Building an Agile, Change Adaptive Organization
“Workers are more adaptive and optimistic about the future than their leaders recognize.” That’s a key conclusion of a major study by Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work and the Boston Consulting Group’s Henderson Institute. The study encompassed 11,000 lower income and middle-skill workers and 6,500 business leaders in 11 countries. They found “the two groups perceived the future in significantly different ways.” Workers didn’t share their leaders’ change anxiety and “revealed themselves to be much more eager to embrace change and learn new skills than their employers gave them credit for.”

The authors of Your Workforce is More Adaptable Than You Think, report that “workers are seeking more support and guidance to prepare themselves for future employment than management is providing.” They identify five ways leaders can provide stronger change leadership:

  1. Don’t just set up training programs — create a learning culture.
  2. Engage employees in the transition instead of herding them through it.
  3. Look beyond the “spot market” for talent.
  4. Collaborate to deepen the talent pool.
  5. Find ways to manage chronic uncertainty.

Leading change was a key focus that emerged from reader feedback on the main topics over 600 readers said they’d like to see in my latest book project. It’s been a vital focus for many of our leadership team retreats and culture development work.

Here are a few key leadership lessons learned and steps you can take:

  • Increase shared leadership throughout your entire organization around the critical concept that “leadership is action, not position.”
  • Strengthen coaching skills to help managers “leadershift” to better energize, engage, and enable their team members.
  • To get partnering behavior, treat everyone like partners. Share financial and other “confidential” information openly so everyone can see how his or her efforts contribute.
  • Ask frontline service providers what systems and processes would better help them serve internal partners or external customers. Get their involvement in prioritizing the areas to be changed and improving them.
  • Use focus groups (a cross-section of frontline staff) to test new management directions before making grand announcements to everyone. Even if you press on against the advice of the focus groups, you’ll have deeper insight on how to face the issues the new direction may raise.
  • Systematically collect internal and external complaints and trend them to see which ones come up most frequently. Get input on the top priorities and get frontline people participating in addressing them.
  • In small group meetings ask for “the dumbest things we do around here,” “biggest barriers to reaching our goals,” “major implementation issues we need to address,” “pet peeves,” “dumb rules and forms,” “things that drive you crazy,” or the like. List each point. Cluster similar points into major groups. Identify those things you directly control, can influence, and don’t control at all. Prioritize the things you control and get ideas/volunteers/plans to address them. Do the same for things you can influence. Discuss how you can all accept and let go of the things you can’t do anything about.

To build agile, change adaptive organizations, the action of leading — taking initiative, seeing new possibilities, encouraging and supporting, reframing, harnessing the winds of change to grow forward, and overcoming helplessness with hopefulness — needs to be broadly shared by everyone everywhere, regardless of formal roles or positions.

Are you underestimating and failing to engage key change drivers in your organization?