Waiting for Armageddon – Working life in the 2010s

perspectives Nov 07, 2017

There is much talk of VUCA, agile organisations and leaning into ambiguity. Yet our experience and feedback from clients is that many leaders and consultants promoting and espousing new ways to work appear in over their heads.

In the last month alone, we have had discussions with people from four ASX listed organisations who are implementing agile processes, without really addressing the need to build agile mindsets or transform or let go of existing practices and processes. We celebrate the cognitive recognition of the need for change AND also know the story of ‘agile’ methodologies being imposed upon traditional systems that “talk” agile and end up with a walk that is closer to fragile.

The danger of partial solutions, which have not taken into account the current culture and mindsets of the communities at stake, could be likened to placing a band-aid over a gaping wound. The more we work with different industries and markets and pockets of the workforce, the more fatigue, denial and reactivity we sense into. We have observed several styles of responses which are prevalent, but not very useful:

Head in the sand

Create a false sense of certainty and clarity to provide stability while deferring the more complex issues and hoping that markets will change or slow down.

Treat the symptom

Pay keen attention to how market disruptions are affecting the viability of the business model. Acknowledge that something needs to be done and deploy new methodologies, without addressing the underlying structural issues that render the new methodologies ineffectual.

Dabble at the root cause

Begin the work of exploring how to respond to disruption in small, safe pockets of the organisation. Allow the space and time to come up with new ideas, new ways and new methods. However, very few organisations are able to bring any significant new ideas or methods back into the mothership; the current structures, politics and protectionism can inhibit the emergence of new ways.

These challenges and shortcomings are all symptoms of a way of working that is reaching the end of its current cycle and in desperate need of transformation.

We wonder: How long can the capital markets and corporates survive before the current model veers off the invisible cliff into the deep oceans of yesteryear?

We don’t have a date or a crystal ball, but we do have a simple predictable model of extrapolation. There is a trajectory of deeply disruptive external markets with insufficient capacity in our systems and markets to address it and little desire to genuinely adapt. This means our world is changing at a far more rapid rate than our organisations’ and their leader’s abilities or desires to deal with it.

We wonder at the nature of our political, economic and social systems on the other side of this cycle. We hope that we have somehow managed to transcend and include the healthy aspects of our current world rather than simply discarded them.

What would need to happen today to set us on such trajectory? Perhaps rather than waiting for Armageddon we can tend seeds of the new world now?

Some ways we in organisations may be able to nurture the seeds of the new world we wish to see are:

Take a broader perspective

  • Take time out to observe the rhythms and cycles of our larger systems so we can respond intelligently rather than react mechanically
  • Consider shareholder value as being enhanced when our communities, environment and larger world are looked after.

Take a longer perspective

  • Refuse to cater for the immediacy and short-termism ‘required’ by capital markets. Seek and establish new business structures and entities that create longer-term stakeholder value in sustained, vibrant ways
  • Shift accountability and reward mechanisms away from short-term financial performance and towards longer-term measures and capacity building.

Create a culture of learning and development

  • Find ways to shift our structures, organisational forums and people development activities from processing or transferring information, towards cultivating deep shared learning and action
  • Take small actionable steps every day that enable the emergence of the desired future. Treat each step as a test, a probe, a learning opportunity
  • Elevate learning to the highest possible echelons in organisations. Put the role of Chief Learning Officer on equal footing with the role of Chief Financial Officer. And by learning, we don’t mean a digital transfer of knowledge, but deep developmental learning; learning how to adapt and grow in the face of disruption.

Establish relationships that enable adaptation

  • Only recruit, promote and build relationships with business partners and providers who have the capacities to grow and evolve with your business
  • Consider your customer as a core partner right across your value chain and include them accordingly.

There is and always has been a way forward. However, we won’t find it by holding on tightly to the past or present. We may find it by embracing learning, by moving beyond the cult of reactivity and short-termism, and by courageously facing into the new.

If Albert Einstein was right and we cannot solve our problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them, it will require a new level of consciousness.

If any of this article resonates with you and you can observe some of these challenges in your organisation, then you may be interested in the Adaptive Cultures community. The community of practitioners are actively exploring many of these themes within their sphere of organisations, and actively developing ways and means to respond and adapt. You can find out more here: Accreditation

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