizing their structure. They try to shed liabilities … and people become liabilities in this context. Organizational survival takes precedence over existing relationships.
And what do the other one in ten organizations do? They begin by accepting the reality that decisions and actions they made, and didn’t make, contributed to the current situation. They allow truth to be spoken to context.
Then they go back to who they are and their source of inspiration, their reason for being, and their purpose. And they begin to climb the right side of the “U” in the following figure.
These organizations recognize that before they eviscerate themselves, they need to be more self-aware of their context, confident in their purpose, and connect that purpose with strategy. They have to have the will to act in a way that allows them to be relevant, effective and have the impact they desire.
And it is critical that all of the organization’s employees and stakeholders are given the opportunity to be involved and re-committed to the organization’s purpose going forward. Instead of viewing organizational members as merely factors of production in “doing” something, they need to be co-creators and agile partners of a new and resilient future. They need to be viewed as assets and not liabilities.
I would be remiss however, if I did not share from experience that not all employees and stakeholders will be able or want to commit and participate in such a re-imagining and re-commitment of purpose and the necessary actions. Exercising grace and compassion, I have found it best to part ways in these situations in a manner that preserves individual dignity and provides intentional access to multiple professional networks.
Organizational transformation in complex contexts is hard. But that said, I have found it possible … and even exhilarating … when there has been a recommitment to purpose with confidence, development of strategy committed to that purpose, and impactful actions taken.
Ideally, friend reader, you are on a journey as a flourishing organization, looking for ways to learn from within and from outside your organization. However, if transformation is required to become a flourishing organization, journey boldly and reflectively. The reward of being relevant and effective is worth it.
Until next time, I wish for you a flourishing life and organization!