Organisational Adaptation: A Hard Resolution to Keep

We're living in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times, as any news broadcast, board meeting or conversation around the water cooler will confirm. There are many external issues impacting business decision making: Brexit, artificial intelligence, climate change, evolving global markets and volatile/unpredictable world leaders.

In order to be effective, both personally and at an organisational level to deal with this increased rate of change and varied potential outcomes we need to be visionary leaders, agile, flexible and creative.

However, as anyone who has ever made a New Year’s resolution will testify, intention is one thing and action is another.

Winding Road To Success

Organisations, like the individuals within it, tend to operate with two cognitive systems: one conscious ‘thinking’ system and a sub-conscious ‘instinctive’ one. The former represented by a vision or mission statement, documented values and the array of formal policies and processes, the latter by the behaviours exhibited. With most actual decisions being made at the subconscious level, it’s necessary to understand and disproportionately influence this area to achieve results.

When one makes a New Year’s resolution, say,  to get up an hour earlier and go for a run before work, because it will help in keeping fit and in theory living longer, the consequences of this action are in the future, are uncertain (you may still get hit by a bus tomorrow) and although the future consequence is positive the perceived current one is negative, you’ll get an hour less sleep and probably pull a muscle.

We all like instant gratification and prefer positive, immediate and certain consequences, if there’s a choice. So, it’s no wonder that when the alarm goes off, a mental trading goes on balancing the immediate, positive and certain benefit of an extra hour in bed against the uncertain future benefit of being fit.

Organisations suffer the same issues when trying adapt to change and uncertainty, by their very nature their consequences are in the future and uncertain.

Usually, the most likely consequence of trying something creative, revolutionary or different, despite what the company values say, is to come up against barriers, be seen as a dissenting voice and out of step with the team, who inevitably, seek the positive, immediate and certain gratification of the boss by simply making this month’s numbers. Things inevitably stay as they always have, until time passes and the potential threat crystallises and a crisis then ensues.

However, unlike Pavlov’s dog, we are not destined to stick to this simple cycle of stimulus and response. We can use simple tools to understand the link between resilience and both personal and team success and the interrelationship of four critical organisational and individual capabilities;

Most people know it took until 1954 for Roger Bannister to be the first to break the 4-minute mile, yet within 18 months of his achievement, 45 other runners did the same.  It’s hard to justify this in any other way than simply ‘knowing’ that something was possible drove better performance overall.

Creating an individual and organisation-level positive mindset can be achieved following some basic disciplines and rules allowing for an outcome-oriented approach.

Everyone has their own ‘thermostat.’  If you drop into the armchair in the evening with a beer and can’t move another muscle, imagine how much energy you’d ‘suddenly’ discover if a tiger came through the door. Strongly linked to thinking, we can significantly improve energy levels in a sustainable way to enhance performance through improving general, health and mental wellbeing, joy and relaxation.

We tend to recruit in our own image and reinforce our own view of the world. In order to adapt and improve flexibility we need to be managing feelings, developing support networks, ensuring diversity of thinking and approach and be effective working with others.

When we choose a value, we are often beholden to it. Sometimes the right thing to do is to re-think our purpose and underlying values. The future will certainly be different from the past so developing an overarching sense of purpose, understanding personal strengths to drive individual values and beliefs is essential to drive behavioural change.

To learn more about the tools and practical techniques to develop these four capabilities, join Stephen Evans-Howe, David Sershall and Ben Hodgson for our upcoming breakfast event: ‘Volatile, Uncertain, Complex & Ambiguous: The New Norm’ on Wednesday 27 November.

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