The Secret to Being an Adaptive Organization: Learn or Lose

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The Secret to Being an Adaptive Organization Learn or LoseIf you want your organization to be a winner instead of a loser, take out your long-term strategic plan right now and do the following:

  1. Write the vision statement at the top of a blank page.
  2. Extract from the strategic plan the list of goals (most of which are probably well-buried in a jumble of ways to achieve them) and write them below the vision statement.
  3. Throw the strategic plan in the trash can.

Now, get a second piece of blank paper. Write “Best Minds” on the top of the page. Make a list of the people in your organization who embrace new ideas and ways of doing things. Determine who makes it on the list by:

  1. Look at everyone in the organization from the least to highest-paying positions organization-wide.
  2. Choosing only those people who have never resisted change.
  3. Prioritizing them by the ones who are always asking questions and listening
    to the answers.
  4. Putting a star by their name if they are good at getting people fired up.

After completing these two documents, now create a third. On this list, under the heading of “Us, Adaptive,” format every item on this list as a question. For example: why is it that having the greatest market share in our industry doesn’t make us the most profitable among our competitors?” Take your time with this one and address the following issues:

  • Value (or lack thereof) of market leadership
  • Traditional vs. innovative strategy (learn it, try it, improve it or toss it, quickly)
  • Presence (or not) of adaptive leadership
  • Current business model’s ability to negotiate the volatility of the business landscape
  • Degree of understanding of business intelligence data and reaction to it
  • Percentage of people in the organization who can welcome and implement change
    quickly and effectively
  • Capability of experimentation—learn it, try it, improve it or toss it (quickly again) but with all resources and return on investment (ROI) determinates considered)
  • Capacity to identify, understand and execute complex systems (e.g., supply chain) both inside and outside the organization
  • Mobilizability
  • The degree to which operations and employees are siloed and stuck in fixed routines
  • Ability and inclination to unload the employees with the mindset of “that’s not the way we do things” and replace them with temporary or permanent mavericks

You are now ready to select a meeting environment no one on the list would ever expect you to choose—preferably somewhere with loads of fresh air, sunshine and only the sounds of nature. Order an all-day buffet of light proteins, berries, veggies (no carbs, fried food, meat or dairy), and spring for great coffee, tea and filtered and sparkling water. Plan physical activities for breaks. Have all your best minds (list 2) take the day off before the one-day event, and let them know they are your vision implementation task force, and, in one day, you’ll all be re-thinking “the way we do things.”

Your group’s goal: address and resolve the issues in list 3 in one day.

The next day, it will be your responsibility to apply what you found out when the questions got answered to the goals in list 1. Your goal: come up with an experiment for each goal that can be:

  • Easy for the stakeholders to embrace
  • Achieved quickly
  • Executed with low risk
  • Funded without much pain
  • Readily measurable
  • Implemented on an ongoing basis or tossed based on results

Put a fast clock on these experiments. Involve your task force, and don’t distract them with their regular duties. Have each one mentor one other person on their team, or within the organization, throughout each experiment. Have them select that person based on your criteria for choosing them. This process will be the beginning of the creation of more team members who learn fast, ask questions, experiment, communicate best practices and even identify people who will never get with the program.

Expect to experience, in a relatively short period of time (months, not years), the morphing of your organization from one that had roots in the ground of the tried and true to one that flies above its competitors as a result of “learn, experiment, measure, do (or don’t), repeat.” In three days, following the steps above, you’ll know what you don’t know now: are we adaptive-capable?

In the weeks that follow, you’ll learn how to remove the obstacles to adaptability. In the months thereafter, you’ll be adaptive.

Author’s note: We’re publishing this article as part of a 12-month education mission on the subject of adaptive organizations: the what, when, where, why and especially the how. Articles, blogs, videos, webinars, quizzes and loads of downloadable tools will be posted to this MagEzine as well as our MetaExperts’ company page on LinkedIn. I invite you to follow that page to have quick and repeatable access to these tools for yourself and your team(s). Follow us here:


Additional Reading

Operational Excellence for Agile and Adaptive Companies

Stephen Cherlet Explains the Biggest Barrier to Being an Adaptive Organization

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