DARWIN’S WORDS, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change,” are highly relevant for today’s business climate. Thriving in today’s complex, dynamic and turbulent marketplace will require new adaptive approaches.
Ever wondered why some organizations embrace change, making it through tough times, while others fail? The answer lies in their resiliency.
A resilient organization is one that can effectively innovate, adapt and perform in the face of adversity (not just in good times). Resilient organizations often bounce back even stronger when stressed versus being flattened by their own inability to change.
Adaptive and resilient organizations have several characteristics in common:
- Clear, unrelenting focus around purpose and goals.
- Flexibility and openness to new approaches, roles and ways of getting work done.
- A climate of learning, creativity and a proactive approach to finding opportunities to improve (even when stressed).
- Trust, cooperation and open communication.
- Senior leaders open to employees’ input and influence.
In contrast, rigid, bureaucratic organizations with choking politics, “red tape” and a control-oriented leadership mentality will often fail to adapt effectively when faced with hardships. In general, the greater the bureaucracy, the greater the difficulty responding to challenges, like trying to turn the Titanic around to miss the iceberg. Rigid bureaucracy is frequently the biggest impediment to agility. Words like, “It’s always been done this way,” or, “not in my job description” can stop needed responsiveness and innovation in its tracks.
Leadership is key to improving any organization’s resiliency. Though creating a resilient organization won’t happen overnight, here are some guidelines:
- Don’t lose sight of core competencies. Address these questions: What are the business/team “strengths” and strategic advantages? What is working in your favor that you can build on? How can the team leverage the fundamentals that make your team and business strong?
- Examine work processes and the “big picture” to encourage responsiveness in the face of changing conditions. How and where does communication flow (or not)? Are there bottlenecks? What does it take to get a decision? Is there duplication? Are we burdening people with too much information or checkoffs? Focus on simplifying and “clearing the path.”
- Empower those on the “front line” to do the right thing for customers (they are a valuable asset in these troubled times) and the business. Experienced, motivated employees can make it happen as long as the business hasn’t burdened them with onerous approval processes or red tape that gets in their way. A responsibility of management is to make sure employees have the information and materials they need (in a timely manner) to do their jobs.
- Nurture and sustain a workplace culture that supports agility. Being able to seize opportunities and adapt quickly in this uncertain economy may mean the difference between success or failure. Not being able to change course quickly was the end of the Titanic. Reward risk takers, out-of-the-box thinkers and those who “get it done.” Be on the lookout for analysis paralysis.
- Hire for adaptability so you can redirect roles if necessary. Re-examine work that employees are doing while identifying their strengths and skills. Is it work that still makes sense? This may require employees to cross train, share resources or assume other duties as required.
- Foster organizational learning. Treat errors as learning opportunities. It’s OK to be wrong and change course as long as we learn from the past to create a preferred future. Don’t expect things to work perfectly when innovating (studies show it often takes a second or third try for the best solution).
- Nurture and sustain creativity. Poorly managed brainstorming stifles creativity. Leaders often blow it by tainting the well, offering their own ideas first. Make it safe for people to offer ideas in an open, nonjudgmental atmosphere. Encourage wild ideas. Don’t allow the naysayers to stymie or silence those with ideas.
- Establish outlets for people to process the stress of change. Wise leaders will respond with empathy and listening to understand the challenges and concerns of their people.
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