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Adaptability: the view from the mixing board

As a musician I understand what happens when the individual elements of a recording sound perfect, only to fall apart when played together.

It’s always a matter of balance: less bass, more guitar, keyboard strong but not predominant, drums present but not overbearing.

All musicians can be playing their hearts out but in the end, what makes it a coherent and successful piece of music is the mix.

Working in the change field, I’ve come to see workplaces in much the same way. The instruments are the various departments and the manager is in charge of getting them to create a third thing: a successful product.

But unlike a studio recording, you can’t simply find the perfect mix in isolation and lock it down. What you need to do is think of how your pieces come together in an organic way like a live performance. There has to be room for improvisation and every player must be ready to adapt to how an audience (your customers) are reacting.

But like any great band the individuals have to be ready to pick up the slack and help everyone around them so the performance, produce or service results in a “wow” from those on the receiving end.

Aside from the mix, we have to look at how each instrument, each department, is working. In music, it’s the graphic equalizer that makes sure  individual instruments sound good regardless of their placement in the mix.

And it’s the same with business. If the departments aren’t finely tuned, they can destroy your mix quickly. HR are one of those knobs, your Measurement System is another. You have to get the right balance between them so you are producing what your customers want.

And this is the same across all industries, just as it is across all genres of music. Each line of business or department needs its own EQ and the organization as a whole needs to have its master EQ – the goal of what it’s trying to achieve.

Finding the right mix for your organisation requires understanding your operations, goals customers and the marketplace that you work in. And it’s just not something you are going to get from an out of the box change program.

Lloyd Parry are ‘sound engineers’ for organisations going through adaptive change. We can tell immediately if its one instrument (department) that’s out of tune or if the balance between all the instruments (departments) is not working to create a good sound (product).

We are in a unique position to listen to the whole mix and, most importantly, teach organisations how to develop their own perfect mixes.

Adaptability provides more control in an organisation than less

Discussions with upper management about adaptability are often an awkward dance.

Senior management often fears a loss of control in an adaptive workplace. That’s understandable given their training. But it’s also very wrongheaded..

The reality is that adaptability and related control mechanisms provide more control than than you’re likely to find in a traditional organisation.

In adaptive organisations, we need to have much more experimentation. And rapid experimentation across a business is only possible if you’ve got workplace discipline.

When staff identify something needed in the outside world, they say, “You know what, there’s an opportunity we can rearrange a couple of our products and services and create something different.” And they create a scenario and work it between themselves and other teams.

Through this process they discover things that may or may not be useful. But out of this same process comes a whole range of potential new products and services and ways of delivering service that would enhance the customer experience while driving efficiencies through the business. And that’s happening constantly.

This kind of experimentation becomes second nature in an adaptive environment. Like the skin of a chameleon, it changes to match its environment naturally. A chameleon doesn’t decide when it has to change colours, it just does it instantly.

Crucially, this a collaborative effort that goes on constantly. And the collaboration reveals what is going on in the marketplace from those closest to the customer.  This leads to  conversations about solving the customer’s problem and solving how we organize ourselves within the organisation to respond to it.

Constantly raising and anticipating customer needs, which traditionally would have been projects for a PMO type organization, means solutions are sourced much lower down in an experimental mode.

With technology changing at a breakneck pace, this has to be the new workplace reality. Adapt or die seems an extreme mantra but it’s actually more true than melodrama.

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.

Adaptability transformation and the end of silos

People often ask me how adaptive workplaces are different from the one in which they work.

It’s a decent question. We become so blind to the current set-up, it can be hard to imagine another way. My job is to describe where I see the business currently and paint a picture of where it would be if it were to become truly adaptable.  

Departmental silos are also rigidly enforced, which leads to resource hoarding and unnecessary internal competition between teams, departments and even divisions that discourage knowledge sharing and ending up with a business of mini-companies opposing from within. Instead of fighting our competitors we end up fighting ourselves.

Siloed thinking has little to do with thinking at all. It’s merely a system where managers are encouraged to spend too much time looking within the silo rather than seeing the customers and how they can combine forces with their colleagues and beat the competition.

After an adaptability transformation, the silos disappear, why? We refuse to think in the old way anymore. Sharing resources between departments is not argued over by department heads. That discussion happens at the level where the work gets done, much lower down by the people who endure the pain.

And whereas before business units fought to protect their territory and assets, in an adaptive environment, rewards come to those who collaborate and share resources to meet the needs of customers and the business.

Further, the decision making doesn’t have seventeen different levels of approval up and down the corporate food chain, again, it happens at the level the work gets done.

But there’s a snag; this means managers must trust staff and just as importantly teams must trust managers especially when things go wrong, we must all learn by brain-storming and resist the temptation to blame-storm.

Only knowing how your own team and department runs prevents everyone seeing how the whole organisation works and collaborates and how you can contribute to the big picture. You must also learn how all other parts of the operation work to enable cross-functional collaboration and problem-solving. The efforts of other departments are your concern, not just another box on the org chart.

As an outcome, a more expansive view of the organisation emerges for all to see. There are still organisational structures in place, but often they become transparent, with the work taking much more importance than under whose hand it is.

The so-called progressive management thinking of decades past used to talk about thinking outside of the box. In an adaptive organisation, we must now work outside of the box.

To start the discussion about transforming your organisation into an adaptive one, please contact us.

Adaptability in progress: an account

My presentation at the Business Agility conference in New York in February was a great opportunity to talk adaptability on a large scale.  But it also yielded secondary tangible benefits.

Specifically, I had an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations with some fellow travellers in the change field.

Sometimes I think I’m the one that gets the most from such one-on-one talks. But then I receive a message from a colleague that makes it clear my ideas have left an impression.

One such note that recently popped into my inbox described what can happen when a spark catches fire.

Here are some highlights….

“Here are some of the key work elements which I have been able to put in place since we met.”

  • Introduction of Work-Climates:
    • I brought forward the concept of Work-Climates, to help with our transformation from mass production to lean/agile, as it fits very well in our situation. It has helped with teams/people who are active in changing our culture keep their motivation and drive.
  • Making the customer part of the transformation:
    • Validating with the customer is one of our biggest issues. Up until now, we have demonstrated epistemic arrogance for what the customer wants without even checking or validating with them. From our discussions, and your talks, I have been able to reposition how valuable this is.
  • Moving from vertical metrics to horizontal metrics
    • This concept had opened key individual’s eyes to move away from “how I am doing” to “how is the customer doing”.  This is in line with “You get the behaviour you design for, or fail to design for”. If we truly want to change our focus and include the customer throughout our process, then we must define and promote what is valuable to the customer.

There was more, but what was exciting to me was how this person  took my ideas and made the process his own, shaping it to the realities of his workforce.

If you would like to talk to me about how to make your workforce into an adaptive dynamo, please contact me.

Change programs are bound to fail without change-makers

It’s taken a while but larger organisations have finally come to realise they need to change to compete and survive in a marketplace filled with small, more nimble competitors.

However, it’s become apparent to me that many change programs hit a wall when it comes to implementation. They have the best of intentions but lack some key competencies.

Here’s how it generally plays out.

During a change transformation, a manager continues running their department as per usual. They have typical departmental challenges and work loads. But the managers are often tasked with implementing the new change program in addition to their daily workload.

You can see where I’m going with this.  While clamouring to get their job done and respond to the challenges of the change program managers get overburdened and frustrated.

When it all starts to fall apart, they reach out in desperation for a quick fix and the trap is sprung. Why? Because there are no quick fixes when it comes to implementing a change program. But they try anyway and set in motion a downward spiral that many fail to recover from.

Let’s take a closer look at what happens to the program during the death spiral.

Those beleaguered managers get frustrated because they’re being ask to do a job they are not qualified for. Managing change requires a skillset many managers just do not possess. So investing in management and leadership competency is the simple countermeasure.

Most change programs fail when the complexity exceeds the competency of the managers. That’s why they choose quick fixes instead. Ultimately if and when the change initiative fails, the program gets blamed.

As part of our change competency plan, we actively build change skills development into our program and create changemakers that can deploy effectively. These changemakers become internal revolutionaries who see the organisation as it is, and where it needs to be; thereby gaining the courage necessary to speak truth to power.

Providing a realistic picture of change issues it’s not finger-pointing. What we teach them is that they need to cut through the culture and find clarity about where the real issues are that are killing the organisation.

Creating changemakers includes education and hands-on training on how to manage change, how to manage the politics of change and how to manage the range of emotions that arise to them and others in the organisation.

In truth, these changemakers turn everyone in the organisation into agents of local change. Changing the business is an ongoing process.

Change is a state of mind not a project plan.

Once an organisation understands that and develop change-makers, change will come more easily.

If you would like to talk to me about changing your organisation by creating Change-Makers  please contact me.

Planview webinar to focus on Adaptive Enterprise

Since I spoke at BusinessAgility2017 in New York last month, it’s become very clear to me there is a great deal of interest from upper management in my work in creating adaptive organisations.

In recent years I’ve sensed how large organisations are struggling with how to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Now, it’s become clear to them that it’s time to do something about it.

To that end, Planview invited me to host a live webinar on March 29th titled Power Your PMO with the Adaptive Enterprise: Increase productivity with continuous planning.

This webinar is aimed squarely at those who head up large projects and programs in an organisation and the importance of the PMO in creating change makers.

It’s important to note the distinction between Change Makers and Change Agents.

Change Agents are usually tasked by those in upper management, taking orders without much collaboration with regards to what is being implemented and why.

On the other hand, Change Makers conceptualise, design, integrate, initiate and find new ways of delivering value, driving solutions upwards and downwards.

The webinar will discuss how Change Makers and Agents are crucial to lasting organisational change.

Turning an organisation into a dynamic changeable environment requires a different skill set that command control management. An adaptive organisation is one that is constantly renewing and reinventing strategies as part of its DNA.

To register for the webinar, click the link here and sign up.

If  you  want to talk to me further about how to make your organisation adaptable, please contact me.

Adaptive Enterprise: Increasing productivity with continuous planning

Since I gave a presentation at Business Agility 2017 in New York in February, there’s been a definite spike in interest for my work in making organisations adaptive.

To that end, I’ve been invited by Planview to do a live webinar on March 29th titled Power Your PMO with the Adaptive Enterprise: Increase productivity with continuous planning.

The notes describing the seminar point to how adaptability, not productivity is the goal of good Project Management Offices. It’s a key issue, in that structured processes can often lead to results that are indeed predictable but lacklustre. Getting it done right is the key, not just getting it done on time.

Specifically, I’ll be talking to the following points….

  • How to create an adaptive PMO that flexes at the speed of change
  • How to build a PMO that is responsive to business needs
  • How to promote executive confidence, even in times of uncertainty
  • How to create budgets, plans and resource maps that deliver the strategy while also being responsive to reality
  • How to partner with business and become an Enterprise PMO

The webinar, hosted by Amy Hatton will also include Carina Hatfield Senior Product Manager at Planview. It is offered free but registration is required by clicking here.

I’m rather excited to do this for Planview as it is a further vindication of many years of research and practical applications with clients making organisations adaptive.

As a colleague told me at Business Agility 2017, many large organisations know that to survive and thrive they have to do something. And up until now they had no idea what that something was.  

So please register for the webinar when you get a moment. And if you want to talk to me about how to make your organisation adaptive, please get in touch.

ELLI: changing your organisational climate

ELLI is important in my organisational transformation work.

It’s the acronym for the four factors I look for in any organisation I’m working with.

Engaging. Learning. Leading. Improving.

To develop ELLI, It’s important to understand what the type of organisation we’re looking at.

Only when we know this can we determine the path our journey is going to take. Like any journey, this depends on the internal climate we’re dealing with.

The organisational landscape is determined by the climate. It’s a metaphor I’ve used for years to describe how the overlay of climate influences landscapes. Take away the snow and ice and add some sunshine and the landscape changes drastically from season to season. It’s the same with organisations. The foundations may be strong. But if climate is off, those foundations are buried in an inhospitable wasteland.

Now keep in mind that climate itself isn’t culture. Weather, the specifics of the internal climate, actually are.

We use Climetrics to determine the climate of an organisation. Why the climate?  Because what happens on the ground and how it happens is determined by the work climate of the organisation.

The goal is to change the internal climate so that it’s conducive to producing good work – whatever the day to day changes in the weather.

People respond to these changes and that’s why it’s important that we change work climates. In many organisations people spend all their time “hunting and gathering” for survival, instead of actually trying to look ahead and anticipate the needs of the customer.

With ELLI we change the climate so organisations can leave the frozen wasteland behind and build truly adaptive workplaces.

To talk to me about transforming your organisation with ELLI, please contact me.

Adaptability: Don’t Implement – Grow!

While at the Business Agility 2017 conference in New York recently, I met many wonderful people, all eager to engage on the issue of adaptability in organisations. The work I pioneered in my 2005 book Sense and Respond: The Journey To Customer Purpose has found its moment. Organisations know they have to change now and adaptability is their preferred method.

SolutionsIQ tracked me down at the conference to talk with them about my work and I was only too happy to oblige.

As I say in the interview organisations are paying attention to the work we do now because we are speaking to their point of view. Why is this important? Well as I’ve discovered, while many organisations have common purpose, that purpose is lost because the different levels are not speaking a common language. We’re not talking the differences between languages like German and English – but the internal language of company where instructions mean one thing to a manager and quite another to a team member. That lack of common language can lead to communication issues – that kill productive change and slow down innovation.

Of course, these issues can be fixed through the implementation of an adaptive business. But the real struggle is to bring this structural fault to upper management and have them understand why it needs to be fixed.

The managers and leaders at the top of the business are very busy, pressured, and have insights into market share and trends that seem a world away from the people on the frontlines.

It’s an interesting clip and I hope you’ll find it interesting enough to share with colleagues.

If you have any questions or would want to talk to me about how this applies to your company, please get in touch.