Adaptive business: what it is and why you need it

In recent months most conversations I’ve had with business leaders start with two questions about adaptive business: what is it and why do I need it?

An adaptive business is about creating a workplace where continuous value creation is the norm. It’s not about creating one product for the customer but a raft of them, all based on customer input.

When followed correctly, this process leads to the development of  a series of different value items, products and services- which in turn shows the real rationale for growing an adaptive business: differentiation in the marketplace.

Is it magic? Do your people just start putting out these new products without prompting?

Well, yes and no. An adaptive business is based on the ingenuity, creativity and willing contribution of staff. Without that level of employee engagement, it doesn’t work. It’s not a tool, it’s a way of building a culture where constant improvement comes from the ingenuity of employees.

Of course this is not a model that easily fits with the the industrial make-and-sell workplace as it requires a level of staff autonomy and confidence that only comes from a secure and challenging workplace. It’s a very, very dynamic organisation, that accepts inputs from every level of customer contact and then responding continuously to client needs.

I’m a big fan of measurement. But the current measurement systems for work can actually hold back innovative thinking. Staff need time away from the grind.  But modern workplaces can sometimes resemble work camps with an intense and unrelenting focus on getting more done with less. This work overburden chases its own tail: with all the running to keep up, there’s no time to think, to create. Just getting through the work is enough for many.

This is typical silo culture, where the rapid work pace discourages workers from looking beyond their silos and finding improvements that not only make work better, but also result in better products and happier customers.

This grindstone work culture also has another cost: increased errors and diminished quality control.

The goal of an adaptive organisation is  to establish a blame-free culture where silos are not blaming each other, and where there is an intradepartmental focus on customer outcomes.