There is this constant set of discussions about changing structures and models to become more adaptive, agile, lean, flexible and fluid; to react and deal with the increasing turbulence occurring all around us.
We all sense this pressing need to react and become more responsive, becoming more adaptive to changing environments and business challenges, that are often unknown, unexpected, or not yet explored or exploited. The question is how much and how far can we go?
Organizations are facing increasing a dilemma in how they organize and manage within their systems and structures.They are being forced to deal in increasingly complexity and environmental turbulence and ‘adapting the appropriate response’ remains increasingly a difficult one to master, within the existing regime they have in place.
On the one hand the value in stability is still essential; working within specific routines and practices gives a clear ‘path dependence.’ This stability allows for efficiencies and effectiveness to be constantly at practice, constantly building the problem-solving processes, to master tasks in complex environments to resolve ‘known’ problems in ‘given’ ways but this relies on this stable flow and that is not the case of much of what we have to handle today.
We are being challenged more and more on this efficiency and effectiveness focus. It is often not working to deliver the results. We are missing a new way of working.
We increasingly have this dilemma of needing stability but trying to build increased fluidity.
Stability and fluidity- how can both work alongside each other? They are opposites yet we need both to thrive in today’s world. Many theorists have suggested, of having in place the ‘ambidextrous organization.’ This would need organizations to design their organizations in their structures, people and processes to either be focused on ‘being efficient’ or being ‘change orientated’. An increased level of duality. The mindset of exploiting or exploring but can we have both, I certainly think so, it mostly depends on what we are about to do to get this mental picture of which frame of thinking should dominate but not be exclusive.
I have been drawn to this ‘dual’ system of ambidextrous as it helps resolve one of the consistent stumbling blocks for innovation to ‘take hold’ and evolve. Innovation is constantly fluid, needing to be adaptive as we learn and adjust to new learning and this is constantly requiring a very change orientated approach. Often innovation comes up against a rigid system and for many “just seems not to fit”
Innovation struggles as it often remains outside the prevailing system. Innovation constantly challenges against the dominant mindset within organizations, who like the idea of innovation but are mostly measured to drive efficiency and effectiveness, keeping highly focused on the short-term performance as their role, reward, advancement and key to ongoing career success, so innovation ‘sits outside’ their domain of focus.
Something needs to change if innovation is really important.
Yet the very essence of our stability in organizations is under threat.
There is so much change being undertaken, the growing call for quick improvisation and ad hoc responses all needs to take us away from those rigid processes into open and far more fluids ones.
The solutions of fluid, agile and adaptive are aiming to develop highly flexible and responsive organizations as an attractive answer to manage in more uncertain times as the way to move forward. The ability to make this very defining and shaping move in any organizations does seem very fraught with risk.
We do need to extend our thinking about fluidity far more to see how we can evolve our thinking more towards this fluid state, within ourselves and our organizations design.
To achieve a more organic fluidity, moving from hierarchies to networks, from formal rules and high levels of coordination into far more spontaneous interactions, improvised processes that resolved specific issues is one huge challenge. It takes time to learn and adapt to this as we all are ‘stuck in our ways.
The appeal of us constantly forming and dissolving project teams where far more lateral organization-wide communications take place is a set of real challenges but so highly prized and will be of increasing value.
Everything seems to be flowing faster and we do have to respond
We are seeing far more fluidity in relationships where the knowledge is flowing within, across and between organizations. The boundaries are blurring, that increasing fuzziness needs shifting our style of decision-making and solution finding.
There is also this growing sense that innovation knowledge is endless, unrelenting in its flow into us, if we care to open ourselves up to it. It never stops but simply shifts from one stage to another, hopping from one idea to another, requiring us to loop back to be re-evaluated and think the implications through.
We are increasingly recognizing that the old linear processes are not working, the need for fast results gets stacked up in this type of process. Our reaction times need speeding up, our learning and adjusting is a constant, all along the pipeline development process and requires a higher level of fluidness to deal with it. We have to adjust to this increasing demand forced upon us.
We are still struggling with the dominant linear logic of much of what we do in organizations, and often this constrains innovation, restricts us to provide radically different business models and limits our abilities to change fast enough. We are learning to be far more adaptive in our learning but this is constantly meeting up with resistance of this linear logic.
There is this nagging feeling of relentless destruction or disturbance, the very opposite of the stable equilibrium we seemed to enjoy in the past. Those that become capable of managing the constant change and disequilibrium will thrive.
We must face this paradox of fluidity and stability.
Those growing conditions of uncertainty and complexity also need boundary building, identity formation and problem solving architectures that are stable and can provide replication of essential actions or activities. We need to seek out and maintain yet constantly challenge to “undo” and redesign.
So can we find competencies that would help embed a more fluid way of working?
We need to look for or deliberately design into our thinking the following:
We are all becoming far more digital, fluid and fast, we are absorbing and responding at faster rates and we are adapting to a constant, multifaceted world of connections, systems and knowledge that need piecing together, un-stitching and re-stiching to combine up into different ‘wholes’ and needs to solve specific issues and challenges. So what is needed?
• To get there we need to be far more nimble, we need to learn navigation skills far more, we are increasingly assignment driven, less exploratory in many things, and technology is taking on this role.
• We need to become increasing agile, iterative, be experimenting, and constantly determined to execute to drive our results and value-add.
• We need to seek empowerment, focus on delivery and collaboration outcomes far more resolutely.
• We need to grasp the make-up of value creation and why innovation is becoming new business models in its potential.
• We need to establish within ourselves and the working environment we work within, this sound conflict resolution pathway and strive for authenticity and trust within the ways we operate.
• Lastly here, a real willingness to seek out diversity, to be visible, and be wanting to have this constant entry and exit to project and challenges to drive our personal satisfaction and worth up.
Finally, we should examine characteristics or factors that create barriers for fluidity
Our over reliance on past models – when the near future closely resembles the recent past, relying on existing models to determine appropriate actions and investments is rational. Instead companies must assess the amount of change and to recognize the need to ‘let go’ to reduce the reliance on existing models that are constraining future performance in a fluid world.
Change proficiency/capability – in most companies, people receive training and develop skills based on their specific roles and responsibilities, but rarely develop skills that actively encourage, enable or accelerate change without it being instigated form a higher level. We cannot expect companies and cultures to change frequently and capably if people don’t have the skills, capabilities or proficiency to change effectively and be empowered with the mandate to investigate and recommend.
Preferences for stability over change – people, organizations and cultures prefer stability to change. Change is uncertain and demands new learning and new expertise, while stability reinforces existing knowledge and skills. Over time, the desire for stability leads to inertia and active resistance to change. Companies must create a preference for more change, reducing inertia and building change capabilities. That “making change constant” needs enactment.
Focus on short-term profits rather than longer term viability – Since change is uncertain and distracts from efficient day-to-day operations, and there is an ever-increasing focus on short-term profitability, change always takes a back seat to efficient operations and short-term profits. Longer term viability suffers because of an over reliance on an increasingly out of date business model, infrequent innovation and a lack of change capacity. This shift in corporate mind-set and shareholder need is becoming an imperative to finally change. It is stopping long-term growth, mortgaging our futures.
We need to relentlessly challenge and push out our own boundaries and knowledge and adapt these to be designed to exploit constantly. We need to be increasingly fluid in how we ‘go about this.’
We need a new mantra of “adapting, exploring and simply responding to the need seen” in rapidly changing markets and across our customer base – past, present and future and within ourselves, on how to cope with this increasing need for agility and this fluidity we all need today.