A few weeks ago I was talking to a potential client, CEO, about his concerns that his business was not keeping up with changes in his market-space. I told him about our research into adaptive/agile/resilient organizations and how it could help his organization. He said that sounded great and he understood that, but wondered how he could sell those concepts to both his Board and his leadership team. He said, “After all, they do not have an MBA, like me, and do not read Harvard Business Review. Your words are just consultant-speak to them. You would lose them after the second sentence.” Not the first time I had heard that. Been there, done that.
My peer group uses and understands terms and concepts such as complex adaptive systems, emergence, self-organizing, resilience, adaption, crowdsourcing, enterprise social networks, and acronyms such as ESN, SNA, ONA, CRM, and SMO. Yet, these are not for client conversations. Potential clients want to hear consultants talk in language they understand use everyday. Now, instead of talking about Organization Adaptability Quotients, I talk about the Triple A (AAA) Organization. Everyone understands that AAA signifies the highest possible financial rating an investment can receive. This financial metric has morphed into other business spheres and is commonly understood as adjective signifying the best of something.
A A A is more than a rating, it also describes the components of a successful organization.
For an organization to be agile and adaptive, the people in it need to be aware of what is happening around them, have alternative pathways to gather information and knowledge, and must be allowed to act to meet/solve both local and global goals/problems. They need to both work in their hierarchy and in a self-organizing network simultaneously!
A wide, radial band of awareness by each employee allows them to adapt to what others are doing. This awareness is both within the company, and also extends outside to customers, suppliers, and the organization’s marketplace/ecosystem. Employees know what others are capable of, who the experts are, and what goals and pressures others have. The more people a person has within his/her sphere of awareness (a.k.a. network horizon) the better s/he will function — as will those connected to that person.
Employees need to simultaneously work in the hierarchy and in self-organizing networks!
Business process improvement taught us to get rid of all redundancies in the workplace. Yet, collaboration. innovation and change happen best when there are some alternative/redundant pathways available to get things done and make-sense of what is happening. Paths in the organization consist of the prescribed network — the hierarchy, and of the emergent networks — self-organized connections formed by employees amongst themselves to gather information, knowledge, expertise and advice to accomplish their goals. The emergent networks in an organization provide alternate, and often more direct, paths from the need, to the source. It is not enough that alternatives are available, people need to be know where they are, and what they provide. Not only is it important to be well located in the flow of things, but it is important to know the flow around you.
Awareness and alternatives are useless without the ability to take action on them. Does the leadership of the organization allow and trust employees to self-organize around tasks and goals? Can you seek advice from someone outside of my department or project team? Can you connect two people that should know each other because they are working on similar goals and have complimentary skills/knowledge? In other words, does management keep a tight, rigid hierarchy or allow for looser adaptive structures that change with needs?
It important to be well located in the flow of information, and to know the flow around you.
How well do the three As — Awareness, Alternatives, and Action — function in your organization? Are they tuned for maximum harmony? Do your hierarchy and networks work together in a Wirearchy? Have you measured the wiring in your organization? Do you know how your organization compares to others? Do your employees know what to do and how to do it? Do you know which tune-up(s) can be performed to improve your organization’s performance in the changing market-space?