A radical reinvention of organisations: fantasy or reality?

Many organisations appear paralysed by the pace of current change, and some experts suggest that this requires a radical reinvention of management practice! However, what is needed, in my opinion, is greater adaptability. But does this require a radical intervention?

Down shot of office buildingIn this article, I set out why I think the pace of current change is impacting on you, your team and your organisation;

The great enemies of adaptability

If you feel that you, your team or your organisation have paralysis, likely causes are:

  • Too much hierarchy;
  • Fear of failure;
  • Risk aversion;
  • Sticking with the status quo instead of exploring new alternatives;
  • Too much centralisation,
  • Insufficient front-line autonomy;
  • Over-reliance on short-term thinking; and,
  • Rigidity and inflexibility in thinking and practice.

These are the great enemies of adaptability, as experienced by me directly in over twenty-five years working in the public sector, not to mention thirteen plus years as a consultant. So, this is not news, is it? It is quite standard practice.

How might it look for you?

If your organisation is suffering from paralysis, the management style you adopt or receive will reflect this. Again, from my direct experience, it will typically look and feel like this:

  • A tendency to stick with the ‘tried and tested’;
  • A heavily ‘command and control’ culture;
  • Management through rigid hierarchical systems;
  • Performance monitored through output, rather than outcome results;
  • Oppressive short-term thinking, and budgets; and,
  • An almost pathological aversion to risk.

So, if you encounter these things, does your organisation require significant change? I would say most definitely! Will this require radical reinvention? I don’t think so!

Why do I say that, and what do adaptable organisations do?

Truly flexible organisations adapt and grow through learning and experimentation, developing autonomy and trust, exploring purpose and meaning, celebrating diversity, and encouraging creativity and collaboration. These are not new ideas or concepts, and they are far from radical. However, they do require you, your team and your organisation, from time to time, to surrender the notion of security.

How to yield security – by building trust!

The most fundamental and potentially radical challenge for organisations lies in the notion of surrendering security, however temporarily!

For me, this means trusting your people, especially your front-line staff and managers!

Why – because they understand the core delivery of your business better than most in your organisation. They are also more likely to be aligned with your customers and their needs! Trusting them with the autonomy to function correctly, without fear or favour, would be a significant step-change!

Facilitating for change –  a learning example

As an example of this, I once worked with 15 local authority front-line managers in residential children’s care, facilitating a leadership development programme that I co-created with that group of people. The learning and the feedback from the training were amongst some of the best I have ever received. Let me share two particularly significant pieces of learning that emerged.

One, these staff fully understood the needs of their young people and, moreover, knew how current systems and procedures might be better adapted to meet those needs more effectively.

Two, they fully accepted the need for their individual development and cherished that investment in them as leaders and managers. They understood that leading and managing more effectively impacted positively, on themselves, on their staff, and, most importantly, on the growth of young people.

Interestingly, these two aspects created some different tensions. As they learned and grew as leaders and managers, so they became more disenchanted with their inability to change things in their workplace. There was a huge irony in wanting to facilitate the development of staff, while not wishing to relax the strictures of the environment within which they work. So, how far had trust been rebuilt?

A radical thought – refocus on your vision and values

My radical idea is that to build adaptability, to properly rebuild trust, you need to refocus on vision and values. How you might do this is to embrace openness and transparency about your organisation’s real purpose and meaning.

However, that raises a tough question. Do you even ‘get’ what your organisation is about anymore, and have you ever wondered why it exists?

Referring to my earlier case example, I was impressed with the foresight of the local authority funding the programme for residential care staff. At a time of great financial adversity, when both public and private sectors typically reduce investment, if not cease investment in training and development, this authority did something that many might see as completely ‘counter-intuitive’.

However, recognising and investing in the convergence of staff and clients’ needs is not ‘counter-intuitive’, it is surely an organisation’s lifeblood? To do so may seem bold, given recent economic conditions, but that makes it even more remarkable. What dumbfounded me was the lack of foresight in responding to the possible challenge of staff, once the training had commenced.

So, do we need radical reinvention?

Earlier, I said I don’t think so. I’d commit now to a very firm NO! What I believe is necessary for organisations succumbing to the pace of change is for them to re-address their very foundations – vision and values!

Most emphatically, they should do this with their staff. That will help to rebuild trust, the glue that makes any organisational unit cohesive! From trust springs the dissolution of fear and the growth of hope, inspiration and innovation, and any organisation can build on that foundation!

In reflecting on these thoughts, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is reinvention necessary or do we need to return to our foundations?
  • When was the last time you discussed vision or values or both with your colleagues and peers?
  • What was the outcome of that discussion and what action took place as a consequence?
  • Why is it that people, more often than not, take those things for granted, despite organisations shedding and renewing staff all too regularly in this current climate?
  • How well did your induction process embed core organisational vision and values, and how often is this renewed?

As always, I welcome your comments and dialogue.

Thank you for reading.

P.S. If you need help developing yourself, your team or your organisation, I can help.

Check out my LinkedIn profile – https://www.linkedin.com/johnthurlbeck – for further insights and contact details.

[This is a repurposed post, first published via People Discovery, in September 2013.]

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