This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.
Has your organization experienced dramatic changes over the last few years? If the answer is “yes,” then you are in good company. Intense competition in the global economy coupled with the constant pressure of evolving technologies has resulted in a dynamic environment in which companies must continually adapt to survive. The alignment of people, process and culture is a constant challenge. If you think about it, it’s like we’re trying to grow our businesses in a constant state of chaos.
What does this mean? First of all, the skills and tasks required for today’s corporate environment are dramatically different from those of 15, 10, or even 5 years ago. For example, it is no longer viable to rely solely on a top-down leadership model. The Newtonian model that sees the world as stable, predictable and unaffected by observation is outdated for most industries. Yet this mechanistic model of management is still the bedrock of many organizations, characterized by a focus on structure, linear thinking, direct cause and effect, and micro-management of employees. It is often driven by a negative, authoritative leadership style with the aim of increasing efficiency by controlling unpredictability.
The Changing Paradigm
More and more of today’s successful companies are embracing non-hierarchical models of power and authority. Why? Because this allows companies to continually adapt to new challenges. By tapping into and encouraging ideas from the employees and other stakeholders about how to adapt to market changes, companies are better aligned to leverage and reward those who are touching the customer and experiencing the dynamics of the market on a day-to-day basis.
Success is also linked to constant innovation. Most linear processes are easily automated or outsourced. This leaves the real competitive advantage with those companies that can master nonlinear skills such as the unique design of goods and services as well as the creative blending of linear processes.
When considered in its entirety, the challenge may seem daunting. However, there are some new models emerging that leverage what some fear most: chaos!
Consider the following. An experiment in the mid ‘90s provides a comparison of leadership styles. The cover of Fortune magazine displayed two photographs. One showed a small group of unhappy men sitting on a raft that appeared to be sinking. The second showed small group of men on a seaworthy raft, smiling and obviously enjoying themselves. The men were all executives of a Fortune 50 company who were participating in a management development program. The groups were given the same goal, materials and time frame. The difference? The group whose raft was sinking was required to follow all of the company’s policies about new product development, planning and organizational structure. The other, the group on the seaworthy craft, had been encouraged to proceed in the best way they saw fit.
Models from Science and Nature
Clearly, the desired outcome emerged from the group that was given the freedom to self-organize. This outcome can be explained by several recent discoveries in the physical sciences that provide innovative models for thriving in organizations. The “new sciences” of chaos, complex adaptive systems, nonlinear dynamics and quantum physics all provide revolutionary ways of thinking about organizational behavior and management approaches.
Theories on crisis management also lend themselves to scenarios for successful adaptation in highly dynamic organizations. Knowledge networks and network flow models offer highly flexible, yet integrated approaches to developing adaptable organizational structures. This enables rapid responses to changing markets, new technologies and dynamic, highly skilled workforces.
Numerous models for understanding and managing business in the Information Age embrace an integrated approach that grasps the complexities of our time. The following visionaries and others are offering concepts and frameworks for long-term viability:
- Ken Wilbur, Founder and President of Integral Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing a balanced approach to bear on personal and global issues
- Margaret Wheatley, President of The Berkana Institute and author of Leadership and the New Science (Berrett-Kohler, 1993)
- Jim Davis, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, SAS and co-author of Information Revolution (Wiley, 2006)
- Andrew Cohen, a spiritual teacher and founder of EnlightmentNext, an organization that is endeavoring to define the contours of a new human consciousness and culture
- Rod Napier, an author, teacher and facilitator who translates the fundamentals of effective leadership into everyday practice for individuals and teams
- Helen-Jane Nelson, Director of Cecara Consulting Limited, an organization that is passionate about awakening, unblocking and empowering leaders to transform themselves, their organizations and teams
- Joseph Jaworski, an author, lawyer and founder of Generon Consulting and co-creator of the Global Leadership Initiative
- Ed Olson, coauthor of Facilitating Organization Change (Josey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 2001), is an adjunct faculty member in the Executive Leadership Program at George Washington University and a pioneer in the organizational translation of complex adaptive systems.
We have choices about how we navigate this new dynamic landscape. The consequences of our actions have an enormous effect on not just our bottom line, but also on our security, our environment and our survival as a species.
Over the next few months, we’ll explore several nontraditional organizational models that can provide a powerful framework for navigating this new paradigm. I’ll share conversations with innovators and leaders who are developing best practices within this new paradigm.
In addition, we’ll explore several key competencies that I call business intelligence success factors. Mastery of these success factors leads to higher alignment within your organization, allowing you to more easily adapt to changes while optimizing your resources, processes and ultimately your profits. The business intelligence success factors that I will explore include the following:
Clarity – A consistent understanding of your company’s vision and mission, goals and expectations, values, roles and structure, rules and consequences is essential for your company to adapt to changes in today’s marketplace.
Connection – Employees who are connected to others as well as their own innate wisdom have the ability to identify and leverage opportunities quickly, which is especially critical in highly dynamic markets.
Communication – Today’s businesses require a highly specialized workforce. These are often comprised of people from all over the globe as well as broad ranges of talents and skill sets. Therefore, the need for strong communication skills is vital to all parts of the organization.
Collaboration – Workforce specialization as well as the move toward centralized data systems make it necessary for companies to develop or foster a collaborative environment. Company hierarchies with embedded competition may produce positive results in the short term. However, long term sustainable growth is best served by leaders who foster collaboration that unleashes the inherent wisdom from within a diverse workforce.
Creativity – Linear processes are quickly automated or outsourced leaving creative, nonlinear thinking as the new competitive advantage. An organizational culture that supports and encourages the creative process is essential for success in the new paradigm.
Compassion – Through their emotional awareness, compassionate employees have the ability to understand the ideas, beliefs and opinions of others. This lays the foundation for most of the other success factors. It also enables marketers to put themselves into the shoes of their customers, giving them an inside edge over their rivals.
Credibility – Consistent actions build trust which strengthens the connection between intention and results. Leaders who perform with authenticity and accountability are better able to maintain stability and alignment, leading to success in a dynamic marketplace.
Conflict – When skillfully executed and managed, conflict can allow for the emergence of original ideas and solutions. The adrenaline and energy released can be a powerful impetus for breakthrough ideas and insights.
Change – In our high-tech, globally competitive business arena, change is the only constant. To be resilient in this environment, the main competency here is adaptability. This is achieved through alignment of all aspects of the organization.
Courage – Success in our dynamic global economy requires leaders to take calculated risks. As companies empower their workforce, risk-taking is encouraged at all levels.
The mastery of these skills will facilitate the emergence of true alignment that allows you to adapt to changes in markets, technology and competitive forces yet to be determined. Adaptability through alignment is essential to sustainable growth and profitability.
Olson, E. and Eoyang, G. (2001), Facilitating Organization Change, Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
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